SSRD spotlight: Erin Gangstad and the war on drugs

Apr 20th, 2017 | By | Category: 2016-2017, News

By Gianni Marabella
Managing Editor

Today marks the 17th annual Student Scholarship Recognition Day (SSRD). While for many of us it acts as a happily accepted day off, SSRD is meant to showcase the hard work and extensive research that students have been up to all school year (or even longer).

For some, SSRD serves as more than just a celebration of the work they’ve done, and can actually be an integral part of preparing for the end of their college career and the start of their future.

This was how class of 2016 graduate Erin Gangstad approached her presentation last year. Gangstad did a presentation on her CCM senior thesis for SSRD, which focused on the media’s portrayal of drug use in the United States.

She shone the spotlight on a particular program known as the Montana Meth Project, which states on its website that it is “a large-scale prevention program aimed at reducing first-time teen Meth use through public service messaging, public policy and community outreach.”

“These advertisements were painting a specific picture of meth use, but also of what it is to be a meth user,” Gangstad said.

The presentation revolved around the ways in which the media’s portrayal of drug use others and creates barriers for drug users. Gangstad noted that her advisor, Professor Maegan Brooks, was a big help in integrating the affective side of the story to her presentation.

Gangstad’s interest in the topic originated from a politics class she took with Professor Jeremy Strickler in her junior year focusing on the war on drugs.

“It was such an interesting topic, really focusing on how the war on drugs — both domestically and internationally — is so convoluted,” Gangstad said. “We have one view of it from the media, but when you take a look at it it’s just such a fraught concept. I wanted to pursue it for my senior thesis.”

After graduating, Gangstad continued her involvement with the research that she presented at SSRD. While participating in SSRD did help to prepare her for her final thesis presentation, she also noted that she did it because she had also submitted it to a Rhetoric Society of America Conference. This led to her presenting her research at a conference in Atlanta. She eventually used it as her writing sample to get into graduate school at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

For Gangstad, SSRD served as an important part of preparing for her future.

“When you present your thesis, you’re dealing with people who have had an understanding of your work for 6 months at that point. With SSRD, you’re presenting to people who have no idea what you have for them,” Gangstad said. “It puts you in new territory and challenges you because you have to present your research in an accessible manner.”

She especially appreciated the exposure to different lines of questioning that she got from presenting on SSRD day.

“I wasn’t caught off guard by much during my thesis presentation and even at the conference because I had answered almost every question they had to throw at me by that point,” Gangstad said.

With SSRD happening today, Gangstad explained that presenters should take it seriously and be ready for anything.

“Really think through your work critically before you present it,” Gangstad said. “Take an opposing stance for the sort of questions you might get and feel prepared to get lots of different questions. It never feels good to get blindsided.”

As far as students who are thinking about participating in future years, Gangstad also had advice.

“First and foremost, I encourage people to take part in SSRD even if they don’t have a reason to do it, even if academia isn’t in their future or they don’t see an immediate payoff. The public speaking skills it gives you are invaluable. Even at my current 9-5, I am always in a position of explaining information to people who don’t have a sense of context and doing my best to convey everything that needs to get out there.”

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