Who the Folk?! Sherri Jean Katz

University of Minnesota professor and new Minnesotan, Sherri Jean Katz, talks to us about her research, being smart about technology and kids, and why she thinks Minneapolis is the perfect size.

You just moved to the Twin Cities, welcome! Where did you come from?

I just moved from Ithaca, NY where I was a postdoctoral associate at Cornell testing the effect of different cigarette warning labels on people’s behavior. I’m originally from Long Island, though, and spent years living in New York working in public relations and advertising for Broadway shows.

You’re working at the University of Minnesota now. What’s your role there?

I’m an Assistant Professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. I teach strategic communication classes and focus on research in cognitive abstraction and technology.

What exactly is your research in cognitive abstraction and technology?

I’m interested in how we connect everyday choices and behaviors to abstract goals. How does that boil down to the choices we make? For instance, wanting to eat healthier is an abstract concept, but what does that look like? What makes us choose an apple over a cookie? I look at how we can use messages and persuasive technology to connect people to their goals and their choices.

What’s your policy on using technology with kids? I feel that this generation of parents is sort of making it up as we go along.

I have also studied media and kids. It used to be that the American Pediatric Association recommended no screen time for children under two, but that just changed. I think it’s up to the parents to decide and make their own choices.

For me, I see everything my 22-month-old daughter sees. What you’re calling screen time can be very different in interactivity. For instance, doing FaceTime with the grandparents is different than being left unattended in front of the screen. I make sure not to watch TV in front of her, but my daughter plays games and gets my old tablet and iPhone. It’s great when I’m trying to get ready in the morning. As long as parents know what their kids are watching and balance it with other activities, I think it can be very helpful to have some screen interaction.

What are your first impressions of Minnesota?

I just moved in June and I really like it so far. I lived in New York, a big city, and Ithaca, a small town. Minneapolis is a nice balance because I have the city accessible, but there’s a more neighborhood feel in the area where we live. My commute is not bad from Roseville. I’m used to the cold in Ithaca and because I’m a faculty member, I can get away for a few weeks during the worst of winter.

What’s your favorite Jewish food?

I’m a big fan of matzo ball soup because I like it when my mom makes it.

She used to send me back to Ithaca with troughs of matzo ball soup.

What’s your favorite Jewish holiday?

I would have to say this year Hanukkah was really fun with my daughter because she had so much fun with the candles, and the activities with the temple and community. (We just joined Temple of Aaron). We’re looking forward to Purim, too. She’s just gotten into a princess phase and I think she’ll have fun dressing up for it.


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