Classes/Teaching Philosophy

CLASSES

Undergraduate and bridge-level courses taught:

COMS 104, Introduction to Communication Studies

COMS 244, Introduction to Interpersonal Communication Theory

COMS 342, Problem Solving in Teams and Groups

COMS 440, Communication and Gender [cross-listed with WGSS 440]

COMS 498, Honors Thesis

COMS 499, Directed Study in Communication Studies

COMS 530, Internship in Communication Studies [approx. 150 from 6/2008-12/2010]

COMS 544, Advanced Interpersonal Communication: Theories and Research

Graduate courses taught:

COMS 741, Special Topics in Communication Studies

COMS 844, Advanced Interpersonal Communication: Theories and Research

COMS 850, Introduction to Research Methods

COMS 898, Investigation and Conference (M.A.)

COMS 899, Master’s Thesis (M.A.)

COMS 930, Gender, Pedagogy, and Research

COMS 945, Seminar in Social Support

COMS 997, Research in (special graduate topic) (Ph.D.)

COMS 998, Investigation and Conference (Ph.D.)

COMS 999, Doctoral Dissertation (Ph.D.)

 

TEACHING PHILOSOPHY

As a teacher, scholar, and mentor, I strive every day to embody the values that are central to me as a feminist. In my teaching, I foster critical thinking skills and awareness of the social gendered world in my students through both student-centered and service-learning processes. I create interactive, tolerant, and safe environments that allow for the expression of student conceptions but also for their exposure to, and acceptance of, perspectives that vary from those they may have previously adopted. As a scholar, I promote alternative approaches and methodologies while prompting students and colleagues to undertake action research, as I do, that makes a beneficial difference in individual lives and in society as a whole. My extensive program of published research often investigates both the impacts of gender on communication and the elements of meaningful social (and emotional) support, thus equipping me with the expertise needed to cover my chosen curricula and to assist my students with the difficulties they face in school and life. In pursuance of all of these professional activities, I mentor my undergraduate and graduate students with great emotional investment and caring, relational effort, patience and accessibility, and by modeling social awareness and activism.

I am an undying advocate for women but also for anyone who bears the consequences of prejudice, discrimination, ostracism, and abuse. I have taught many undergraduates to do the same, and have mentored graduate students who have become noteworthy feminist scholars and teachers within the discipline of Communication Studies. Whenever possible, I invest my personal time and energy in causes that serve women’s issues and promote gender equity.

There is a constellation of pedagogical and interpersonal features that I attempt to implement in the classroom, my office, and any other setting where I perform the duties of a Professor in the Department of Communication Studies at the University of Kansas. As I teach courses in Introductory and Advanced Interpersonal Communication, Communication and Gender, Social Support, and Gender, Pedagogy & Research, I construct open and dialogic contexts that foster student-centered learning, critical thinking skills for the application of theory and research into practice, service learning, and valuable mentoring relationships. In doing so, I ask students to stretch beyond their previous levels of realization and accomplishment, model for them exactly what my expectations are, and integrate as many different perspectives about vital issues as I can. To motivate their complete participation in such learning experiences, I make myself accessible in every way possible; this includes my empathy and support for students’ feelings and outcomes, an open door policy outside of the classroom, and an enthusiasm for learning from them as they learn about themselves. In essence, I take bell hooks’ (1994, p. 132) notion that it is important to create a “space” wherein “emotional trust” is facilitated so that “intimacy and regard for one another can be nourished.”

To a great extent, I try to serve as a model of practical feminism and a change agent for gender issues by walking the walk, as well as talking the talk. Besides my home appointment in Communication Studies, I serve as courtesy faculty member for the Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies (WGSS) Program and as an associate faculty member of the Gerontology Center/Life Span Institute at KU. For over ten years, I have served the W.O.W. (Women Offering Wisdom) Mentoring Program and in various other supporting roles with KU’s Emily Taylor Center for Women and Gender Equity. I am a volunteer and advocate for local manifestations of the “Take Back the Night” initiative and have been a volunteer, advocate, training facilitator, and action researcher for the Willow Domestic Violence Center in Lawrence, Kansas. I am a member (since 2010) of the Jana Mackey Distinguished Lecture Series Committee that honors a tireless, young domestic violence advocate who was murdered by an ex-boyfriend here in Lawrence. I am helping in an organizational capacity as a member of the Men and Masculinity Symposium Committee and have served twice on the campus-wide Men of Merit Selection committee. I have also co-authored multiple presentations with students at many regional and national conventions. In 2013, I served as a host for the lecture and visit to KU of my own personal hero, Dr. Jackson Katz, who has popularized the notion that conceptions of contemporary masculinity are the roots of problems often erringly referred to as “women’s issues” (e.g., domestic violence, objectification).

My students learn to critique as well as to advocate. Of course in my Communication and Gender (COMS/WGSS 440) class, they react both negatively and positively to the social milieu to which they are introduced. Elsewhere, I remain firmly committed to the development of critical thinking skills that allow students to intelligently comprehend, critically evaluate, and pragmatically apply information, particularly that pertinent to the social sciences and communication disciplines. In COMS 544 (Advanced Interpersonal Communication: Theories and Research), as well as in my past Graduate Research Methods course (COMS 850), students are/were taught what theories are, what they can accomplish, and what criteria can be used to evaluate theory validity and utility. Similarly, I teach students to critique the methodology by which theories are tested in research efforts so that they may make informed decisions about what to make of any research findings they learn about outside of class as well as in. Finally, students are asked to react to the face validity of theory and resultant research; that is, they discern between contributions that ring true to their experiences, or that might help them to negotiate their day-to-day interactions with people in their lives, and those that do not.

My efforts are recently fortified by my expanded appreciation and implementation of qualitative research methods. With my former Ph.D. student, and now colleague, Dr. Jimmie Manning of Northern Illinois University, I have published a book, Researching Interpersonal Relationships: Qualitative Methods, Studies, and Analysis (Sage, 2014) that addresses and alleviates the ill-advised marginalization of qualitative studies in interpersonal communication and relationship scholarship. This book was recently featured and highlighted at a panel at the National Communication Association convention, “A Celebration of Continued Growth in Researching Interpersonal Relationships: Connections Across Diverse Qualitative Methods, Studies, and Analysis.” We also published a special issue of the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships (2014), “Qualitative studies of relationships: Prevailing norms and exciting innovations,” highlighting the strengths of utilizing qualitative research methods to better understand, and make sense of, personal relationships.

Advising in interactive ways is a huge part of my commitment to undergraduate students in the Communication Studies major at KU. I have advised hundreds as to their course enrollment and progress through the major, according to their own capabilities and career-oriented ambitions, which I ascertain through conversation about their strengths and goals. I also have advised 6 majors through the Honor’s Thesis (COMS 498) option and 70 within the Directed Studies (COMS 499) option in my department, thus teaching them about the collection, compilation, analysis, and interpretation phases of social science research. Some choose to perform functions within my ongoing research projects, while others choose to engage in investigations of their own. I have also reinstituted, and served as the Faculty Advisor for, the Students in Communication Studies club. I served as the only Internship Coordinator and Study Abroad Coordinator for over 200 Communication majors since Fall of 2008. I have become the faculty sponsor of the new KU Communication Studies graduate student group, (Pro)Social (which formally launched in Fall of 2013). This group won the Jayhawk Choice Award, the “New Organization of the Year for 2013-2014,” sponsored by the Student Involvement & Leadership Center Union Programs.

It should go without saying that graduate students offer even greater opportunities for mentoring relationships. Not only do I mentor and advise within the principles of appreciation, fairness, and advocacy that I embody as a feminist, but I have helped shape the growth of some immensely accomplished feminist scholars. Dr. Jimmie Manning of Northern Illinois University has become an important force in the discipline of interpersonal communication, gender studies, and a recent winner of the Feminist Teacher-Mentor Award from the Organization for the Study of Communication, Language, and Gender (OSCLG). Dr. Mary Beth Asbury of Middle Tennessee State University is forging a revolutionary of program of weight identity and body image acceptance scholarship that was profiled in Psychology Today (January, 2012). Dr. Phil Wagner of University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee and I have an article “in press” on trans* identity formation and we are working on a project with Dr. Mary Beth Asbury and Fran Soto on how trans* patients form and navigate their identities within physician interactions. Further, Dr. Phil Wagner, Dr. Laura Ellingson, and I recently submitted an article to the Journal of Applied Communication Research on the benefits of the methodological tool of “photovoice.” Phil is continuing to build on his dissertation research that examined “musculinity” and male body culture. Dr. Jennifer Guthrie of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, is building a productive line of research on domestic violence support groups within substance abuse treatment centers.

My passion is to reduce domestic violence and abuse through both social advocacy and research. With a former colleague at KU, Dr. Suzy D’Enbeau, I trained to volunteer at the shelter and spent countless hours becoming enveloped in the experience of staff and clients. Suzy and I recently published our critique of the empowerment approach as practiced at the shelter and domestic violence center, “(Mis)managed Empowerment: Exploring Paradoxes of Practice in Domestic Violence Prevention,” in the Journal of Applied Communication Research (2013). It won a Top Four Paper Award from the Organizational and Professional Communication Interest Group of the Central States Communication Association in 2013, and it won the Bill Eadie Distinguished Award for a Scholarly Article from the Applied Communication Division of the National Communication Association in 2014. In addition, we wrote up an accessible report of this article for our National Communication Association’s Communication Currents, “Domestic Violence Prevention and (Mis)managed Empowerment,” released in August 2013. Further, we recently (2015) had a book chapter published, “‘I don’t know where my job ends’: Workplace Stress and Social Support in Domestic Violence Prevention” for inclusion in a book, Case Studies in Volunteering and NGOs.

Jennifer Guthrie became involved in the domestic violence center as a result of my modeling of action research there. Her dissertation at KU was a remarkable qualitative and ethnographic account of her experiences as a domestic violence support group facilitator at a local alcohol and drug rehabilitation center. We recently (2015) had an article accepted for publication that focuses on women survivors and how they navigate tensions in a domestic violence shelter. In addition, Jennifer and I had an article recently published (2015) that pulled heavily from her dissertation in the journal, Women & Language. We also have one more article from her dissertation published in Communication Quarterly. In addition, we have an article on survivors of domestic violence recently published in the Western Journal of Communication. Finally, we have two other manuscripts underway focusing on survivor empowerment and breaking the domestic violence “cycle.”

In all, I am incredibly dedicated to the development of my graduate student advisees. I strive to make these mentoring relationships symbiotic so that they profit advisor and advisee. As the student of a great mentor myself, and the colleague of so many established mentors in my home Communication Studies department, I have experienced first-hand that the creation of a legacy of good graduate students who go on to perform ably as scholars and professors is a most satisfying aspect of being a faculty member. As of now (January, 2016), I have advised to completion 14 M.A. students and 13 Ph.D. students and have another 9 active M.A. and Ph.D. advisees. I have also served as a committee member for 45 other completed graduate students, and am currently serving on 14 additional graduate committees. I have also directed 20 M.A. Investigation and Conference (COMS 898) projects, 16 Ph.D. Special Research Topics (COMS 997) projects, and over 30 Ph.D. Investigation and Conference (COMS 998) projects, many of which have produced conference papers and some of which have yielded publications. Incidentally, I almost always put my graduate students as first authors so they can immerse themselves fully in the publishing process experience.

All satisfying relationships are mutual, multi-directional, and dialogic in nature. Thus, I believe that educators must engage in learning from their students. In fact, on the first day of every semester, in every class that I teach, I tell my students that I, as their instructor, will inevitably learn as much from them as they learn from me. With their feedback, I try to accommodate models of learning that might not have occurred to me otherwise. It is important to listen to students’ examples that illustrate the validity, or lack thereof, of knowledge sets we offer. We should appreciate how their takes on course material might better the theories we offer them. We should be open to ideas for research that our graduate students pose, and choose to explain and help evaluate how they differ from our own research paradigms, rather than force them to labor within those paradigms. Above all, we must never feel that we are good teachers, but instead that we are always striving to become better ones. Only that will honor the process of continuous improvement that all educators should strive for. In line with my teaching philosophy, I will offer a quote from bell hooks (1994) that so eloquently summarizes my thoughts about teaching and mentoring within the academy: “learning is a place where paradise can be created. The classroom, with all of its limitations, remains a location of possibility. In that field of possibility we have the opportunity to labor for freedom, to demand of ourselves and our comrades, an openness of mind and heart that allows us to face reality even as we collectively imagine ways to move beyond boundaries, to transgress. This is education as the practice of freedom” (p. 207).

I will close here with evidence that I have been able to produce quality teaching and mentoring relationships in the forms of relevant awards I have accepted. Recently, I received the Francine Merritt Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Lives of Women in Communication at the 2015 National Communication Association (NCA) in Las Vegas. This award recognizes faculty who have made a difference in female students’ lives, as well as in the discipline as a whole. I have to say that I am extremely honored and humbled to have received this award! Further, in 2014, I was honored with the International Association for Relationship Research (IARR) Mentoring Award, as well as the Organization for the Study of Communication, Language, and Gender (OSCLG) Feminist Teacher-Mentor Award. In 2012, I was presented with the Kansas Statewide Transgender Project (K-Step) Educator Award. The University of Kansas named me the recipient of the 2011 John C. Wright Graduate Mentor Award. I also won KU’s Silver Anniversary Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2004, and the Commission on The Status of Women and Emily Taylor Women’s Resource Center (ETWRC) University of Kansas Outstanding Woman Educator award in 2003. In 2004, I received the Central States Communication Association New Teacher Award. I have received the Donn W. Parson Graduate Faculty Mentorship Award from the Department of Communication Studies at the University of Kansas for 2003-2004, 2009-2010, and 2010-2011. The Students in Communication Studies at KU named me the Outstanding Instructor in 2007-2008 and 2011-2012. I also was announced as the KU Center for Teaching Excellence Award winner for Communication Studies in 2002.

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