Social Media Analytics Research Team (SMART) Lab at Ohio University


Core Research Team: 

  • Dr. Laeeq Khan [Director, SMART Lab]

laeeqkhan.jpgDr. Laeeq Khan is the Director of the Social Media Analytics Research Team (SMART) Lab in the Scripps College of Communication. He is also an Assistant Professor in the School of Media Arts & Studies at Ohio University.

He received his Ph.D. in Media and Information Studies from Michigan State University. Dr. Khan has years of teaching, research, and consulting experience. Besides big data and analytics, his research investigates new media effects on society in general and on organizations and businesses in particular. More specifically, his work focuses on user engagement in social media in terms of online participation and and how content affects attitudes, opinions, and behaviors. He also studies communication and development for social change in a global context.

  • Dr. Howard Welser

Howard T. Welser (PhD, University of Washington) is an associate professor of sociology at Ohio University.  He investigates how micro-level processes generate collective outcomes. His published work studies these dynamics across a diverse range of settings:  role playing and diffusion of innovation among Wikipedia editors, emergence of social roles in online discussion, how cooperation emerges among competing teams, and how forms of protest and organization emerge online and spread into real world groups.   

Dr. Welser applies quantitative analysis of structural dynamics across a wide range of social settings, but with special emphasis on inequality and social change.  He is increasingly interested in studying how technological developments that affect social interaction and alter people’s capacity for collective action are changing the nature of social groups, organizations, sub-cultures and institutions.  

  • Dr. Stephanie Tikkanen


Dr. Tikkanen’s research program focuses on the growing role of new media (e.g., social networking sites, mobile phones) in interpersonal relationships. Specifically, she takes a theoretical and quantitative approach to understanding the way in which channel and structural features interact with individual and relational motivations to affect interpersonal processes across relational types, including families, romantic partners, and friends. Her research primarily focuses on how structural features (e.g., anonymity, asynchronicity) impact the provision and receipt of social support.  Her work has been published in outlets such as Journal of Communication, Journal of Language and Social Psychology, and Communication Research Reports, as well as competitive papers presented at national conferences. She also values her role as a teacher-scholar, equally emphasizing both teaching and research.

  • Dr. Saumya Pant

Saumya Photo

Dr. Saumya Pant has a PhD and Masters from Ohio University, focusing on communication for social change and interpersonal communication. She has scholarly interests in gender and health communication, communication for social change, critical cultural inquiry, transnational feminisms, and entertainment-education. She uses participatory and feminist methodologies to study social change. Recently, Dr. Pant has been looking at the role of social media in social change and has been studying social media activism by creating a series of social media campaign, Bring a Smile, which works to bring happiness among street children in India. She believes that social media activism differs from other form of activism in its reach, strength of networks and efficiency of operationalization.

Research Associates:

  • Dr. Scott Titsworth


Scott serves as the Dean of the Scripps College of Communication at Ohio University, a position that he has held since 2010. Scott has published over 50 articles, books, and edited chapters in the field of communication, with most exploring connections between classroom communication and student learning.



  • Dr. Greg Newton


Greg’s research interests include radio/TV programming and promotion; free speech and the regulation of electronic media; and management and leadership in media businesses. He has published journal articles in the International Journal on Media Management, Journal of Media Business Studies, Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, Journal of Radio Studies, Journal of Communication, Journal of Applied Communication Research, and Journal of Promotion Management. He has also authored or co-authored textbook chapters on programming and promotion; prepared comments in Federal Communications Commission proceedings; and has frequently been invited to speak on the regulation of offensive media content.

  • Dr. Anahita Sanandaji

Anahita Sanandaji received a PhD degree in computer science from Oregon State University in 2018. Her research interests are Human Computer Interaction (HCI), data visualization and analytics, social computing, and User Experience (UX) research and design. As a researcher in the field of HCI, she focuses on designing innovative user interfaces and technologies that improve human interaction with computers. Her research methodology is a mix of theory, Human-Centered Design (HCD), implementation, and evaluation. She enjoys studying and analyzing how people interact with computing technologies and social spaces.

Dr. Sanandaji has worked as a graduate teaching assistant and instructor at Oregon State University during her PhD studies. Her teaching interests include usability engineering, UX/UI design, data visualization and analytics, and web programming. In 2014, her service was recognized with Vice Provost’s Award for Excellence in Innovation, Online–teaching–Credit, EECS degree in computer science at Oregon State University.

  • Eli Flournoy

eli-flournoy_3Eli Flournoy is a 21-year veteran of  CNN’s news gathering operations in the United States and internationally, is charged with overseeing a 24/7 team of assignment editors and managers dedicated to serving more than 220 affiliate broadcasters outside the United States.

PhD Students:

  • Jessie Roark

JessieJessie is a doctoral student in the journalism program in the Scripps College of Communication at Ohio University. She has an M.A. in Journalism from Ball State University, 2019; M.A. Digital Storytelling, Ball State University, 2008; and B.A. with majors in Theater and Telecommunications, Ball State University, 2005. Jessie’s research interests revolve around the representation of mental illness and disability in the media, and the effects of this representation on stigma and the larger conversation surrounding mental health and disability. Jessie has explored these effects in areas ranging from social isolation, treatment seeking behaviors, and economic implications. Jessie teaches Multiplatform Reporting and Writing at Ohio University. Jessie also has nearly a decade of experience in faculty research development involving workshops, classes and individual working sessions with faculty from all disciplines.

  • Zeyu Zhang

ZeyuZhangZeyu Zhang is a second-year Ph.D. student and a graduate instructor at the school of Media Arts and Studies. She was awarded Outstanding Teaching Assistant (2017-2018) and SMART Summer Research Excellence Award (2018). She earned an M.A. degree in Digital Storytelling from Ball State University.

Her research interest is focused on social media in an international environment and feminist studies. Her current research is focused on social media engagement in China. She is interested in examining how Chinese social media users engage with particular social media platforms and the gratifications they gain. She also has an interest in utilizing social media analytic tools to analyze text, conversation, visuals, on social media.

  • Bowen Gao

Bowen Gao

Bowen is a third-year Ph.D. student at the School of Media Arts and Studies, and the current graduate assistant for the SMART Lab. He earned an M.S. degree in Professional Media and Media Management Studies from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, and a B.A. degree in Broadcast and Television Directing from Northeast Normal University, China.

Bowen’s research interests include the social media engagement on personal and organizational level; mutual influence between commercial and social marketing; and the impacts of social norms on users’ online and offline behavior. In addition, Bowen is a big fan of musicals and worldwide traveling.

  • Aggrey Willis

aggreywillisotienoAggrey Willis Otieno is a Communication for Development specialist. In 2011, he received a Master of Arts in Communications and Development and a graduate certificate in African Community Health from Ohio University. He is currently a PhD student at the School of Media Arts and Studies, Ohio University.

In development practice, Aggrey has over 16 years of resourceful work experience and skills in designing and facilitating participatory planning, monitoring, evaluation and learning protocols and processes in child protection, health communication & good governance promotion. Aggrey has worked and consulted for international development organizations in Child Rights, Social Accountability, and Health promotion.

Masters Students:

  • Claudia Cisneros

claudiaClaudia Cisneros is a second year Master student in the Communication and Development program at Ohio University, as well as a first-year Master Journalism student in the same university. She received a bachelor’s degree in Philosophy from The Pontificia Universidad Católica in Lima, Perú. She is a renown journalist in Peru who has also worked for various international news organizations. Her main areas of research interest are the Internet & Society, Social Media, Mass Media, Communication, Development, and Minorities’ Justice. She was awarded a National Human Rights Journalism award in Peru in 2014.