Profile picture of Donna Davis

Donna Davis

Associate Professor
Director, Immersive Media Communication Master’s Program & Oregon Reality (OR) Lab
Phone: 503-412-3658
Office: 405 OR Lab, White Stag Building
City: Portland
Research Interests: virtual worlds, identity, avatars, metaverse, digital ethics


Donna Z. Davis joined the SOJC faculty in fall 2010 when she taught in Eugene for one year before moving to Portland. She now directs the Immersive Media Communication master’s program and the Oregon Reality (OR) lab at the SOJC-Portland. She brings more than 25 years experience in public relations, fundraising, and nonprofit communication to the classroom, including 10 years as producer and host of Family Album Radio, an award-winning, daily, two-minute radio program distributed through NPR.

Davis earned her Ph.D. in mass communication from the University of Florida, where she studied relationship formation in 3D immersive virtual environments. Her ethnographic research continues to focus on the potential uses of immersive media, virtual worlds, gamification, and other emerging social media, with a special interest in marginalized and vulnerable populations. Her research on embodied experience and identity among people with disabilities in virtual reality was funded through a grant from the National Science Foundation. She was also an inaugural faculty fellow for the SOJC Agora Journalism Center for Innovation and Civic Engagement, extending her work with people with Parkinson’s disease who find and build support in the virtual world.



  • PhD, Mass Communication, University of Florida
  • MS, Family, Youth and Community Science, University of Florida
  • BA, Journalism (Public Relations), University of Florida


Davis studies emerging social media and the affordances of virtual reality that allow embodied interaction in social virtual environments. She is specifically interested in social consequences and media effects of embodied identity and the implications this may have on quality of life, in the way communities form, and on how information is shared. Her work also focuses on vulnerable and marginalized populations.


Foxman, M., Markowitz, D. & Davis, D. (2021). Defining empathy: Conflicting discourses of virtual reality’s pro-social impact. New Media and Society 23(8):2167-2188.

Pimentel, D., Foxman, M., Davis, D., and Markowitz, D. (2021). Virtually Real, but not quite there: Social and economic barriers to meeting VR’s true potential for mental health. Frontiers, Virtual Reality in Medicine. Front. Virtual Real., 17 February 2021,

Davis, D. & Stanovsek, S. (2021). The Machine as an Extension of the Body: When Identity, Immersion and Interactive Design Serve as Both Resource and Limitation for the Disabled. Journal of Human-Machine Communication. Vol. 2, 7-21. 

Davis, D. & Chansiri, K. (2019). Digital identities - overcoming visual bias through virtual embodiment, Information, Communication & Society, 22:4, 491-505, DOI: 10.1080/1369118X.2018.1548631 

Davis, D. (2019). Social Virtual Reality – Understanding the power of virtual places and bodies for people with disabilities. In P. Ketelaar, J. Aarts, and S. Demir (Eds.) 30 Innovations in Digital Communication. Amsterdam, The Netherlands: BIS Publishers.

Donna Z. Davis & Derek Moscato (2018) The Philanthropic Avatar: An Analysis of Fundraising in Virtual Worlds Through the Lens of Social Capital, International Journal of Strategic Communication,12:3, 269-287, DOI: 10.1080/1553118X.2018.1464007

Davis, D. (2018) “Our Digital Selves: What we learn about ability from avatars in virtual worlds” American Anthropological Association's Committee on the Anthropology of Science, Technology, and Computing (CASTAC).

Davis, D. & Moscato, D. (2017). Reimagining health and disability through relationships in virtual worlds. Journal of Interactive Learning Research, 28(4), 1-26.

Davis, D. & Boellstorff, T. (2016). Compulsive Creativity: Virtual Worlds, Disability, and Digital Capital, International Journal of Communication, 10(2016), 2096-2118. Available at

Davis, D. & Yang, Y. (2015). Understanding digital media adoption: A content analysis of U.S. newspaper coverage of social networking sites and virtual worlds. Journal of New Communication Research, Vol. 6, Issue 1. 

Davis, D. (2014). Making a case for virtual healthcare communication: Mayo Clinic’s Integration of Virtual World Communities in Their Social Media Mix. Journal of Case Studies in Strategic Communication. Vol. 3, Article 7.

Davis, D. & Calitz, W. (2014). Finding virtual support: The evolution of healthcare support groups from offline to virtual worlds. Journal of Virtual Worlds Research. Vol. 7, No. 3.

Davis, D. (2014). Interviews with avatars: Navigating the nuances of communicating in virtual worlds. In P. Laufer (Ed.) Interviewing: The Oregon Method. University of Oregon Center for Journalism Innovation and Civic Engagement, Portland, Oregon.

Davis, D. (2013). A study of relationships in online virtual environments: Making a case for conducting semi-structured interviews with avatars and what we can learn about their human operators. In N. Sappleton (Ed.) Advancing Social and Business Research Methods with New Media Technologies. Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

Davis, D. (2013). Gendered performance in virtual environments. In C. Armstrong (Ed.)  Gender and Media Across Platforms and Cultures. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books (under Rowman and Littlefield).


Honors and Awards:

  • 2018, Olga M. Haley Mentorship Award of Distinction, Public Relations Society of America- Oregon. 
  • 2014, Inaugural Fellow, SOJC Agora Center for Journalism Innovation and Civic Engagement, “A Study of Gamification in a Social Virtual World To Engage Disabled Individuals in Support Communities.”
  • 2007, Council on Contemporary Families National Media Award for Radio Coverage of America’s Families for Family Album Radio, University of Florida

Grants and Fellowships

  • 2015-2018, National Science Foundation, “Collaborative Research: The Role of People with Disability in the Innovation of Online Technology.” $101,140 award. In collaboration with Tom Boellstorff at University of California, Irvine. Total grant: $378,040. Co-Principal Investigator.
  • 2014-15, University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication, Fighting Fund Grant recipient, $5,000 received for academic year 2014-2015.
  • 2014, PI, 2014 SOJC Center for Journalism Innovation and Civic Engagement Fellowship, “A Study of Gamification in a Social Virtual World To Engage Disabled Individuals in Support Communities.” $28,000.63 award. 2014 summer fellowship.
  • 2013-14, University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication, Petrone Grant recipient, $5,000 received for academic year 2013-2014.
  • 2013-14, University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication, Fighting Fund Grant recipient, $5,000 received for academic year 2013-2014.
  • 2012-13, University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication Fighting Fund Grant recipient, $5,000 received for academic year 2012-2013.

Areas of Expertise:

  • Digital communities
  • Gamification as strategic communication
  • Health communication
  • Media and disabilities
  • Public relations
  • Social/digital media and strategic communication
  • Strategic communication
  • Technology and media
  • Virtual environments


  • Mass Communication and Society
  • Creativity in Strategic Communication
  • Strategic Communication Research Methods
  • Project Management and Planning
  • Foundations in Strategic Communication
  • Communication Ethics
  • Immersive Media Marketing and Communication