TikTok: Professor Jesse Mora’s way of connecting with students

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Prof Mora
Professor Mora with student Mary Hancock (senior) at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Oct. 5, 2022. Alexia Lara/The Occidental

It may seem like any other TikTok video selfie, but upon closer look, economics professor Jesse Mora captures a splashy memory. Jennifer Cano ‘22 said Mora filmed her being thrown into the Gilman Fountain by friends and a cardboard cutout of a BTS member on her birthday.

“Since it was our senior year, we figured it would be our last opportunity to do this tradition,” Cano said. “There was more to that day as professor Mora also brought his son to see me being thrown into the fountain, and his son even got the opportunity to push me a few times.”

Cano, who majored in computer science, said Mora’s TikTok allows students to meet professors from different departments who use the platform to share valuable insights and personal experiences. She said thatwhile she never took a class with Mora, he continues to offer her support as a mentor post-graduation due to their shared first-generation student backgrounds.

Mora offers a variety of content on his TikTok account, @oxyeconrocks — including educational, comedic and motivational short videos — and he even played a role in pushing for Occidental’s economics department Instagram page. Mora said, in addition to the general buzz surrounding TikTok, the lack of social interactions during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic encouraged him to connect with people through his newfound online presence.

Mora said he began making educational videos teaching concepts with a fun twist. He would then send the finished products to his “International Economics” students via email when class was held over Zoom. For example, he filmed a video displaying a vast assortment of hot sauces from his home — 16 types in total — to demonstrate the consumer demand for a variety of products as opposed to just one.

Labeling himself in his TikTok bio as an “Econ professor obsessed with shipping containers,” Mora said he enjoys making videos, including his first ever TikTok post, joking about and emphasizing the importance of shipping containers.

“I teach [about shipping] mostly in ‘International Economics,’ and shipping containers are a big part of that,” Mora said. “We talk about how they influence trade, how they influence the LA economy, infrastructure, trains and traffic pollution. It’s just sort of a personal obsession of mine, so I wanted to incorporate that.”

In one of his recent videos, Mary Hancock (senior) and Mora jump into each other’s sides in celebration. Hancock said Mora suggested they film themselves dancing to Echosmith’s “Cool Kids” in celebration of their faculty-student research paper reaching the revise and resubmit status, a step closer to a publication and a milestone for faculty-student partnerships at Occidental.

“We submitted a paper in January, and we heard back,” Hancock said. “Essentially, if you make all these changes, you have a pretty good chance of getting accepted into a journal, so we were excited about that.”

Mora said he gets some inspiration for TikTok videos from students as well as events happening around and on campus, but most come to him spontaneously, as did the TikTok with Hancock.

“We did a little celebration at the beginning, and as we were leaving after we had our discussion, I thought, ‘Oh, I could record this because it would be a good TikTok,’” Mora said. “It’s not something that I’m planning far ahead [for]; it’s just in the moment.”

Sophia Thé (senior) has taken three of Mora’s classes and was also featured on his TikTok. She was asked in a video about her thoughts on the Economics Summer Research Kickoff event, and while she said her experience was great, the crying filter over her face said otherwise. Thé said that despite not having a TikTok account herself, she enjoyed taking part in Mora’s videos.

“It brings a very light, airy element to whatever we’re doing in the econ department,” Thé said. “I was in a couple of his TikToks, and I like being featured. It just shows the department on an everyday level that you don’t always get to see, and it also shows that professors, at least professor Mora and the econ department, are very in touch with their students.”

Reflecting on his past year on social media, Mora said his initial goals of improving his relationships with students during remote learning continues to have an impact in person.

“I talk about how technology changes all the time, and how the way we communicate is different,” Mora said. “This is the language that [students] speak. I get the sense that they look at Instagram more than they look at official emails, to be frank, so the technology that’s being used by college students is a way to communicate with them, and it would allow us to get closer to them.”

Although the majority of TikTok’s user demographic is made up of teenagers and young adults, Thé said it has been beneficial for students to have professors like Mora participate.

“It makes me feel like I can relate to [professors] a lot more,” Thé said. “I think it closes whatever age gap there is just by having something that we can all connect with.”

Contact Vivian Ko at vko@oxy.edu.