Greetings! My name is Kris Knutson and I am a (relatively) new faculty member in the Department of Communication and Journalism at UWEC. I am really excited to be talking to you today about a study of mine that was recently published in Family Science.
I am a quantitative social scientist by training which means that I use statistics to help me understand the communicative phenomenon I am investigating. In this study, my co-author and I used mediational analyses to analyze our data. This is a fancy way of saying we were interested in answering the question of “How?”
We had two big “how” questions we attempted to answer in this study, but I am only going to talk about one of them today.
We began with the very common-sense assumption that college students would perceive greater separation from their families at the end of a typical college semester than they did at the beginning. We were interested in figuring out how that change happened.
So, we set out to find variables that would help us explain the phenomenon we were investigating. We knew that feeling an increasing sense of separation from one’s family is considered very normal for college students, and we thought that college students might feel more separated from their families because they perceive less social support from their families.
Social support, as we measured it, is experienced when individuals perceive that there are people in their lives who they can go to when things aren’t going right. These people will help them with their problems, help them deal with their emotions, help them make decisions, and overall just be there as individuals who will listen to them (Zimet, Dahlem, Zimet, & Farley, 1988). What is important to remember with social support is that a person has to perceive the support to be affected by it (Wills & Shinar, 2000). So, while parents might think that they provide a lot of support to their children who are in college, if college students feel like they shouldn’t need that support or that they can’t truly access it because of a large distance between them and their parents, they might not recognize and label the supportive messages they get from their parents as “supportive.” If they do this, they don’t reap the benefits of that support.
We predicted that social support was part of the explanation of how family separation increased across a semester, but we knew that there was more to it than that. So, we decided to look at loneliness as another explanatory variable; we thought if students felt like they weren’t able to get support from their family members then those feelings of separation from their families might make them feel lonelier. Once they felt more loneliness, it only made sense that they would also experience more stress.
In all, our predicted model indicated that students would feel greater separation from their families across the course of a college semester because they first feel that they are getting less support from their family members which leads to increased loneliness which then leads to feelings of greater stress.
In testing this hypothesis we found that students do report feeling more disengagement from their families at the end of normal fall semester than they do at the beginning of a semester. Also, the order of the explanatory variables in our model was found to be correct. You can explain changes in perceptions of family separation by a decrease in perception of family support which leads to an increase in perceptions of loneliness and then an increase in perceptions of stress.
So, what does this all mean? Well, it asks us to remember that although separation from one’s family upon going to college is considered a “normal” process, there are psychosocial consequences associated with that transition (e.g., increased loneliness and thus increased stress). Thus, it is important that students are consistently made aware of the support services that they can access on campus because they might not see their families as viable options for needed support.
As with all things, however, our model only answers part of the “How?” question. There are many other variables that would help us better understand how perceptions of family separation change across a semester, and those are things that my co-author and I (as well as other researchers) can look at for years to come!
Thanks so much for reading about my research! If you have any questions, you can feel free to email me at email@example.com.
Wills, T. A., & Shinar, O. (2000). Measuring perceived and received social support. In S. Cohen, L. Underwood, & B. H. Gottleib (Eds.), Social support measurement and intervention: A guide for health and social scientists. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Zimet, G. D., Dahlem, N. W., Zimet, S. G. & Farley, G. K. (1988). The multidimensional scale of perceived social support. Journal of Personality Assessment, 52, 30-41. doi: 10.1207/s15327752jpa5201_2.
Generations of UW-Eau Claire students have fond memories of getting great broadcast experiences working for WUEC FM 89.7. The current generation of students are leaving their mark on the station with a change in format designed to feature more voices from around the university and the larger community. That change, along with excellent student reporting and advisor support, has helped triple the size of the audience tuning in on Sunday evenings from 5:00-8:00 p.m.
According to Nielsen Audio, in the spring of 2014, Blugold Radio drew 1,300 listeners in an average week. This includes an average of 500 individuals listening to the show at any one time. To give the number some perspective, the average number during the fall of 2013 was 400 listeners and 100 fewer the semester before that. Breane Lyga, a UW-Eau Claire senior and Blugold Radio’s station manager, and Dean Kallenbach, a Blugold Radio adviser and regional manager for Wisconsin Public Radio credit the increase in part to the changes in format.
The new format, known as Blugold Radio, features three newscasts and three sportscasts per hour, as well as weekly feature segments on important issues involving the campus and the local community. There are also entertainment, arts, research and history segments.
A producer during the spring semester, Lyga made the jump to station manager this fall. She reacted to the increase in listenership with excitement. Looking back to spring, she remembers key changes. “It has gone from just interviews and music to movie reviews, a history segment and even a gaming segment,” she said. “A little bit of everything for everyone.”
Lyga’s role as station manager entails a lot of administrative work. This ranges from managing a team of 52 volunteers and paid staff, acting as the liaison between the staff and Kallenbach and hiring new staff to running the weekly budget meetings and meeting with Student Senate.
Variety in the new format is just one of the reasons Lyga thinks there has been such an increase. The number of segments produced has more than doubled. In addition to her station management duties, Lyga finds time to produce a segment each week on research. Station staff have also added a segment that features student organizations every week. Not all contributions are coming from communication and journalism students, a trend Lyga encourages.
“We have a history major who does a history segment and a creative-writing major who does a radio drama,” said Lyga. “I think just that variety of what is possible on Blugold Radio has also helped with our listenership and increased volunteers.”
As for the pressure of expectations, she is more aware that people are actually listening and thinks it is definitely in the minds of the producers and volunteers but maintains that “the quality has been better than it’s ever been.”
Beyond those changes, Lyga recognizes Blugold Radio would not have such a significant presence if it were not for the involvement of Wisconsin Public Radio and Dean Kallenbach. “He comes here on a volunteer basis to train and work with all of the staff,” Lyga said of Kallenbach, “and having a professional come in and give us tips and pointers has really helped Blugold Radio be successful as a whole.”
Kallenbach oversees student programming on Blugold Radio alongside faculty adviser Dr. Maureen Schriner. When asked about the factors he believes contributed to the increase, he mentions a shift in focus. “The student broadcasters made a conscious effort last year”, he said, “to focus their efforts into a single three hour magazine program that is largely journalistic.” Kallenbach believes that the change in programming was followed by an increase in interest in the program.
Along with campus and community focus, Kallenbach also credited public relations efforts for the increase, mentioning, “our public relations team at Blugold Radio did a nice job spreading the word through campus events, social media, news releases, advertising trades and web activity.”
All of this increased listenership has also spurred interest in participating in the station, which Kallenbach sees as “a testament to the good work we’re doing to connect with the campus and community with our broadcasts.”
Does it change the approach to the current semester? Kallenbach thinks it reinforces the commitment students have made to focus on spoken word content. “I’m sure it will keep evolving,” he said, “ but this long-form journalistic style makes sense–it’s also very compatible for digital use.”
Remember to tune into Blugold Radio this Sunday and every Sunday during the semester from 5-8 p.m. on 89.7 WUEC-FM as well as through www.wuec.org. Archives of past shows and stories can also be heard on the WUEC website.
I would love to hear from WUEC alumni. What are your thoughts about the increase in listeners and the changes in programming? Email me at or comment below.
On this homecoming week, it is only fitting that one of our new UW-Eau Claire faculty members is a former student. I recently had an opportunity to sit down with Evan Perrault, the newest member of the Department of Communication and Journalism. A recent graduate of Michigan State University, Perrault is now teaching Communication in Contemporary Society (CJ105), Writing for Public Relations (CJ373) and Public Relations Campaign Planning (CJ374). Our conversation covered many topics but one thing was clear throughout: Perrault is enthusiastic about what he is doing and loves where he has ended up.
How is the new semester going?
I’m enjoying it. I’m really enjoying my students. The caliber of students here is unlike anywhere I know. They’re thirsty for knowledge; they are students who want to learn. It’s something that you don’t really find at bigger institutions, even at other institutions this size in the state. I’ve been able to visit many different schools during my graduate schooling and have interacted with their students. I don’t think there are any other students out there like the students here. I think part of it is the liberal education core that we have. We want students to not just be experts in their disciplines or sub-disciplines, but also well-rounded individuals who are able to approach problems from lots of different angles.
I think that is why I am where I am today, because I had that broad knowledge base and liberal education. I think there is a whole culture here surrounded by this idea that we can do more than just what our discipline says we can do.
How does it feel to be back in Eau Claire?
I love it. The learning curve is a lot less steep, which I really like, because I know where I’m going; I know where the resources are and how to find them. I think that is one of the biggest challenges when you start a new job anywhere is just trying to figure out the little things to help you survive. Luckily I’ve been able to focus more time on my teaching because of the high level of familiarity I already have with the institution.
What is your academic background?
I graduated from UW-Eau Claire in the winter of 2006 with a double major in political science and broadcast journalism. Then I was a TV reporter for a little more than two and a half years at two different stations in Wisconsin, but decided the TV life wasn’t for me and decided to go back to school.
During my time as a reporter I did a lot of stories on health care. I always thought, there had to be better ways we could improve how people learned about health and how we could communicate about it more effectively through the media. As a result I looked for graduate programs that had a strong health communication focus, and found Michigan State University’s to be one of the top programs in the nation for health and risk communication.
The funding I received as a Master’s student required me to teach undergraduate courses, and I immediately fell in-love with teaching. Unlike television news where I never knew if my messages were having an impact, with teaching I can see if my messages are really taking-hold in my audience – my students.
After that first year of my Master’s program I knew I was in the right job, so I decided to continue my graduate studies. I just finished my Ph.D. in communication from Michigan State University in May of this year.
What are your interests in public relations?
My core interest is in health communication. I am specifically interested in how patients choose their primary care physicians, and what healthcare systems can provide to patients to help them make more informed decisions. For example, I have performed a few content analyses about the kind of information that appears on doctors’ online biographies. The amount of information that is provided to help patients make an informed decision is very limited. It’s normally just a name, their education, where they did their residencies, and that’s about it. Personally, when I am searching for a new doctor I want to know if this person is someone with whom I would feel comfortable disclosing highly personal information. We know that we like to disclose information to our friends because we know personal information about them, and they are similar to us on a number of dimensions. So I thought, why can’t we try to make doctors seem a little more like us; a little more human? My dissertation tested this idea by showing prospective patients biographies of doctors that had either professional or personal information about the doctor within them. People overwhelmingly chose to want to visit the physician that included personal information about herself within the biography. This is a simple addition healthcare systems could make to their current biographical offerings that could help patients make better decisions for themselves about the kind of doctor they want taking care of them. I’m interested in continuing this line of research during my time here at UW-Eau Claire, and hopefully being able to partner with the health systems in town to find the best ways to improve their physician information online.
Second, I’m also broadly interested in campaign design and evaluation, which is why the PR campaigns class is a good fit for me. I’m interested in how we can gather data from target audiences and use that data to try to make the most effective messages possible.
What do you think of the direction of the CJ department is heading?
I’m excited about it. I think there is a void in this region, and even in the state, with regards to higher education beyond the bachelor’s in health communication. Next year we’re starting a graduate certificate in health communication and hopefully moving into a full blown master’s program. That is something I think this region could really use. With the health systems in town, and the excellent nursing school at UW-Eau Claire, I think a graduate program in health communication is a great way to bridge all these fields together. After all, you cannot have effective health care without effective communication.
What are your interests outside of work?
In what little time I can find, I like to watch football (of course the Green Bay Packers), but also try to find some time to cheer on my Michigan State Spartans. My wife and I recently bought a house, so there have been lots of projects that have been taking up my time. Other than that, we like to travel and cook together, and we look forward to discovering some new places to eat in the Eau Claire area.
We begin in Canada
The story of Nice, France begins in Montreal. Yes, Canada. Dr. Mike Dorsher won a 2008-09 Fulbright Scholar research fellowship in Montreal at McGill University. It was during this fellowship that Dorsher gained an appreciation for the French culture that is an enduring way of life in some parts of the country.
A few years later, after a study abroad trip to Peru, Dorsher proposed the idea of a journalist workshop in Quebec to the Institute for Education in International Media (ieiMedia), an organization offering journalism study-abroad programs. The response from ieiMedia was that students want to go to Europe. Thus began his role as Program Director: this included the budgeting, itinerary planning and syllabus writing that would take 20 students (12 from UWEC) and seven faculty members to Nice, France.
The study abroad program ran from July 4 to August 1 with a one credit direct study during the spring semester. Quick geography lesson: Nice is on the southeast coast of France on the Mediterranean, located conveniently between Cannes and Monaco.
The journalists become les journalistes
The students and faculty generally began their days with French lessons at Actilangue, a French language school in Nice. After that was journalism class until the school would lock up for lunch, which offered a definite reminder they were in the south of France; as Dorsher explains, “everyone took at least a full hour for lunch and oftentimes, as the French do, would take two, two and a half hours for lunch.”
After what quickly became more of a working lunch, the students and faculty would break into groups of four to five students and one or two faculty members to work on assignments. A planning mix-up left the teams with only one interpreter to work with.
“We only had one interpreter for 80 hours of time,” said Dorsher. “We had been told, I had been told and made plans for four interpreters for 20 hours a piece and so that was a big challenge, for only one group at a time or one person at a time to have a professional interpreter.”
The misunderstanding led to some frustration from the French people and students alike but quickly forced the issue of improving their language skills. The resulting students’ stories comprise two blogs: Nice Nous and Nice du Jour-nalisme.
When asked what he thought the students got out of the program, Dorsher said, “maybe the largest benefit is just that it gives them confidence or at least the suspicion that in the future they are able to handle what is thrown at them or what they need to do in order to get a story under difficult and uncertain circumstances.”
“Once they have been able to get a story, several stories, in a foreign language they speak little if any of, and in a foreign place that is very different from any place they’ve ever lived before,” he continued, “it’s the case that when you have to get a story in English on the other side of Eau Claire instead of just on campus, it has to be a lot less daunting.”
As for the experience as a whole, Dorsher sums it up perfectly: “It’s the fabulous sights that we saw, fabulous food we ate, the fabulous people that we met and talked with, and if not made friends with, at least got to see first hand what their life was like.”
Public relations and terrible packing
One of those students on the trip was Larissa Jackson, a senior double majoring in public relations and liberal arts with a photography emphasis. She decided to go because she always wanted to travel abroad. Despite having very little French language knowledge beforehand and finding that the most challenging barrier, she is certain she will be back.
As a public relations student, Jackson’s role involved writing about, as she describes, “the students and the experiences we all took part in.” An example of this is a story she wrote describing the ieiMedia students touring the Matisse Museum in Nice.
Asked what she learned, Jackson expressed matters both philosophical and pragmatic:
“That there is so much of the world that I have yet to see. That traveling really does open your eyes to so many new things. To keep an open mind, being in such a new environment with new people, you just have to take it day by day. I also learned that I am a terrible packer and next time, because there will be a next time, my packing tactics will be so much different.”
When asked if she would do it again, Jackson simply responded, “when are we leaving?”
“Coming back home everything seemed so boring and blah compared to everything back in France,” she said. “It was a trip that I will never forget: the place, the people, the food, that wine.”
Dorsher made sure to let me know they are working on a return trip to Nice for next summer. Hoping to learn from and improve upon this past trip, the plan is to fly into London and spend three or four days there doing some initial journalism in a familiar language and touring the BBC. They are also planning the timing to coincide with Wimbledon in hopes of enjoying some early round matches. From there, the group will get on the Eurostar and ride under the English Channel to Paris. After three or four days in Paris, it is off to Nice for the remaining three weeks. Those interested should check out ieiMedia’s Nice, France study abroad page for more information.
Greetings, and thanks for keeping in touch with the UWEC Department of Communication and Journalism through this blog. As we move through the third week of an exciting new academic year, it seems like a good time to update you on a newish face in the department and a new brand.
Dr. Evan Perrault: A familiar face, a different role
The department is very pleased to welcome Dr. Evan Perrault back to UWEC and to the department. Evan began work this fall as an assistant professor with primary teaching duties in the public relations area. He recently completed a Ph.D. in Communication at Michigan State University. He is particularly interested in public relations messages in health care contexts. Evan is a 2006 UWEC graduate with majors in broadcast journalism and political science, and he has professional experience in broadcast journalism. Even though the campus looks quite a bit different than it did when he left in 2006, Evan says he feels at home. The department looks forward to the wonderful knowledge and experience he will bring to students.
A note on The Power of AND
In May 2014, the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire launched a new brand, designed to better reflect what it means to be a Blugold. As the brand launch website says “UW-Eau Claire helps to unleash The Power of AND by challenging students, faculty, staff and alumni to explore their multiple passions and academic pursuits. Blugolds are not defined solely by one interest or discipline. They are competitive, successful graduates with much to offer the world.”
As you might guess, the Department of Communication AND Journalism is no stranger to The Power of AND. Our students combine mastering theoretical knowledge AND gaining applied experience, they are strong students AND working professionals, and they are leaders on campus AND active in the community. Check out the brand launch page for much more information on the new brand, and for lots of photos of students identifying their Power of AND.
Over the course of the year, this blog will share many stories of how students experience The Power of AND in the Department of Communication and Journalism. Alumni—let us know how The Power of AND has played out in your lives by contacting Alex Jansen, social media intern at or commenting on this post.
Mary Hoffman, professor and chair of the department
Hello everyone. My name is Alex Jansen and I’ll be managing the blog this semester. I will be graduating in December with a degree in public relations. Unlike most students here, I don’t have a minor because I am a second-degree student; I received a bachelor’s degree in Communication Arts from UW-Madison in 2010.
I decided to come back to school and study public relations because after graduating the first time around, I moved to Los Angeles and quickly found I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do with my life. Public relations to me represented an area where creative language and critical thinking could be used in very practical, relevant ways. Oddly enough, the reason I ended up in Eau Claire is because I was originally accepted as and spent one semester as a graduate student studying English Literature.
I look forward to sharing news, research and more from our Communication & Journalism department faculty, students and alumni. I would also love to hear from alumni, so feel free to email me at CJIntern@uwec.edu.
The corridors of Hibbard Hall are pretty quiet in July. Most faculty members are off campus–teaching online, conducting research, and preparing fall classes. The summer orientation rush is over, which means all of our new students are registered for fall semester. Although some students wander through on their way to face-to-face classes, more and more students are opting for online coursework during the summer.
But as quiet as it may be in Hibbard Hall, UW-Eau Claire journalism students are busy, busy, busy this summer applying what they’ve learned in the classroom. Here are just a few examples of the great things our student journalists (and recent alumni) are doing:
Dow Jones News Fund: Katie Bast, a 2014 graduate is spending her summer at the Sacramento Bee as one of only 85 students across the country to be named Dow Jones News Fund Interns. This is the second time in the last three years that a UW-Eau Claire journalism student has received this highly competitive internship. For addditional information from the UW-Eau Claire News Bureau see: http://www.uwec.edu/News/releases/14/06/0623BastDowJones.htm
Katie Bast (Communication and Journalism, 2014) visits the newsroom at the Austin American Statesmen in preparation for her summer internship with the Sacramento Bee through the Dow Jones News Fund. (Photo courtesy of Bradley Wilson).
Green Bay Press-Gazette: In addition to spending three weeks at the Washington Post this winter, Devroy fellow and 2014 graduate Rachel Minske is completing a summer internship at the Green Bay Press-Gazette. Check out her introductory column: http://www.greenbaypressgazette.com/article/20140617/GPG0101/306170385/Today-s-take-Minnesotan-learns-love-Wisconsin.
Eau Claire Leader-Telegram: As I am reminded every day when I read the paper, a number of our students are also interning with the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram this summer. I love to see the work of Elizabeth Jackson, Courtney Kueppers, and Breane Lyga in print (or in my case, on my screens)! Keep your eyes open for their bylines at http://www.leadertelegram.com/news/.
Eye-Opening International Experiences:
Dr. Mike Dorsher and several journalism students leave this week for a month-long reporting and writing adventure in Nice, France. They’ll be exploring beaches and castles, but more importantly learning to identify interesting and important international stories and report them in a variety of formats. For more about the program: http://ieimedia.com/nice
One of our biggest goals in the Department of Communication and Journalism at UW-Eau Claire is to make sure that students practice their professional skills and apply their professional knowledge in the field at the same time as they learn about them in the classroom. Summer is great chance for students to continue doing and learning journalism.
If you’d like to host a UWEC CJ student intern in journalism, public relations, advertising, organizational communication or communication studies, post a comment here, or email Mary Hoffman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By: Associate CJ Professor Mike Dorsher
Students in this semester’s CJ 321: Intermediate Journalism class began planning their coverage of the April 17 Ann Devroy Memorial Forum a month ahead of time. But they had to throw out much of that planning and scramble to catch up to events when the Devroy Forum’s originally scheduled keynote speaker, Washington Post “In the Loop” columnist Al Kamen, suffered a back injury and had to cancel just three days before the event. The Post’s White House bureau chief, Scott Wilson, quickly and graciously volunteered to take Kamen’s place, but the Intermediate Journalism students knew almost nothing about him, so they had to dive into researching his background.
Three days later, the 16 Intermediate Journalism students were ready to cover every facet of this year’s Devroy Forum: the reception for Wilson and community/campus leaders, his question and answer session with them, the awarding of the Devroy Fellowship to a top journalism student, Wilson’s keynote address and the audience questions that followed. Plus, several of the CJ 321 students sat in the following morning when Wilson stayed over and met with the CJ 303: Research Methods for Journalists class and then had an exclusive lunch with a half-dozen journalism students in the Second Year Experience program.
You can see and hear all of the Intermediate Journalism students’ coverage of this year’s Devroy Forum events at http://Devroy2014.wordpress.com.
The site – thanks largely to the CJ 321 students’ enthusiastic social media promotion of it – had more than 500 page views in its first week, and the site’s editors continued to refine it all week long. Because as today’s journalism students know, news happens, and the story is never complete. Keep reading the Communication and Journalism Blog for the ongoing story of the CJ Department and its students!
Every year UWEC students have the opportunity to go on the Civil Rights Pilgrimage. Students have the opportunity to visit sites of historic importance to the U.S. civil rights movement and also make a stop in New Orleans to see the famous Preservation Hall. Amy Hahn went on the Civil Rights Pilgrimage this spring break and here is her experience.
I grew up just outside of Minneapolis and graduated from a rather diverse high school. Coming to a university like Eau Claire was exactly the opposite from the diverse student body I had known in high school.
When Jan Larson presented her special topics course “Civil Rights Reporting” to my CJ 427 class, I didn’t jump at the opportunity right away. In my personal ignorance, I thought I was well versed and understood racial issues because of where I grew up, but I could not have been more wrong.
The entire immersion experience was eye opening, and even uncomfortable at some times. You get thrust into an experience that you’ve only ever read about in textbooks or seen in movies, but it wasn’t until we made our stop in Selma, Alabama that the importance of this trip hit home. Selma is home to the historic Bloody Sunday beatings of civil rights protestors, and you can still feel the race and class inequalities today.
While we were in Selma, I had an assignment to get a story on a local youth group called the Random Acts of Theater Company, or RATCo for short. Listening to this group of kids share their stories of inequality through poetry, song, and hip hop dance moves was awe inspiring. They lit something in me that I didn’t realize existed.
The Civil Rights Pilgrimage or CRP as us veterans like to call it, had an unforeseen influence on what I wanted to do with my future and my career. If I am fortunate enough to get a job within the journalism field, I want to write about things that matter – Carrie Bradshaw and her life as sex columnist doesn’t seem to be quite as fulfilling as I once imagined. I also want to make it my job to make media representation more diverse and inclusive.
It was an amazing opportunity to flex my journalism muscles. Working with a small team of journalists all of whom have a story to complete before the 10 day trip is up teaches you how to think on your toes, and how to adapt when a situation doesn’t go quite as planned.
It was also great to get out of the Midwest bubble. It’s easy to report around Eau Claire in a personal safe zone where everyone is that special ‘Midwest nice’ I’m accustomed to. The immersion trip introduced me to an array of southerners that served you with a lot of sass if you forgot your ‘ma’am’ or ‘sir.’ Reporting in a new environment taught me a lot and forced me to get out of my comfort zone to get the information that I needed.
Although Jan Larson isn’t offering CJ 491 this upcoming year while she is on sabbatical, I would recommend the Civil Rights Pilgrimage to any one who is considering going. The experience and the learning alone make you a more informed citizen of humanity. The trip begs you to think critically and start asking questions about why things are the way they are. Going on this trip with an open mind and heart will change your life.
Amy Hahn, Journalism Major
Just last week, I was invited to present my research program to my school’s chapter of Lambda Pi Eta, a national communication honors fraternity. If you’ve never had the opportunity to present your body of research to undergraduate students, let me tell you: it’s a treat! As I sat down to figure out which of my research projects to highlight, which to ignore, and how to make it all sound interesting to a captive audience (which is the most challenging part!), I took a few moments to reflect on my experiences as a Public Communication Major at UW-Eau Claire. My little trip down memory lane was nostalgic, but it also helped me understand the preparation UWEC gave me for my career. Let me share some of these reflections with you:
I graduated from UWEC in 2010 with a BA in Communication. My emphasis was in Public Communication, which I realized after graduation made me a professional in public speaking. After a two-year stint in a Master’s program, I am now currently pursuing a PhD in Communication Studies from Ohio University. For those of you unfamiliar with the type of work that goes into getting a PhD, let me elaborate: I currently take three courses each semester (I took 4 once, and that was a mistake!), teach an undergraduate course in Communication Studies, and serve as the Associate Director of Forensics for our speech and debate team. In addition to all of these things, I do research projects on the side! It’s definitely a lot of work, but I get to do all the things I loved doing as a communication major for my job, and that’s fantastic!
Once I finish my PhD work, my hope is to get a job teaching Communication Studies at a 4-year public university. Also, because I’ve had so many fantastic mentors during my education (including the phenomenal Karen Morris, Kelly Jo Wright, and Dr. Mary Hoffman!), I would like to be able to advise and mentor undergraduate AND graduate students. Some of the most fun and interesting conversations I had in school were one-on-one with my (many) mentors, and now I would like to do my part to help encourage future students to achieve their very best.
Fortunately for me, my experiences at UWEC prepared me well to accomplish all of these things. As an aspiring Communication professional, I’m concerned with messages – what types of messages do we send in different situations? Why do we send them? How do we send them? What do we want those messages to do? And how are those messages being interpreted? These are some of the broad questions that every Communication professional is concerned with, and those are the questions I was taught to answer through my coursework and my involvement with speech and debate.
My training began with the speech team, and the intensive coaching I received to research topics, find information, organize ideas, write coherent and concise arguments, and deliver those arguments in a compelling fashion. The hands-on guidance and practice I received through my participation with the UWEC Forensics team helped me cultivate superb speaking abilities, and those abilities have made me a better teacher and a better citizen. I also received training in speaking through my Public Speaking, Advanced Public Speaking, and Persuasion classes, which taught me about the nuances of different speaking situations and how to tailor my presentations to be successful in different contexts. In addition, I learned how to critically analyze messages by taking courses like Communication Criticism, Communication Theory, and an independent study in Rhetorical Theory. These courses taught me how to look deeper into a message and understand its many complexities—the subtle ideas that many people are unaware of.
I’ll bet you a dollar (graduate school doesn’t pay well!) that if you ask any employer what skill they desire most in a potential job candidate, they will tell you they want excellent communication skills. Many people make the mistake of thinking that “excellent communication skills” mean “I can speak in front of people,” but this is just the tip of the iceberg. What these employers want is someone who can read reports (often confusing ones) and relay the information to others so that it makes sense. They want someone who can critically analyze a message to make sure it appeals to the people they want to appeal to. They want someone who can write clearly and concisely, so that information is conveyed quickly and smoothly. And they want someone who can do all of this without boring people to death! Cultivating “excellent communication skills” is a difficult task, but my experiences studying Communication and participating in forensics helped me do just that. So, gentle reader, if you’re asking yourself “how can I learn to communicate better?” or “what can I study that will be interesting and useful?” or even “what group can I join to have fun and learn useful skills?” then I believe you, like me, will find the answer in Communication.