After her time at Michigan Tech, Mohammed wanted to maintain the interdisciplinary focus of her research and target the important issues of her culture and country from many perspectives. The Bellisario College was able to provide those opportunities, offering the ability to work with scholars in the film, journalism, media studies, public relations and telecommunications fields.
Mohammed added even more breadth to her research by minoring in Women’s, gender and sexuality studies, and taking classes in African studies, while at Penn State.
“I saw an opportunity to learn from all of these perspectives,” Mohammed said. “I don’t have one specific area that I focus on, so the Bellisario College and Penn State were a perfect fit.”
Anthony Olorunnisola, head of the Department of Film-Video and Media Studies at Penn State, said although covering many areas of research as a doctoral student is not rare, it is uncommon — especially for researchers in Mohammed’s generation.
“Wunpini’s multidisciplinary focus underscores her own academic preparation and curiosities,” he said. “It is an indication of her ability to work independently, as well as in collaboration with others.”
Mohammed defended her dissertation in May. The project focused on the burgeoning film industry in northern Ghana. She said there once were few media outlets in her native language in Tamale. Professionals in the local media decided to create a film industry. For the dissertation, Mohammed documented the early days of the industry firsthand from a political/economic perspective.
“I interviewed a filmmaker for two hours. He was in the first film ever produced” in Tamale, Mohammed said. “At first, I thought I’d do a textual analysis of the films, but I can’t do that if there’s no history. So, I interviewed filmmakers, distributors and consumers. It was a huge project and it was all in my native Ghanaian language.”
Mohammed said the research connects her to her culture, as well as assists her on developing effective and helpful media. She shares all her research with the residents of her hometown and makes it a point to explain what the results mean to them.
“This makes me feel really fulfilled,” she said. “It makes me feel like the work is valid and valuable to the people who don’t speak English.”
In addition to the recognition from ICA, Mohammed was awarded the Djung Yune Tchoi Graduate Teaching Award from the Bellisario College in April.
Teaching is nothing new for Mohammed. She taught Spanish for a year after earning her undergraduate degree as part of her national service in Ghana, and taught composition at Michigan Tech. At Penn State, she has taught COMM 205: Gender, Diversity and the Media; COMM 420: Research Methods in Public Relations and Advertising; COMM 410: International Mass Communications and COMM 419: World Media Systems. It’s an aspect of academia she thoroughly enjoys and will continue at the Bellisario College now that she has defended her dissertation.
“I enjoy teaching. I come from a family of teachers,” she said. “My mom is a school principal. My younger brother is a teacher. My dad has taught. We all love teaching,”
Olorunnisola attributes Mohammed’s success in teaching to her creativity and readiness to engage students in a multidisciplinary way.
“Across the board of her diverse teaching engagements,” he said, “Wunpini brings a flair for teaching students in unique ways.”
Mohammed wants to continue doing collaborative, interdisciplinary research that benefits the people of her home country and town in the future. She has many projects in the works, but she will first take a much-deserved break this summer. This fall, she is teaching COMM 410: International Mass Communications and COMM 419: World Media Systems.