ComArtSci Assistant Professor Saleem E. Alhabash won the 2018 MSU Teacher-Scholar Award. The university-wide award is the highest distinction an assistant or associate professor can achieve here at MSU in his/her early career. The honor is awarded annually to six members of the tenure system faculty. Alhabash was nominated by Jef Richards, an Advertising + Public Relations professor.
“Dr. Alhabash is one of those unique people who tends to be good at virtually everything he does, and since the day he first arrived at MSU he has done a lot,” said Richards. “The best students can’t get enough of working with him, and the research he does is cutting edge in our field. I can imagine no one better qualified to receive an award designed to recognize faculty who excel in both teaching and research.”
Social Media Research
Alhabash is not only well-known for the classes he teaches and the relationships he develops with students, but he also conducts internationally-recognized research. Focusing on the persuasive effects of digital and social media, Alhabash works to understand the somewhat automatic behaviors people have on social media and how this can affect who they are and what they do offline.
“I’m really interested in unraveling the meaning of these kinds of behaviors,” said Alhabash. “What does it mean when you’re exposed to a message that has a lot of likes and shares? Does it make it more valid? What does it mean when you engage in such behaviors and how does that engagement spill over to your offline behaviors?”
In the past, Alhabash has conducted research that focuses on what happens when people are exposed to social media posts that promote the use of alcohol. He, along with his collaborators, found that just the sheer exposure to a message promoting alcohol, such as a Facebook ad, did indeed make people want to drink more.
“If you think about everything that you do on your phone and the many messages with which you interact, they really do affect how you behave on a daily basis,” said Alhabash. “We never think about how these actions manifest themselves into our own lives. So most of my research has focused on trying to understand the link between our online selves and our offline selves.”
Alhabash’s research also digs deeper into digital aggression, or why people decide to become aggressive online. He’s discovered that the profile of those who are aggressive online is much different from those who are aggressive offline.
“There’s a big misconception that digital aggression or cyberbullying is just another form of aggression and it’s not,” said Alhabash. “It doesn’t have the same profile. So we’ve been doing a lot of research trying to understand that and how to combat it.”
A Higher Purpose
The award means more to Alhabash than simply a plaque to hang on his wall— it’s being recognized for something he puts his heart and soul into every day.
“To realize that colleagues and students recognize what I have done and are able to vouch for me by nominating me for this prestigious award means a lot to me,” said Alhabash. “Winning also means a lot because that means that there is validity to the claims that other people made.”
For Alhabash, it’s not about structuring his classes in ways to ensure favorable student evaluations. It’s primarily about instilling qualities in students that will be beneficial to them in the future.
“This is what I aspire to do,” said Alhabash. “To teach students how to be both stellar professionals and how to be a good citizens. I try to get students to think beyond our profession and realize that we have a higher calling of helping society.”
By Katie Kochanny