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Meet “Those Media Moms”: Human Ecology alumni Drs. Roxanne Etta and Elizabeth Horgan make their national debut on Good Morning America

Two woman with long blonde hair smile and embrace while sitting at a table.

Photo by Elizabeth Buergler

When Roxanne Etta ’14, MS’16, PhD’22 and Elizabeth Horgan MS’18, PhD’22 saw an email from a Good Morning America producer in their inbox, they thought it was a joke. The two had recently launched Those Media Moms, their new business focused on empowering parents raising young children in the digital world. A few months prior, Etta sent a text to a family group chat, wishfully sharing a lifetime goal: Those Media Moms to be featured on the popular morning news program. On October 26, 2023, Etta and Horgan’s dream became reality.

Two women with long blonde hair pose back to back while wearing red and black graduation gowns.
Elizabeth Horgan MS’18, PhD’22 (left) and Roxanne Etta ’14, MS’16, PhD’22 (right), Human Development & Family Studies graduates

Good Morning America finding our website and social media platforms and reaching out to us, barely four months into our business — it was an incredible proof of concept,” Horgan said.

Despite the quick notice from media outlets, Those Media Moms is far from an overnight sensation. In fact, Etta and Horgan have been digging into research focused on children’s screen time and media use for more than a decade. They both solidified their passion and footing in the emerging field as graduate students in the Human Development & Family Studies (HDFS) program at the School of Human Ecology. Heather Kirkorian, Laura M. Secord Chair in Early Childhood Development and department chair and professor of Human Development & Family Studies, drew them to the program.

“I took an undergraduate course with Professor Kirkorian called Mass Media and Youth,” Etta said. “I remember meeting with Heather [Kirkorian] and asking her ‘How do I learn more?’ and she took me under her wing.”

A woman with shoulder-length brown hair smiles at the camera for a portrait. She is wearing a black blazer.
Heather Kirkorian, Laura M. Secord Chair in Early Childhood Development and department chair and professor of Human Development & Family Studies

Horgan learned about Kirkorian while working in nonprofit research and connecting with stakeholders in the kids’ media space. One professor directly told Horgan, “You need to go work with Heather Kirkorian, she’s perfect for you.”

Interested in learning and receiving mentorship from Kirkorian, Etta and Horgan enrolled in the HDFS PhD program in Human Ecology and worked in the Cognitive Development and Media Lab. Etta and Horgan met in the lab and became friends. Eight years later, they’ve remained inseparable; reaching milestones in tandem — becoming moms during the pandemic, defending their dissertations on the same day, and earning their PhDs together, and now, taking on the role of business owners.

Hands-on research leads to real-world impact

Etta and Horgan quickly found that their passions aligned seamlessly with the HDFS program’s goal of understanding how humans interact with their lived environment. From day one, they were hooked and learned that the School of Human Ecology was a unique learning environment where faculty were invested in their goals. Smaller class sizes meant it was easier to connect with faculty and build community with peers.

“The interdisciplinary backgrounds of professors and faculty impressed me about Human Ecology,” Horgan said. “It was exciting to interact with so many people with differing perspectives who all harmoniously worked together.”

As graduate students, Etta and Horgan conducted hands-on research in the Cognitive Development and Media Lab and the Child Development Lab (CDL) — a laboratory preschool housed in the School of Human Ecology. These research opportunities fed their curiosity and carved out a pathway to make a difference.

A woman with long blonde hair holds a new born baby at a graduation ceremony. The woman is wearing a black and red graduation gown and the baby is wearing a striped onesie and red beanie.
Etta is the mom of twin 3-year-old daughters and a 10-month-old son. She attended the Spring 2023 UW–Madison commencement ceremony with her son and Kirkorian.

“Teachers and parents who were worried about the effects of digital screens on young kids would ask us many questions,” Etta said. “We found an audience who wanted to learn more and who were empowered to make better, informed choices in their parenting and educator roles.”

These conversations with parents initially sparked the idea behind Those Media Moms. The need was clear: There was incredible research on children’s screen time and media use that was not crossing over from academic settings to the family living room. Etta and Horgan were determined to bridge the gap.

Expertise that empowers

With a combined 15 years of experience researching media use in toddlers and preschoolers, and a clear initiative to change fear-based narratives around children’s digital media, Those Media Moms — you could say — was born.

Shortly after completing the Human Ecology HDFS PhD program in December 2022, Etta and Horgan got to work. Those Media Moms’ Instagram and website went live in early 2023, targeted to the first of three main audiences: parents. The information-rich, thoughtfully designed social posts, blogs and courses offered approachable, down-to-earth resources for parents to learn and feel understood in guiding their children’s media use.

Along with their grit and motivation to bring Those Media Moms to life, Etta and Horgan felt ready and expertly positioned to move their business forward because of their experiences at the School of Human Ecology.

A woman with long blonde hair poses will holding two young children. The woman is wearing a red and black graduation gown.
Horgan is the mom of two sons — a three year old and a one year old. They all celebrated Horgan’s PhD accomplishment at the Spring 2023 UW–Madison commencement ceremony.

“Working in the Cognitive Development and Media Lab, led by Heather [Kirkorian] as the director, there was always an emphasis on the ‘so what?’” Horgan said. “What are the kids telling us through the data we’ve collected and how can we use it to benefit them?”

A frequent step in their graduate studies was taking research back to parents by hosting events at the CDL or attending a local library parents’ night. It was encouraging for Etta and Horgan to experience how leading with connection and sharing their research in understandable, real-world ways made a positive impact.

“The research and lab training, along with marketing and design experience we gained gave us the boost we needed to realize, ‘Wow, we could really take this to a whole new level,’” Etta said. “We can take our research in a creative direction and have the confidence to share our expertise with parents who are seeking this information.”

Creating a community of connection

The support Etta and Horgan strive to provide to fellow parents is a clear reflection of the support they received in the HDFS program — specifically from Kirkorian, their faculty supervisor and mentor.

“Heather [Kirkorian] is always excited to learn about something new, and I think that is why she is the best of the best,” Horgan said. “I don’t think there’s a better version of mentorship than someone who’s like, ‘Yeah, that’s a great idea, let’s figure this out — I’m here for you.’”

Whether attending conferences all over the world or sitting in Kirkorian’s office to brainstorm research ideas and next steps, her humble and unassuming nature made Etta and Horgan feel understood and encouraged in their work.

Three woman pose in red and black graduation gowns. They stand in front of a red backdrop that has "School of Human Ecology" written on it.
From left to right: Horgan, Kirkorian and Etta at the Spring 2023 School of Human Ecology graduate school celebration ceremony.

“Every interaction I’ve had with Heather [Kirkorian] over the decade has been meaningful and supportive,” Etta said. “I was a first-generation college student who didn’t know basic terms or concepts about grants or funding, but I was never intimidated to ask her questions. She always meets you where you are and helps you feel empowered.”

Kirkorian’s impact is evident in Etta and Horgan’s approach to Those Media Moms. Leading with humility and care, the co-founders ensure the research and content they share is inclusive and free of parenting guilt.

This year, Those Media Moms will release a brand-new parenting course called The Family Media Reset to complement their popular master class The Science of Screen Time. Along with strengthening their parenting audience, Etta and Horgan are taking steps to build industry and practitioner consulting arms of their business. They both share excitement about expanding the consulting side of Those Media Moms and look forward to working directly with creators of high-quality educational content for kids.

Putting a Human Ecology approach into action, Etta and Horgan won’t stop at helping one parent, but rather they aim to partner with all units and players who influence children’s media, such as early childhood educators, speech-language pathologists, pediatricians, family resource centers, and more. At the heart of every step in their work is connection.

“The School of Human Ecology’s collaborative approach is uniquely poised to train amazing innovators,” Horgan said.

“If Roxy [Etta] and I hadn’t put the effort into working together and collaborating in grad school, we wouldn’t have started Those Media Moms. We say it constantly to each other: We wouldn’t have taken this on alone. We’re so grateful that SoHE brought us together.”

Two woman with long blonde hair smile at the camera while posing for a professional portrait.
Etta (left) and Horgan (right) are grateful that the School of Human Ecology brought them together.

Through the generosity of donors Mary Sue ’81 and Mike Shannon ’80, and Leola Culver, graduate students at the UW–Madison School of Human Ecology have access to incredible research and educational opportunities.

Horgan received the Shannon Graduate Fellowship in Early Childhood Development. Etta received the Leola Culver Graduate Fellowship in Early Childhood Development. These fellowships were created to help recruit and retain exceptional doctoral candidates, pairing them with faculty to advance research with a focus on the ecology of young children.