A bit about me …

Born and raised in Philadelphia, PA (USA), I grew up the oldest of 6 children – living in crowded home that was short on space but filled with love and laughter. To this day, my siblings remain my best friends. In truth, I don’t think a day goes by without speaking to my sisters! I am, and always will be, a Philly girl. There’s nothing like a soft Philly pretzel, a slice of classic Philly butter cake, a trip to the Redding Terminal Market, or a tense Philadelphia Eagles football game to make me feel quickly at home. And if you aren’t sure what it means if I say “Pat’s or Geno’s?” – well, it’s clearly time that you visit Philly yourself! I love the foodie culture in Philadelphia, the art, the different personalities of each neighborhood, and its urban beauty.

Eagles Season Ticket Member
Even though I live in Amsterdam now, I still ‘bleed green’ as we say in Philly – maintaining my season tickets for the Philadelphia Eagles and catching a game any chance I get.

I was fortunate enough to complete my Bachelor, Master, and Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication – which meant that not only was I able to learn from and study with some of the leading scholars in the field, but I was able to do so while remaining in my hometown. My passion for youth and media scholarship began during my early days at Penn. I can still remember it vividly. I was following a course entitled ‘Children and Media’ during the 2nd year of my bachelor program. There was just something about this course that called to me. I was always in the front row. Always captivated by the amazing and brilliant Dr. Amy Jordan. I would arrive at class early, stay after – never wanting to disconnect from the content. And thankfully, Amy Jordan saw this spark in me and, rather than letting it fade away, she nurtured that spark – helping me find internships in the children’s media industry, additional coursework that would fuel my interest, and ultimately guiding me – alongside Dr. Deborah (Linebarger) Nichols through my PhD in Communication with a focus on youth and media.

Dr. Amy Jordan
My teacher, my mentor, my very dear friend – Dr. Amy Jordan – how fortunate I am to have her in my life.

With such deep roots in Philadelphia, I never expected to move across the ‘pond’. In fact, I really never expected to move at all. Philly is a special place that way – once you are there, you never want to leave. But I did leave. After much deliberation, my husband and I decided to take a giant leap of faith and move to Amsterdam where I accepted a position at the University of Amsterdam. The opportunity to work with the Center for research on Children, Adolescents, and the Media (CcaM) – to collaborate with so many scholars passionate about issues related to children and media … it was an opportunity too good to pass up. Yes, it was a difficult and emotional decision. Leaving my home, my family – especially my nephews and niece, my friends, my beloved Philly Eagles … it was one of the most difficult decisions that my husband and I have ever made, but ultimately, it was also a decision that completely changed our lives for the better.

Some Nieces & Nephews
One of my happy places? Spending time with these loves of my life …my nephews (Billy & Jack) and niece (Gracie). And lucky me, there are even more cutie pies in Florida ☺

Several years later, my husband and I are enjoying our Dutch life. I am now an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication Science at the University of Amsterdam where I am directing CcaM, serving as the program group leader for Youth & Media Entertainment, and serving as the program director for our Master’s degree program in Entertainment Communication. It’s an awesome responsibility, and one I am very proud of. I enjoy working and learning from brilliant colleagues who remain committed to what comes next for the field of children and media scholarship, and who are consistently at the forefront when it comes to new research ideas and new questions. Without question, the energy, collaborative spirit, and drive for knowledge that is so prevalent in my department has pushed me to be a better scholar and teacher. Indeed, my first book (Plugged In: How Media Attract and Affect Youth) which I co-authored with my mentor, friend, and brilliant colleague Patti Valkenburg is testament to this collaborative spirit. And my students … well, my students time and time again challenge me to think in ways I haven’t before, they keep me young at heart, keep me laughing, and remind me over and over again how lucky I am to do what I love. Whether it’s mentoring a PhD, an MA thesis, or teaching my specialization seminar or elective – I find myself so thankful for the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others.

Dr. Kain Fikkers
My first PhD student, Karin Fikkers, at her doctoral defense. Truly one of the most memorable days of my career.

Several years later, I still manage to visit my hometown several times per year. I still watch as many Eagles games as I can (and, as a season ticket holder, always make sure to catch a few games at the LINC), and I never pass up a soft pretzel. But, my husband and I are also happily enjoying our life in Amsterdam. We love the culture in the city (museum card holders!), we have found a wonderful foodie culture (yay brunch! yay veggie burgers!), we love hiking throughout the country’s beautiful surroundings, we have learned that tourists on bikes are far more dangerous than one might expect, and we have found a new set of local foods to keep a smile on my face (Stroopwafel! Spelt brood! Kaas! Pepernoten! Belgian chocolate! Koffie! Poffertjes!). We have also picked up a love of running and travel … which means you’ll either find me traveling the globe during my holidays or lacing my running shoes up every Saturday morning as I train for my next race. Just as Philly is my home, Amsterdam is now my home, too – they are really the perfect pair!

Dam To Dam
My husband and I completing the 16K Dam tot Damloop in Holland with many members of the UvA Communication Science Department.

And when I’m not working, race training, hunting down the best brunch in Amsterdam, or traveling – I’m fighting for a cause that is near and dear to my heart – fighting to find a cure for Multiple Sclerosis. You see, my husband (John) was diagnosed with MS shortly after we moved to the Netherlands. When he was first diagnosed, I admittedly knew very little about the disease and what it would mean for our future. The scientist in me quickly kicked in, and I sought to learn about the disease and what we can do to fight it. While there is presently no cure for MS, there are many ongoing research initiatives that are evaluating ways to not only defeat this disease – but improve quality of life as well. And more than anything, as a scientist, I believe in the power of research. So, I founded the team ‘Find a Muckin’ Cure’ – nearly 50 members strong (and growing!), we are a team of John’s family and friends dedicated to raising awareness about MS and doing what it takes to raise money to fund new research initiatives. Each year, as part of our work, we run in an annual mud-run obstacle course called Muckfest! It’s a run designed for laughs, and it’s a fun (and muddy!) way to raise awareness and money for this cause. Last year, we were among the highest earning non-sponsored teams in Philadelphia – and we will back at every June – getting muddy and fighting for a cause that is so very dear to my heart.

Find a Muckin' Cure
At nearly 50 members, team Find a Muckin’ Cure is dedicated to fighting for a cure for MS and supporting the millions of people afflicted with this disease, including my husband.

So, that’s a little bit about me. I love my Philly hometown, I love my Amsterdam hometown. Research and teaching keep me challenged and inspired. Running keeps me grounded. My passion for fighting MS reminds me that every person can make a difference. My love of dark chocolate, late brunches, and yoga sessions reminds me that balance is key to happiness. My family and friends keep me laughing. And my husband? Well, without question he is my soul mate and best friend … I cannot imagine going on this journey without him.

Muckfest Jess & John
My best friend, my soul mate – together, we can fight anything, including multiple sclerosis. #findacure