Category: CIS News

Phillip Weaver Honors Retired Faculty Members through New C&IS Scholarships

College of Communication and Information Sciences (C&IS) alumnus Phillip Weaver recently funded two scholarships in honor of former C&IS faculty members who made a lasting impact on his time as a student within the College.

Weaver earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1981, and he credits retired C&IS faculty members Dr. Jim Stovall and Camille Elebash with encouraging him to complete his degree.

“These two professors worked with me and saw something in me, and it meant a lot,” Weaver said. “It has weighed on my heart what Jim Stovall and Camille Elebash did for me, and I wanted to do something to honor that.”

Weaver’s scholarships will support students who are working while attending C&IS. He believes that the hard work and commitment of students who have jobs while in college should be recognized, and he hopes that his gift will be able to relieve some of the burden of tuition from them.

“I have a lot of respect for students that are working while they’re in school, and while it can be done, it takes time and commitment. I always tell students who work while in school that they are supporting themselves and controlling their own destiny and that they will be stronger for it,” Weaver said. “A lot of students are doing it so that they don’t have to borrow money, so I hope that this can take some of the weight off of them.”

During his time as a student in C&IS, Weaver began his career as a businessman in Tuscaloosa. The companies that he founded while completing his degree from the College remain well-known Tuscaloosa businesses today. Weaver is the co-founder and owner of Buffalo Phil’s, one of the longest-running restaurants in Tuscaloosa. He is also the founder of Campus Party Store and Gallette’s, and is the founder and owner of Weaver Rentals.

In addition to funding scholarships for C&IS students, Weaver has also generously hosted past C&IS alumni events in New York City. This year, he plans to host a reception on May 11 for alumni who live in the city and students who will be visiting New York for Industry Immersion – an experiential learning program that allows C&IS students to visit cities across the country to meet with professionals and learn more about the communication industry.

“I’m looking forward to the event because it is a good way to bring the UA community together. New York is a unique place with a lot going on and a lot of job opportunities,” Weaver said.

Weaver believes the event will give both students and alumni an opportunity to network and build new relationships.

“The event is a meet & greet and I think that is special. Networking is huge in our fields, and it is amazing what knowing someone can do for you,” Weaver said. “I’m excited for our Industry Immersion students to get that experience while in New York and for our alumni to connect with each other too.”

Experiential learning opportunities and student scholarships are funding priorities for C&IS as part of the Rising Tide Capital Campaign. The Rising Tide Capital Campaign is a University-wide effort to raise a minimum of $1.5 billion in philanthropic support for strategic priorities over a 10-year period. For more information, visit risingtide.ua.edu.

SLIS donates a record $38,300 in new, free books to School Libraries in the Black Belt and Beyond

During March and April, The University of Alabama School of Library and Information Studies (SLIS) awarded a record $38,300 in new, free books to elementary, middle and high school libraries in Alabama via the SLIS Book Bonanza for the Black Belt & Beyond Program.

School librarians in the Black Belt region were asked to apply for the book give-away program in February 2022. SLIS received applications from 15 highly deserving schools. The judges chose three school libraries in the Black Belt Region of the state to receive on average $6,700 each in brand new children’s and young adult books. The judging of the applications was rigorous, as every school exemplified a significant need.

SLIS also selected three Book Bonanza Beyond winners. The Beyond winner is a low-income private school in the Black Belt Region of the state, or a public school demonstrating significant economic need in an area of the state outside of the Black Belt. The purpose of this award is to give an equally deserving school library, that is not eligible to be a Book Bonanza for the Black Belt Winner, a one-time opportunity to address literacy needs in their school community. Each of these schools will receive on average $6000 in brand new children’s and young adult books.

Please join SLIS in congratulating the following winning school libraries.

2022 Book Bonanza Black Belt Winners

  • Gordo High School, serving grades 7-12 (Pickens County), Librarian Heather Perrigin
  • Highland Home School, serving grades PreK-12 (Crenshaw County), Librarian Amy Campbell
  • Phenix City Intermediate, serving grades 6-7 (Russell County), Librarian Jessica Pittman

2022 Book Bonanza Beyond Winners

  • Saraland Elementary School, serving grades 2-5 (Mobile County), Librarian Cindy Wilson
  • Stapleton School, serving grades PreK-6 (Baldwin County), Librarian Lisa Comer
  • Woodland Elementary School, serving grades PreK-6 (Randolph County), Librarian Earnestine Fincher

Established in 2009 by Dr. Jamie Campbell Naidoo, the SLIS Book Bonanza for the Black Belt (& Beyond) is an annual program that provides new, free books to school libraries in the Black Belt region of the state. For additional information about the program, please contact Dr. Jamie C. Naidoo at jcnaidoo@slis.ua.edu or visit the program website here.

Doctoral Program Alumna Wins Harwood Outstanding Dissertation Award

C&IS Alumna Dr. Danielle Deavours with Interim Department Chair for Journalism and Creative Media, Dr. Michael Bruce at the 2022 BEA Conference

Dr. Danielle Deavours, a College of Communication and Information Sciences (C&IS) alumna, was awarded the 2022 Kenneth Harwood Outstanding Dissertation Award for her dissertation titled, “Not just what you say, but how you say: neutrality of nonverbal behavior of journalists during crisis coverage.” The award is given each year by the Broadcast Education Association for the best doctoral dissertation in broadcasting and electronic media.

After working as a broadcast journalist for over a decade, Deavours reflected on how she had to remain unemotional and neutral during crisis coverage. This level of professionalism is required of journalists, and it led her to question how journalists work to conceal their nonverbal behaviors during crisis coverage in order to maintain professional norms of neutrality. With her dissertation, Deavours also sought to understand the effects of these behaviors on credibility, bias and the wellbeing of journalists.

After completing her dissertation, Deavours has taken her research findings to educational associations including the Broadcast Education Association and the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, among others. Deavours hopes that her findings will help journalists and news organizations improve the industry’s standards and practices.

“I hope researchers will continue to explore nonverbal behavior of journalists, an area that has the potential to impact a lot of areas of media research,” Deavours said. “And I hope educators will consider the ways we can better prepare future storytellers for crises in terms of nonverbal behavior and vicarious traumatization.”

Deavours received her bachelor’s degree in telecommunication and film and political science from The University of Alabama in 2008. After she earned her master’s degree in communication management from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, she returned to UA and completed her Ph.D. in communication and information sciences. She has served as an assistant professor of multimedia journalism at the University of Montevallo for the past two years. This fall, Deavours will join the faculty at Samford University as an assistant professor of broadcast journalism.

Deavours said winning the award would not have been possible without the support of C&IS faculty including Drs. Wilson Lowrey, Michael Bruce, Scott Parrot and Darrin Griffin, and the University of Texas professor Renita Coleman.

“I am so grateful to my dissertation committee and their commitment to my research,” Deavours said. “I want to dedicate this award to every student that is told that they can’t. You can, and you should. Your voice matters. You just have to find the people who are willing to recognize your voice and celebrate how special it is.”

The Kenneth Harwood Outstanding Dissertation Award is an academic prize awarded each year by the Broadcast Education Association for the best doctoral dissertation in broadcasting and electronic media. Learn more about the award and past recipients here.

Honoring an Unforgettable Legacy: Friends and Family of Cecil Hurt Establish Memorial Fund

To make a gift to the Cecil Hurt Endowed Support Fund for Excellence in Sports Media, click here.

The night before the 2019 national championship game in Santa Clara, California – before Alabama took on Clemson – Hannah Saad, a C&IS University of Alabama student on staff of The Crimson White, sat at a table, surrounded by hubbub. The media hotel ballroom had been converted into a hangout space for working media. In one part of the room, a rowdy crowd played cornhole. There were large TVs everywhere because the NFL playoffs were taking place. Food and drinks were available and Saad took a spot at a table. As a college student photographer, she hadn’t really talked to many journalists who routinely covered Alabama football at the time. Cecil Hurt was sitting across from her.

Hurt, the Tuscaloosa-born authority on Alabama football, could be intimidating in his knowledge but his presence was never intimidation; more like serene and calming. Hurt took the time to talk with Saad.

“Here we are in a room full of national personalities and national media outlets and here Cecil was, taking the time to talk one-on-one with a student journalist,” Saad recalls. “He supported a lot of student journalists. It stuck with me that he took the time to talk with me, not only for journalism but also travel advice and even advice about taking care of dogs. After that, a lot of times our conversations weren’t even about sports or journalism. He’s just a great guy.”

Paul Finebaum – sports author, television and radio personality – remembers watching that moment.

“There were so many well-known people circling around who wanted to talk to him and he was with Crimson White students,” Finebaum recalled.

Many people knew Hurt as a sports columnist with hot takes and an ear down about the UA athletic department at all times, yet he was also an animal rescuer, loved music and professional wrestling and food enthusiast. Hurt loved his cat, Slim Charles, and his dog, Duchess, who was adopted when she had only a few years left to live. He also took in stray puppies.

His career spanned 40 years and he exemplified the best of journalism, as he rose to the top of his profession. Alabama Head Football Coach Nick Saban called him “friend.”

Hurt was never the kind of reporter to take notes on his phone. A notebook in hand, his writing managed to take sports to the masses by connecting it to pop culture or a current trend. He could make a mundane play seem like magic, but it was his hard work and studied love of words that made that magic. When he spoke – and it wasn’t often – people who knew him listened. He did not waste words. Always dressed comfortably, he was known as laconic and selfless.

Helping student journalists was not the only way he was selfless. Finebaum said after he and Hurt developed a trust, they would often share story ideas and material with one another, something almost unheard of in a business where having the most important information first can make or break a career.

“He knew that being at The Tuscaloosa News there was a certain status but I don’t think he ever appreciated how important and influential he was, “Finebaum said. “He began to appreciate his journey but felt compelled to give it back to students. It is a gift to be able to share that kind of information with young people who often seem too busy to listen. In his case they wanted to hear valuable pieces of knowledge.”

C&IS graduate Tony Tsoukalas worked with Hurt as an intern then, when he graduated, as a full-time copy editor on the sports desk. Tsoukalas now covers Alabama sports for BamaCentral but it all started with Hurt’s mentorship.

“He was the guy who didn’t mind helping out young writers. He wouldn’t leave out the young writers who often would get left out of conversations. As a young writer you don’t always get that, especially on big beats like Alabama football. We used to fight over who got to edit his stuff,” Tsoukalas said of Hurt’s work. “That usually went to the higher ups to read because it was almost like a privilege to read it first.”

One of those higher ups is Tommy Deas, who was executive sports editor at The Tuscaloosa News. Like Tsoukalas, Deas was a student at Tuscaloosa’s Central High School when he met Hurt – who was just starting out – and was mentored by him. Over the years Deas said he spent more time in a car and on the phone with Hurt than anyone else. He shared Hurt’s love of food and they would seek out off-the-beaten path places to eat the local cuisine in each city: Texas brisket, Carolina-style Bar-B-Q and steak in Hawaii.

On trips to cover night games Hurt liked to hike in national parks in the area in the mornings but always insisted on arriving to the press box three hours early because, he told Deas, he would rather sit in a press box reading than in a car staring at a bumper.

Hurt, himself a Junior, shares a name with his father who played football for Alabama under Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. He took an interest in sports but knew he was not destined to become an athlete, Deas said. His early interest was wrestling because of a local student that became one. How to reconcile a man who reads classics for fun with a love of wrestling?

“Those things are not as far apart as what you might think,” Deas said. “Wrestling is storytelling. That is what it comes down to. He probably liked and appreciated that more than anything else. It’s not just physical action. Wrestlers are storytellers.”

Hurt loved storytelling but also loved to teach the next generation of storytellers, through words and action.

Terrin Waack, a C&IS alumna, worked with Hurt as an intern then full-time at The Tuscaloosa News. Waack wore a bucket hat in honor of hurt, an ardent bucket-hat fan, as she watched the first Alabama game after he died. She recalled early days working with Hurt as an intern, when his reputation was large and his 6’3” height made him seem even larger than life to her. She metaphorically and literally looked up to him.

“As soon as I met him, I knew Cecil was the gold star of journalism,” she said. “What he said held so much weight in the community and I recognized that. Cecil helped a lot with learning how to use your own voice and own your words and take a stance on something.

He grew to be her friend and they ate Thai food often, for lunch. Hurt met her family on several occasions and silently cheered on her career as she went on to work at NASCAR.com.

“I considered Cecil a friend to the end,” Waack said. “If I needed advice, I would have gone to him in a heartbeat.”

Hurt, known for sports coverage, was also an avid foodie and traveler. He once took a year off to travel the world, to Micronesia and throughout southeast Asia.

Yet above everything he loved was his love of reading. Everyone who knew him knew that he always had a book with him. He taught young journalists that to be a good writer you have to read. Reporters in any press box were always impressed that he could read yet still keep up with what happened on the field. The first time Finebaum met Hurt was at a basketball game and Finebaum noticed the book Hurt was reading, “Catcher in the Rye.”

“It was always a parlor game to guess what would Cecil have next,” Finebaum said. “Would it be ‘The Iliad and the Odyssey’ or something more contemporary?”

Hurt’s long-time friend Chad Mize, who delivered the eulogy at Hurt’s funeral, recalled a time in college when, on a road trip, Hurt spent his time reading.

“Cecil was the most well-read person that I’ve ever known,” Mize said. I looked and in the back of van Cecil was reading “Moby Dick, and probably not even for the first time. He wasn’t going to score any points with this crowd reading ‘Moby Dick’ but that’s who he was. Cecil was smart back before everybody was smart. I know it’s overstated, but Cecil was so bright. That just gave him the opportunity to do things that other people couldn’t.”

Hurt’s well-read stature aside, he earned esteem for his work ethic and unassuming demeanor from those who knew him.

“What always impressed me about Cecil was how he was trusted by everyone. By coaches. By athletic directors. By school presidents,” Finebaum said.

Over the course of his career, Hurt’s deliberate, thorough manner earned him respect from everyone, even Saban, who recognized Hurt’s work with students. Coaches and reporters don’t often share that respect.

“Cecil Hurt was a good friend and one of the best sports writers I have ever had the privilege of working with, not just at Alabama, but at all of our coaching stops,” Saban said in a statement when Hurt died. “He was a man of integrity and a fair-minded journalist blessed with wit, wisdom and an ability to paint a picture with his words that few have possessed … He was a role model for young writers and the most trusted source of news for Alabama fans everywhere.”

From well-known coaches to students just starting out, Hurt’s life had a great impact. Perhaps Tsoukalas said it best:

“He had a way of making everyone feel important.”

Friends and family of the late sports columnist Cecil Hurt have joined together to establish a memorial fund in his honor. The Cecil Hurt Endowed Support Fund for Excellence in Sports Media, which has already raised more than $15,000, will prioritize support for students and initiatives related to the sports media field.

Those who helped establish the fund hope that it will not only carry on the memory of Hurt, but that it will make a difference in the lives of students who choose to pursue a career path similar to Hurt’s.

A portion of the fund will be designated to provide discretionary support for the College of Communication and Information Sciences’ Department of Journalism and Creative Media (JCM). Through this support JCM will offer programming for current students and industry professionals that strengthens the program’s mission and propels education and innovation in the area of sports media and sports communication.

“Cecil Hurt has multiple legacies,” said Dr. Andrew Billings, endowed professor and director of the Alabama Program in Sport Communication. “One, of course, was his own contribution to sports writing and reporting—which is legendary. However, another pertains to his role as a mentor to students and young professionals aspiring to make it in a competitive field. I’m excited that this endowment will help future young sports media professionals for many years more.”

In addition, the fund will bring visibility to Hurt’s legacy through the establishment of an annual Cecil Hurt Award. This award will be given to an outstanding rising senior whose studies are focused in the area of sports communication.

“This endowment will recognize and support the exact type of excellence that characterized Cecil’s life and his work,” said Dr. Mark Nelson, dean of the College of Communication and Information Sciences. “He was an inspirational member of our community, and this fund will inspire and support future journalists for many years to come.”

The renowned and revered sports columnist had a reputation unlike that of any other professional in the field and those closest to him desire that this fund will continue to perpetuate his story.

To make a gift to the Cecil Hurt Endowed Support Fund for Excellence in Sports Media, click here.

Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Meredith Bagley leads C&IS Faculty and Staff in Civil Rights Programming

Downtown Tuscaloosa is usually bustling with activity, and visitors may not realize the historic events that took place right where they now walk. On recent visits to downtown, some may notice markers on the sidewalk featuring a hand symbol. These markers, and the work of the Tuscaloosa Civil Rights History & Reconciliation Foundation, bring history to life through a “civil rights trail” by highlighting key events that took place in Tuscaloosa in the fight for civil rights.

The Foundation aims to bring about positive change and reconciliation and to create “Civil Rights Tourism” in Tuscaloosa through the civil rights trail.

Dr. Meredith Bagley, associate professor in Communication Studies, was first made aware of the project in 2017 while she worked on the Autherine Lucy historical marker, which is now located on University Boulevard west of Colonial Drive.

Throughout the foundation’s progress, Dr. Bagley has connected her classes and students to the work by teaching special topics classes about public memory and campus landscapes that are featured sites on the civil rights trail.

During this monumental year with the rededication of a building on campus to honor Autherine Lucy, Bagley saw an opportunity to introduce C&IS faculty and staff to the trail. This semester, she led a tour through Downtown Tuscaloosa and provided faculty and staff with knowledge about the historic landmarks and events represented along the trail.

Dr. Bagley emphasizes how all people can connect to the history on the trail and highlights how the communication work involved in memory preservation and education can apply directly to the fields of study represented in our College. She also discusses how white faculty and staff can play a role in memory and advocacy, without placing the burden entirely on communities of color.

“It really just brings in all sorts of skills and ideas that we have expertise on here at the college: public relations, creative media, speech and rhetoric, intercultural relationships, leadership, we’re all over this topic or endeavor as a college,” Dr. Bagley said. “There are ways to accurately, respectfully tell the stories and learn the lessons that give us all a place in that story – a way to connect historically and contemporarily to issues of race, exclusion, community and progress.”

Dr. Suzanne Horsley, assistant dean of assessment, accreditation and diversity believes the tour is an opportunity to introduce the college community to this resource that is easily accessible for students, classes, and research.

“So many of our faculty and staff engage in social justice and diversity initiatives in their classes and programs, but I believe we often overlook what is right in our backyard,” Dr. Horsley said. “The Tuscaloosa Civil Rights Trail is a free resource that is an easy walk or drive from campus, but it is incredibly rich in telling the story about the work for civil rights in Alabama and beyond. All members of the UA community should know and understand this institution’s role in history and then apply what they learn to their studies, research or future endeavors.”

In addition to walking the trail, faculty who participate in the tour with Dr. Bagley this year are asked to develop teaching, research or programming ideas based on their experience, and share their ideas at future meetings.

Diversity, equity and inclusion continues to be an ongoing conversation and focus within C&IS, and more events and future teaching endeavors are planned for this year.

C&IS is committed to promoting an environment that fosters diversity and inclusion and is proud of the efforts of our students, faculty and staff. To learn more about diversity, equity and inclusion in C&IS, visit cis.ua.edu/diversity.

C&IS Professors Receive NSF Grant Totaling more than $400,000

Drs. Steven Holiday and Matthew VanDyke

Drs. Steven Holiday and Matthew VanDyke, assistant professors in advertising and public relations, recently received a grant totaling more than $400,000 from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The grant will allow Dr. Holiday and Dr. VanDyke to begin research on their project, titled “Developing surfmer structure-property relationships for high internal phase emulsion foams.” The study aims to address water quality issues, and the access to and availability of effective, efficient and affordable solutions, particularly in rural Alabama communities.

“One of the aims is to specifically examine resources, empowerment and advocacy in rural Alabama communities that are adversely affected by poor water quality,” Holiday said. “These communities disproportionately include citizens who are underrepresented economically, educationally and racially.”

Holiday and VanDyke will conduct community outreach to understand community members’ perceptions of their water, the awareness of resources available to improve water quality, and the perceived behavioral control in advocating for effective, efficient and affordable technology for water treatment. Using the information gathered, they will then work with advertising and public relations students in undergraduate campaign courses to develop strategic communication campaigns that increase community literacy and advocacy.

“A primary goal of this project is to produce work that will not only advance our knowledge about what people know, feel and how they behave regarding water quality issues and technologies, but also to inform effective and ethical communication practices that can help communities who will benefit most from better water quality technologies,” Dr. VanDyke said.

The work is the result of an interdisciplinary partnership with chemical and biological engineering assistant professor Dr. Amanda Koh. Koh wanted to better understand communities in rural Alabama and help increase their knowledge of water issues, technology for resolving those issues, and the role they can play in advocating for the use of those technologies.

Holiday said the project utilizes Koh’s expertise in chemical engineering, VanDyke’s public relations expertise in environmental communication, and Holiday’s advertising expertise with family and community engagement and communication.

“I was (and am) very excited to pair the theoretical and practical communication work we do daily with actual, novel, engineering-based solutions to pressing environmental issues,” Dr. Holiday said. “The work will bring together disciplines to give advertising and public relations students a real opportunity to use their strategic communication experience to influence meaningful, lasting environmental change in communities that really need their knowledge and expertise.”

UA’s College of Communication and Information Sciences faculty and students conduct cutting-edge research that creates knowledge and provides solutions to global issues across the full communication and information spectrum. To learn more about the College’s research initiatives, visit cis.ua.edu/research.

C&IS Alumna Recognized for Work on Viral Dunkin’ Campaign

C&IS alumna Kristin Clark

Kristin Clark, an alumna of the College of Communication & Information Sciences (C&IS), was recently named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 List in Marketing & Advertising. Clark, 28, was recognized alongside creative partner Matthew Low for her success in the creation of the brand partnership between Dunkin’ and TikTok star Charli D’Amelio that generated more than four billion impressions worldwide.

The partnership allowed for the creation of a new iced coffee drink inspired by the influencer’s go-to-order called “The Charli” to hit the menus of Dunkin’ stores nationwide. The campaign sought to incorporate elements that resonated with younger audiences on social media and created a natural partnership between the brand and D’Amelio.

“Working on ‘DunkinXCharli’ was a brand new experience for a lot of my colleagues and our clients. TikTok was a new thing. It was uncharted territory for many brands and creatives as well,” said Clark. “But what made it exciting was that the idea was so clear, authentic and real. No one had to question the authenticity behind our partnership.”

TikTok Influencer Charli D’Amelio

Charli D’Amelio is the most-followed creator on the TikTok app with over 138.4 million followers, and is widely recognized for posting dancing videos to trending songs on the platform with a Dunkin’ iced coffee in hand.

“It was the perfect partnership,” said Clark. “Of course it had its challenges, some clients didn’t even know what TikTok was, or who Charli was, and here we are asking them to put her drink on the menu nationwide. But the data we gathered was undeniable and ended with a stellar campaign that we’re all really proud of,” Clark said when asked about the creative direction of the campaign.

Clark graduated from The University of Alabama with a bachelor’s degree in advertising and digital art production in 2015. Since then, she has worked for BBDO Worldwide, an advertising agency headquartered in New York City, for over seven years, serving in different roles from intern to creative director. Throughout her time at the agency, Clark has worked on a scope of creative campaigns with brands ranging from M&M’s and Snickers, to pro bono projects with charities to help provide funding for the global education crisis.

She credits much of her success to the guidance she received from her C&IS professors. “My professors, from the start, always focused on teaching me how to operate and see a future for myself when my time at UA was up,” Clark said. “Not only was I supported and given the tools to be the best student I could be, but the best professional once I took those steps out into the real world.”

Clark advises current C&IS students and alumni alike to find what inspires them and chase after it. “You have the tools, knowledge and support around you to achieve anything. I wouldn’t be surprised if I saw any current C&IS students on the list in a few years,” said Clark.

To view Kristin’s profile on Forbes, click here.

To view the full Forbes 30 Under 30 List in Marketing and Advertising, click here.

C&IS Alumna Debra Nelson Funds Elevate Endowed Scholarship

C&IS alumna Debra Nelson

College of Communication and Information Sciences (C&IS) alumna Debra Nelson has funded a diversity-focused scholarship as part of the Rising Tide Capital Campaign. Her endowment, the Elevate Endowed Scholarship, will prioritize support for students who demonstrate financial need and, specifically, for female students who have lost their mothers.

After losing her own mother at 14 years old and facing uncertainty as to whether higher education would one day be available to her, Nelson was inspired to help the next generation of college students gain access to higher education and pave the way for their future.

“My mother instilled in me that education opens doors to opportunity. Because of her encouragement, I loved reading and learning, and believed there was something to what she preached,” Nelson said. “I recognize there are many young people who, for social, economic, or other reasons, might question whether college is possible for them. By creating the Elevate Endowed Scholarship, I am honoring my mother’s vision and supporting individuals who, like me, grew up without mothers.”

She also hopes that her endowment will reflect her passion for promoting the values of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in higher education. Nelson cites reading “Grady’s Gift,” the story of a woman in Alabama who could not attend college in the state because of her race, as one of the things that still resonates with her and encourages her to prioritize supporting higher education initiatives.

“I believe the lack of access to public higher education circumvents human potential. When this occurs, there are residual impacts on every dimension in our society. This notion of exclusion propels me to talk about the benefits of diversity, equity and inclusion. Through behaviors and structures, I believe our College can become the example of diversity, equity and inclusion that other institutions model,” Nelson said.

In addition to being an advocate for higher education opportunities, Nelson is also a successful communication professional. She currently serves as the founder and president of Elevate Communications, a professional development and communication services firm that provides training and communication solutions in DEI, leadership and organizational development, and program and performance management.

Nelson currently serves on the C&IS Board of Visitors and is a member of The University of Alabama President’s Cabinet.

Student scholarships are a funding priority for C&IS as part of the Rising Tide Capital Campaign. The Rising Tide Capital Campaign is a University-wide effort to raise a minimum of $1.5 billion in philanthropic support for strategic priorities over a 10-year period. For more information, visit http://risingtide.ua.edu/.

Plank Center Leaders Honored by Ball State University

Two of the University of Alabama’s – and the industry’s – preeminent experts in public relations are being honored this week at the 2022 Vernon C. Schranz Distinguished Lectureship at Ball State University’s School of Journalism and Strategic Communication in Muncie, Indiana.

Dr. Karla Gower, director of the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations at the University of Alabama is keynote and Dr. Bruce Berger, founding director and professor emeritus of the Plank Center, will receive the National Public Relationships Achievement Award. The in-person event is set for 7:30 p.m. March 30 at Ball State’s L.A. Pittenger Student Center Ball Room. It is open to the public.

Founded in 1979, the Vernon C. Schranz Distinguished Lectureship in Public Relations is the nation’s longest running public relations lectureship and has brought some of the most prominent public relations leaders to campus. Speakers provide insight into public relations trends and create a forum for new ideas among Indiana’s public relations practitioners, faculty and students.

The Ball Corp., located at the time in Muncie, Indiana, home of Ball State University, started the series in 1979 in honor of Schranz, the company’s first public relations officer and an advocate for higher education.

Schranz often shared his expertise with students and endowed an undergraduate public relations scholarship through a gift of Ball Corporation stock. The lectureship has built a reputation for providing content necessary for the growth and development of the public relations field. It offers an examination of the developing status of the public relations profession and creates a forum for the expression of new ideas and concepts. It serves as a professional development opportunity for Indiana public relations practitioners, faculty and students.

Dr. Bruce Berger

Dr. Berger, an author of two books, has focused his research on public relations leadership, employee communications and public policy influence.

Before entering academia, Dr. Berger was a PR professional and executive for 20 years. He worked at the (then) Upjohn Company, a pharmaceutical research and manufacturing company, serving as manager of Public Affairs, based in Brussels, Belgium, and subsequently as director of Worldwide Human Health Public Relations. In 1989, he became the corporate Vice President of Corporate Affairs for Whirlpool Corp. and president of the Whirlpool Foundation.

Dr. Karla Gower

Dr. Gower has authored three books and co-authored another. She is the Behringer Distinguished Professor in the Advertising and Public Relations Department of the College of Communication and Information Sciences at The University of Alabama. She has served as director of The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations since 2008, when Dr. Berger retired.

She practiced law in Canada for eight years before moving to Arizona in 1992 to attend Arizona State. She worked in public relations at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Arizona, during the Clinton administration’s attempts at health care reform, in internal communications and media relations at GateWay Community College and was part of a three-member team of writers in the Office of University Development at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Research Spotlight: C&IS Professors Collaborate with Alumnus on Beach Happiness Research

Planning a beach vacation is the perfect way to welcome the warm spring and summer weather, and according to the research of C&IS faculty, it will improve your overall happiness too.

Associate professor Dr. Jameson Hayes and instructor Jay Waters recently completed a research study in collaboration with The 30A Company, a beach media and lifestyle brand in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida. The study will be featured in the Spring edition of 30A’s Beach Happy magazine and showcases the importance of travel to a person’s overall happiness.

Hayes, who is the director of The University of Alabama’s Public Opinion Lab, conducts research with several corporate and governmental partners. After seeing the real-world impact this study could have on people’s happiness and quality of life, he was especially eager to collaborate with 30A.

“The Public Opinion Lab regularly works with industry partners on projects, and when Mike Ragsdale and the 30A team approached us about this project, it was a no-brainer,” Hayes said. “It was a fun, positive topic with a great goal of helping us understand the link between travel, the beach lifestyle and happiness.”

As a C&IS alumnus and former student researcher in the College’s Institute for Communication and Information Research (ICIR), 30A founder and CEO Mike Ragsdale shares the professors’ passion for research and the value it can bring to his community and beyond. Ragsdale’s desire to use this research to better understand his customers made the study even more significant for the C&IS professors.

“I think anytime we can work with real clients and bring them information that can help them understand their customers better, it’s rewarding. It’s doubly so when you have a company like 30A that seeks out the information and sees the value in it,” Waters said.

The study’s feature in Beach Happy magazine not only provided C&IS and the Public Opinion Lab the opportunity to conduct industry research, but it helped the 30A company to visualize the benefits of travel for a person’s quality of life, and it helped to put this information into numbers. The data gathered by Hayes and Waters suggests that looking forward to a future vacation makes people happier and is essential to mental well-being.

“Travel makes us better people and happier people. And it is easy to do. I hope that people will look at this information, decide to make travel a priority, and see travel not as an expense but as an investment in their quality of life,” Waters said.

This collaboration also gave both Hayes and Waters opportunities to work with C&IS students and put into practice the work they teach students in their advertising and public relations courses.

“Working with industry partners on projects requires a ton of skills that we teach in class every day,” Hayes said.

Through this research study, C&IS faculty and students gained experience in a variety of skills including account management, research design, data analytics and communication design. According to Waters, this study related directly to the topics he teaches in his consumer research course.

“The three primary tools that I tell students they need in research are curiosity, skepticism and humility,” Waters said. “When I do a project like this, it’s easy to think you’ve seen it all and that there’s nothing new to learn, but to be effective, you have to bring those three mental tools to every project.”

Hayes explained that in addition to looking at the information in Beach Happy magazine, he hopes people will be encouraged to plan future trips to scenic destinations such as Florida’s Scenic Highway 30A.

“The results have a clear and refreshing message. Looking forward to your next trip to your happy place actually makes you a happier person overall.  So, always have a trip on the horizon; you will be happier for it,” Hayes said.

The College of Communication and Information Sciences’ faculty and students at The University of Alabama conduct cutting-edge research that creates knowledge and provides solutions to global issues across the full communication and information spectrum. To learn more about the College’s research initiatives, visit cis.ua.edu/research.