Research Projects

Josie’s current research interests and projects revolve around the intersection of leadership and social media. Dr. Ahlquist has a very active research agenda, that includes publications that can be found (here). Below are the studies she has completed or is currently conducting.


Producing Leadership in the Digital Age

November 2017 – Current

This research would come from the students in the Florida State University Leadership in the Digital Age course. This study would seek to understand the course experiences of past students, both as they were enrolled through document analysis, as well as after in individual interviews. The intent is to improve on the course, digital leadership education and gain a deeper understanding of the needs of students as it relates to empowering leadership education through social media tools.

Research Questions in this qualitative study:

1) As a result of participation in Leadership in the Digital Age (LDA), are students able to view the foundational values of the social change model of leadership development through the lens of digital leadership, and if so, how?

2) Are LDA students able to critically analyze their past and current leadership learning experiences?  Can they examine the motivations and purposes that drive their leadership development?  If so, how do they accomplish these things?

3) Are LDA students developing the digital skills necessary to be an effective leader in the digital age?

4) Do LDA students engage a digital decision making process?

5) How do LDA students develop a digital leader identity?


#HigherEd Digital Life

January 2017 – Current 

The purpose of this research is to expand upon Ahlquist, 2015 research on Senior Student Affairs Officers on Social Media study. Findings were recently published in the New Directions in Student Services volume, Engaging the Digital Generation.

For this research, instead of just senior executives in student affairs, the study will include the digital experiences of all professionals in higher education, from new professionals to faculty, across organizational structures from HR to Enrollment Management, Alumni Affairs and beyond. Topics addressed in the survey include student connections, digital conflict, tools used, online communities and online professional development. Participant outreach will take place globally.

Research Questions in this mixed methods study:

1.     In what ways do higher education professionals utilize and participate in digital communication tools?

2.     What leadership characteristics are shared by staff who participate in digital communication tools?


NASPA Annual Conference Twitter Backchannel 

research projects 2

April 2015 – March 2016

The #NASPA15 Backchannel Research project investigated social media engagement during the 2015 Annual Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana. A dedicated team of higher education professionals and researchers investigated the use of the #NASPA15 backchannel as an engagement tool, and for evidence of the participants’ demonstration of or emerging development in the ACPA-NASPA Professional Competency Areas for Student Affairs Professionals. The goal of this research project was to move beyond traditional data used in conference evaluations (e.g. social media analytics) to uncover the deeper learning experiences happening on Twitter.

Research Questions in this mixed methods study:

1: How are the ACPA/NASPA Professional Competencies evident in the content of tweets shared with the #NASPA15 hashtag?

2: What patterns of Twitter activity are evident with the #NASPA15 hashtag?


Developing Digital Student Leaders: A Mixed Methods Study of Student Leadership, Identity and Decision Making on Social Media.

20078290_sJune 2014-May 2015

The study aims to inform leadership education in a digital age, providing educators, administrators, and student leaders themselves with the tools to transform leaders in person and online.

The purpose of the study is to understand the perceptions and experiences of student leaders’ use of social media and the meaning they make of digital technologies in their college experience.   Using a mixed methods sequential exploratory design, this study will seek to understand and explain how junior and senior college student leaders use social media through identity meaning making, digital decisions, and online leadership behavior.

Three research questions drove the need for a mixed-methodology approach:

1. What role does social media play in the identity and experiences of college student leaders?

2. What patterns of behavior exist for social media activity of college student leaders in how leadership, identity, and decision-making are portrayed online?

3. Do the self-reported experiences of college student leaders represent their documented actual behavior documented on social media?


Exploring the Social Media Utilization of Senior Level Student Affairs Leaders

research projects 3December 2013-August 2014

This project will address and contribute to the discovery of new knowledge within the field of student affairs through showcasing how senior-level student affairs leaders are utilizing social media. Through this innovative qualitative case study research, the connection of research to practice will be paramount.

By answering the research questions, a bridge will be established for all levels of leadership within student affairs. Usage patterns will provide clear data for the field, with applicable best practices and insight through such platforms as Twitter, Facebook, and blogs.

Uncovering usage by senior-level student affairs leaders gives weight and legitimacy to the professional usage of social media. Equipped with this information, all levels of student affairs practitioners, from graduate students up to the Senior Vice President, can apply this knowledge and empowerment into their professional work.

The research questions that guides this study:

1. In what ways do senior-level student affairs officers utilize and participate in social media in their leadership roles?

2. What leadership characteristics are shared by senior-level student affairs officers who participate in social media?