Senior Scholar Succeeds in Overcoming Autism


High Point University senior Sam Kizer is already making a name for himself in his chosen field. The communication major will present research at his second professional conference this spring, is working on writing a book chapter with his faculty mentor and has already been accepted to graduate school.

To those at HPU who know Kizer, these accomplishments are no surprise; he is an outstanding senior with many talents and skills. What some are surprised to learn, however, is that Kizer has high functioning autism (HFA), which often makes things like academic achievement and social interaction extremely difficult. Growing up, Kizer’s doctors did not even expect him to graduate from high school. But with dedication and determination, Kizer has not only overcome many challenges, he’s also found his passion at High Point University.

“My mind shifted when I took a popular culture seminar with Dr. Judy Isaksen, associate professor of communication, and I became really interested in how the internet allows information to be spread so quickly. Then, I wrote a paper for Dr. Jenn Brandt, director of Women’s and Gender Studies. She asked me to expand on it and I’ve been researching ever since. Being passionate about what I’m studying gives me the drive to keep going,” says Kizer.

Combining his two passions, communication and women and gender studies, Kizer has been researching feminist cyber-activism over the past few years. His most recent research focused on how cyber-activism impacted North Carolina’s Amendment One debate.

“The internet and social media allows people to talk about issues differently,” explains Kizer. “They make it possible for larger groups of people to join the discussion, instead of smaller specific groups that search out the information. So now, there are more people in the conversation and more people influencing the outcome.”

Kizer will present his research at the Popular Culture / American Culture Association National Conference in April. He says he never would have gotten this far without the support of his HPU professors.

“Having Dr. Brandt and Dr. Isaksen in my corner has been invaluable,” says Kizer. “I told both of them that I wanted to do well in their classes. Ever since, they each showed interest in me in and out of the classroom. If I was facing some personal challenges, they would notice it in my work and talk to me. They’ve also helped me understand how to negotiate the academic world, how to collaborate with other students and faculty, and made sure I fully understand what I’m getting into as I turn this into a career.”

“The intensity and rigor of Sam’s research reflect the high levels of intellectual curiosity and academic performance he demonstrates in the classroom,” says Brandt. “Sam has a clear vision of his professional goals, and by presenting his work at Governors State University’s Gender Matters Conference and the Popular Culture/American Culture Association’s National Conference, he is putting his name and research in conversation with a number of scholars in the fields of media and gender studies.”

“Sam is a delight to teach,” says Isaksen. “He loves to grapple with ideas and embraces new material because Sam literally uses the theories that he is learning to make sense of his own life. His understanding of intersectionality resonates with him fully; systems of power and oppression in terms of sexuality, gender, ability, religion, class and looks are real and tangible, and his application of theory to practice is how he lives his life.”

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