Jones named Fred A. and Gladys Seaton Professor

Thursday, January 4, 2024 - 11:30am

Valerie Jones, an associate professor of advertising and public relations at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Journalism and Mass Communications, was named the Fred A. and Gladys Seaton Professor by the University of Nebraska Board of Regents on Jan. 2. Jones previously held the Seaton Professorship from Jan. 1, 2021, to Dec. 31, 2023.

Following an open application, Jones was nominated for renewal by an ad hoc committee of endowed professors from the UNL College of Arts and Sciences. The committee included Leland J. & Dorothy H. Olson Chair Jordan Soliz, Willa Cather Professor Elizabeth Theiss-Morse and Leland J. and Dorothy H. Olson Professor Kristen Olson.

Jones is an academic and media strategist with a focus on the intersection of digital media, culture and consumer behavior. She holds bachelor’s degrees in communication studies and sociology and a master’s degree in integrated marketing communications, all from Northwestern University and a Ph.D. in educational studies from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Before joining the College of Journalism and Mass Communications in 2013, Jones built a substantial career in media strategy and branding. Her professional journey began at Starcom Worldwide in San Francisco, where she developed strategies for clients such as E! Entertainment Television. At Starcom’s Chicago headquarters, she furthered her specialization in digital strategy, working with brands like Kellogg and Nintendo. In 2006, Jones returned to Nebraska and held senior roles at advertising agencies Bailey Lauerman and Swanson Russell, where she was involved in creating comprehensive communication plans for major clients, integrating both traditional and digital media approaches.

As an associate professor, Jones's research primarily explores the influence of digital media on societal behaviors and trends. Her contributions to this field bridge the gap between academic theory and practical application, providing valuable insights into the evolving landscape of digital communication and its societal implications. She has established an international reputation for research into using artificial intelligence-powered voice assistants to reduce feelings of loneliness and increase social connection in aging adults.

The research began when Jones started exploring how new communication technologies might make our lives richer or more fulfilling. Voice assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa are designed to be accessible, conversational and easy to use. She thought the responsiveness and customizability might be helpful for older adults living alone, from easily setting alarms and reminders to playing favorite music and calling friends and family. While an intelligent agent like Alexa is no substitute for a loving human, her research has found that it can help fill a void.   

Jones credits growing up around radio in central Nebraska with influencing her research. Her grandfather founded KRVN in Lexington and her father later managed and expanded the station. Media have always helped us feel more connected and less alone, ever since families gathered around radios for the latest news, weather or drama. She sees AI-powered voice assistants are the newest form of media facilitating those connections.

In the spring of 2023, Jones received a Fulbright Research Award to travel to Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia, to collect data for comparison against U.S. samples. Jones is analyzing the data collected in Australia for her study, "Aging and AI: Creating social connection among aging adults through voice assistants and emerging media."

The Fred A. and Gladys Seaton Professorship is awarded for a three-year term and provides a $5,000 salary stipend and $5,000 annually in research support. Jones plans to use funding from the professorship to expand her data collection and analysis and share her findings at national and international conferences.

In its nomination, the committee noted that her proposal "clearly connects how her research benefits CoJMC and the university at large."

Shari Veil, dean of the College of Journalism and Mass Communications, and UNL Chancellor Rodney Bennett endorsed the committee's recommendation before final approval by the Board of Regents.

“Jones’s dedication to her groundbreaking research not only exemplifies the spirit of the Fred A. & Gladys Seaton Professorship but also reaffirms our commitment to advancing knowledge and making meaningful contributions to society,” Veil said. “Her work embodies the intersection of technology and human connection, a testament to the forward-thinking vision of Fred A. Seaton, whose legacy we honor through this professorship."

The Fred A. & Gladys Seaton Professor was established at the University of Nebraska Foundation in 1979 to commemorate the life of Fred A. Seaton, who served as Secretary of the Interior under President Dwight D. Eisenhower and whose business interests included newspapers and radio stations in Nebraska, Wyoming, South Dakota and Kansas.

Jones headshot
Valerie Jones, Fred A. & Gladys Seaton Professor and associate professor of advertising and public relations