Favorite part of teaching: My favorite part of teaching is helping students find their passions by applying skills learned in the classroom to real-world situations or by exploring ideas that interest and matter to them through research. I also love being there for that “aha!” moment when everything comes together for the student.
Approach to teaching: I try to bridge theory to practice in my teaching through a mix of case-study method, current examples, videos, analytics, data, class discussion and exercises, and assignments that make students think critically and solve problems with the research to back up their ideas. I attempt to instill a sense of intelletual curiosity and to lay a strong foundation of principles, methods, processes, and theory so they can use this information to guide them in hypothetical situations and hone their skills before moving on to real client work. Although fun and flashy, tactics are not necessarily the heart and soul of effective public relations and strategic communications. The skills-based classes in which the students learn the tactical side are certainly the "doing" part, but this visible part of the field needs to be driven by research, theory, measurable objectives, and effective strategies. Therefore, I really push my students to always connect their ideas back to the company's or organization's mission, to research findings, and to the target audience/key publics.
Photo credit: Brittany Lavenski. Graduation cap of one of my Colistra Kids.
I encourage them to take chances, to be innovators in the field, and to learn from their mistakes. I want them to have a desire to learn and to never stop. I also like to have fun and joke around with my students as well as make a fool out of myself on occasion. I believe it's good for all of us because if you're not having fun, why do it, right?
Favorite classes to teach: Intro to PR; Intro to STCM; PR Case Studies; PR Research; STCM Research (Audience Insight & Analysis); Campaigns (periodically)
Aspirations for teaching in the future: I have a strong desire to teach graduate-level courses involving research, theory, and my areas of expertise. Because my College is highly focused on undergraduate, experiential learning and project-based professional work, I have not had the opportunity to teach many graduate courses. I got the research bug during my master's program, and I want to help students more deeply explore their ideas through advanced graduate studies. I had such great mentors in my doctoral and master's programs, and I want to serve in the same role for aspiring young scholars. Additionally, I trained at the University of North Carolina with a world-renowned theorist and many other inspiring scholars, and I want to get back to that line of "big thinking."
Insight: I put everything I have into my teaching. I feel that I have such an important responsibility because I have the opportunity to shape and changes lives. I try my best to not only help my students to become better professionals, but to become better people as well. To do so, I strive to obtain real-world clients so my students may grow professionally by actually planning and implementing communications campaigns to better communities and organizations in West Virginia. It’s a beautiful moment when I see my students cross over from just looking at their projects as schoolwork to actually caring about the people and communities with whom they are working. That light-bulb moment changes the way they view the projects, but, more importantly, it changes the way they view themselves. Although I’m known as the “hard teacher,” students come into my classes knowing that they are going to learn something. I do my best to teach my students how to think critically and have to confidence in themselves—their thoughts and opinions matter. I work with students one-on-one to help them to identify their strengths and to work on their weaknesses. I teach them to strive to produce their best work, to meet deadlines, and to do work that they’re proud of. Although my classes can be tough, I’m with my students every step of the way.
I view my role as a motivator. It is not my job to be easy on them, but to make them better—better professionals and better people. I’m always there to provide encouragement. I go out of my way to mentor my students, and they know that I am firmly dedicated to them, both while they’re in school and after they graduate. In the end, the students leave my classes with a fierce determination to succeed, to produce their best work, and to make a positive difference in the world. They are my biggest supporters, too. So much so, in fact, that many of them refer to themselves as “Colistra Kids.” I love what I do, and I love my students. I could not imagine doing anything else that is more worthwhile than educating and molding tomorrow’s communications innovators.