America Edwards

America Edwards would never have guessed that the world would turn into the perfect laboratory for her doctoral research on how people manage relationships and impressions through technology. 

The 2015 Loy Norrix graduate is a doctoral student at the University of California Santa Barbara — but her life is on lockdown while she waits out the pandemic at her parents’ home in Kalamazoo. 

“I knew I wanted my PhD to focus in particular on how we create and maintain friends on social media and how what we post affects what people think of us,” Edwards said. “So much of our life is online. This was my interest before the pandemic. The discipline has spent so much time figuring out how we create communication face-to face. The research into how we communicate online is still so new.”

Edwards moved into Kalamazoo Public Schools as a third grader, attending KingWestwood, Chime and Prairie Ridge elementary schools, Maple Street Magnet School for the Arts and Loy Norrix. 

She enrolled in Kalamazoo College for a year before transferring to Western Michigan University, where her parents are communication professors. 

She said she was always interested in communication but when she started college, she thought, “I don’t want to do this. This is my parents. This is not me. But, by the end of my first year, that’s all I wanted. I grew up in an environment where that’s what we talked about, and I developed a love and interest in it.” 

After earning her bachelor’s degree from WMU and the Lee Honors College, she enrolled in the University of Central Florida in Orlando. When COVID-19 hit, she finished her master’s degree from Kalamazoo. She’s started her doctoral program virtually as well and hopes to be able to move to California by September. 

Her experience in KPS was marked by supportive teachers at every grade level. She participated in Avant Garde and ATYP and always felt challenged, she said. Just as importantly, she appreciated KPS for exposing her to a diverse group of students. 

“Things were so well rounded,” she said. “I felt like I got a real look at diversity and the challenges that can come from different income levels meeting in one group. I wasn’t really sheltered when I went to college — unlike some of my peers.” 

That broad exposure to different groups ignited an interest in social justice and informs her work teaching Intro to Communication and Interpersonal Communication courses to college freshmen. 

She said she loves the challenges of education and exploring new ideas. Her master’s degree focused on risk and crisis communications. Her thesis, which was funded by the USDA, looked at how members of the swine industry created communication practices to mitigate risk during a medical crisis. The vegetarian found herself challenged to work with the meat industry, but the experience provided a useful background in qualitative survey methods and grant work — and her work was published in a communications journal. 

Edwards looks forward to pushing on with her education in California, but in the meantime, she’s been grateful for time in Kalamazoo, with her parents Drs. Chad and Autumn Edwards and for being able to provide support for her sister Emerson Edwards, who is an eighth grader at Milwood Magnet School navigating online learning. 

Being an expert in online communication and having a younger sibling who is fully immersed online, what advice would she offer about how to manage a virtual world? 

“So often we think of our online selves as disconnected from the face-to-face self. What you post online impacts how people think of you as a person. Not to sound like a parent, but what you post stays on the internet forever.”