Francesca Smith

Research Fellow, Doctoral Candidate
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, CA

Francesca is a doctoral candidate at the University of Southern California and a research fellow at the Annenberg Innovation Lab, situated at the intersection of academia, technology, and media industries. She began her career 25 years ago, working as a professional performer in the entertainment industry for some time before pursuing higher education. Francesca received an honors BA degree in linguistics at Stanford, studying critical discourse analysis and sociolinguistics in the context of women's magazines and messages of morality. She then earned her MA in communication at Pepperdine, concentrating on critical studies of media and rhetoric; her master’s thesis focused on Condoleezza Rice and issues of race, gender, and presidentiality. Francesca recently completed a second MA in communication (this time at USC, with concentrations in fandom and cultural studies; disability, narrative, and identity; rhetoric; and the work of Kenneth Burke) and is now working towards finishing a PhD in communication, as well. She has also taught a range of courses at various institutions, including Pepperdine and USC, and continues to travel extensively, frequently speaking at international symposia. Over the years, she has also coached and competed in speech and debate (at national and international levels), in addition to teaching and performing a variety of dance forms, focusing on social and ballroom dances.

Though her research has spanned a range of topics—from (dis)ability, mental health, and public shootings to 1980s computer advertisements and Batman's Joker—she currently focuses on issues of transmedia storytelling, technology, and rhetoric. More broadly, her work assesses the oft-ambiguous concept of "engagement," and how it might be facilitated and/or measured across a spectrum of audiences, narratives, and media. Through her work at the lab and elsewhere, she traverses the boundary between theory and practice; specifically, in addition to her research and educational endeavors, she helps develop and consult for large-scale entertainment properties, including the Niantic ARG Ingress.