Student Turns Passion for Musicals Into Graduate Research Project

By Margaux Nersesian, Strategic Communication major, Class of 2021

Student Laine Zizka has turned her passion for musicals into a thought-provoking research project for her master’s degree in Communication Studies at the Bob Schieffer College of Communication. Inspired by her childhood memories of her family’s love of musicals, Zizka says she “never passed up an opportunity to slip musicals” into her undergraduate work at TCU. In her junior year, Zizka conducted a research project inspired by the musical “Come from Away” which is based on the true events in Gander, Newfoundland, when 38 planes were redirected from their U.S. destinations and forced to land in the small Canadian town on 9/11. Now as a graduate student at TCU, Zizka is expanding her research to focus more on the narrative as she interviews Newfoundland citizens, plane passengers and “Come from Away” cast members. The event has Zizka wondering “why these small towns on an island were able to be so resilient in the face of one of the world’s most infamous terrorist attacks, why they did it so well, and how they have created the mythology not only around the events of those days, but around the Newfoundland identity – and how that, in turn, impacts its resilience.”

While there are countless narratives surrounding the 9/11 terrorist attacks, “Come from Away” brings to life the story of the kindness and hospitality the residents of a small town showed the 7,000 passengers stranded in the midst of an international tragedy. The musical focuses on one of the pilots of the 38 planes, Capt. Beverley Bass, also a TCU alumna, who has been a great friend and resource to Zizka throughout her research.

To gather these interesting narratives and build her research, Zizka has interviewed over 21 people using a snowball sampling method, where her research subjects connect her with others who are willing to share their experiences from the event. She aims to better understand what made this crisis such a success story on a day with so much tragedy. So far, Zizka has found the people of Gander to be unusually generous, big-hearted and open-minded. Zizka says she hopes her research will “be able to build a more resilient society and crisis response. A lot of that starts before a crisis even hits. So, how can we build stronger communities through narrative and creating collective identity so as to fight crises before they even happen?”

Zizka’s incredibly positive experience at TCU inspired her to pursue her graduate studies in the Schieffer College. Zizka credits the TCU professors and courses for giving her the academic foundation in her current research. The Schieffer College provides her ample opportunities to build on the skills she’s honed through pursuing her undergraduate degrees in Communication Studies and Anthropology at TCU. Although Zizka credits several professors and courses for being influential, she says Associate Professor Amorette Hinderaker has been extremely in both her undergraduate and current research. She greatly appreciates the atmosphere and generous faculty at TCU. Zizka explains her experience at the Schieffer College succinctly: “As graduate students, we are afforded so many opportunities – from teaching to mentoring and doing incredible research. I have become a much more confident scholar, learner, researcher, and person because of Schieffer College and its faculty. Plus, you never know when you’re going to run into Bob Schieffer himself!”

To hear Zizka talk more about her love for musicals and her graduate research project, listen to her interview on the “Broadway Baby” podcast. Stream the episode on Apple Podcasts here.