TUSCALOOSA, Alabama – On March 4-7, assistant professor Heather Ashley Hayes, Ph.D., participated in the nationally acclaimed South by Southwest EDU (SXSW EDU) film and education festival in Texas as part of what she described as “a celebration of innovation and learning.” In addition, she will take another trip to Texas to receive the John I. Sisco Excellence in Teaching Award from the Southern States Communication Association (SSCA) on April 6. 

South by Southwest EDU (SXSW EDU) 

Located in Austin, Texas, SXSW EDU brings together instructors, students, administrators, institutional stakeholders and innovators in education. Together they discuss the education industry through sessions, workshops, mentorships, film screenings, competitions, an expo, performances and networking. The festival centers on education and technology. 

This March, associate professor Heather Ashley Hayes, Ph.D., presented at SXSW EDU. She will also receive the John I. Sisco Excellence in Teaching Award from SSCA on April 6. 
Hayes attended SXSW from March 4 to 7. Follow her journey on @uaccis.

She mentioned that those questions focus on topics like creating engaging experiences for students; the role of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI); the funding of cutting-edge research; and other classroom approaches. 

Hayes said, “Even in my short time affiliating with the festival and conference, I’ve found it to be one of the most engaging spaces I go, especially when critical questions in higher education are being asked nationally and here in Alabama.” 

“For example, I think it is one of the foremost conferences in the world on questions of AI right now,” Hayes said. “Their commitment to thinking about key questions in education is the main reason I attend. 

“Because I also study communication, rhetoric and its relationship to culture, community, cartography and neuroscience, SXSW always has several rich opportunities for me,” she said.  

For Hayes, those opportunities include industry networking and insight for her own role as an instructor. But getting to those opportunities is a process which Hayes has done twice before this year. 

Applicants to SXSW EDU must submit a portfolio with research and ideas, a resumé or CV, and all publicly available work on a chosen research area. Applications are then approved or denied by three groups: the SXSW’s advisory board, its staff, and faculty and attendees invested in the applicants’ work. 

Hayes said, “I value this model because if you are selected to present your work, it means not only did the experts who review your work find it of value, the public who want to engage with work in the area you are researching want to know more about your work. They want to see it impact their communities.” 

She called the SXSW’s method of vetting scholarly discussions “increasingly important.” 

Southern States Communication Association (SSCA) 

In addition, Hayes will visit Frisco, Texas, for the SSCA’s 2024 convention on April 6 when the organization will present her with the John I. Sisco Excellence in Teaching Award. It represents a culmination of more than a decade of experience. 

In addition to being employed as a full-time instructor in communication, nominees must have held a position at that level for 10 or more years. Hayes was nominated by University of Wisconsin associate professor Allison Prasch, PhD. Prasch collected 12 recommendations from Hayes’ former and current students and four letters from administrators. Other items in Hayes’ nomination packet included her teaching philosophy, CV and her previous assignments given to students. 

Hayes poses for a photo for C&IS’s Bama Blitz 2024 campaign.

“I am honored to receive the Sisco Award,” Hayes said. “For me, it means that my colleagues, mentors, administrators and, most importantly, students have been positively impacted or inspired by my teaching. That is the ultimate compliment I could receive. 

“Learning is a transformative act. It is magical, and I hope to always be learning myself and to promote the spirit of learning in both my classroom teaching and mentorship, as well as in my approaches to research,” she said.  

Hayes also mentioned her goals in attending these public and academic conferences.

“I hope I can be part of those conversations, contribute to them and grow my knowledge, and bring that back to UA.” 

Hayes is an associate professor in the Department of Communication Studies in the College of Communication & Information Sciences (C&IS). She also directs The Teach Out, a nonprofit to remove barriers to educational access. Read more about Hayes on her website