Category: CIS News

Baylor Journalism Chair to Headline 11th Annual Discerning Diverse Voices Symposium

The College of Communication and Information Sciences at The University of Alabama (C&IS) is pleased to welcome Dr. Mia Moody-Ramirez, Chair of Journalism, Public Relations and New Media at Baylor University, as the keynote speaker for the 11th annual Discerning Diverse Voices Symposium.

Dr. Moody-Ramirez researches mass media representations of underrepresented groups, including women and minorities, and her keynote address will focus on the ways social media platforms have affected image repair in the digital age.

“While social media responses are not a replacement for true image restoration,” Dr. Moody-Ramirez said, “they provide a platform to help tackle tough issues that might aid in the image restoration process of an individual or a company.”

Joining Dr. Moody-Ramirez as presenters for the Symposium are professors, alumni, and graduate and undergraduate students from C&IS, presenting on diversity and inclusion topics, including race, cultural differences, mental health and social justice.

“Issues related to diversity, equity and inclusion affect us all,” said Dr. Suzanne Horsley, Assistant Dean of Accreditation, Assessment and Diversity for C&IS. “The goal of this symposium is to elevate the discussion of these topics and to help everyone be more mindful of these issues in their research, teaching and career pursuits.”

This year’s Symposium committee was co-chaired by Dr. Mary Meares (Communication Studies) and Dr. Diane Bragg (Journalism & Creative Media). The Symposium is open to the public and will be held Wednesday, March 11, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Gorgas Library 205.

C&IS is committed to promoting an environment that harbors diversity and inclusion and is proud to host the Discerning Diverse Voices Symposium. To view the full program, please click here.

SLIS gives over $23,200 in new free books to School Libraries in the Black Belt and Beyond

During March 2020, The University of Alabama School of Library and Information Studies (SLIS) will award over $23,200 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 2020. We received applications from 26 highly deserving schools. The judges chose five school libraries in the Black Belt Region of the state to receive on average $3300 each in brand new children’s and/or young adult books. The judging of the applications was rigorous, as every school exemplified a significant need.

We have selected also two 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 also receive on average $3300 in brand new children’s and/or young adult books.

University of Alabama SLIS graduate students participated in the judging of applications and selection of books for the winning school libraries.

Please join SLIS in congratulating the following winning school libraries:

2020 Book Bonanza Black Belt Winners:

Aliceville Elementary School, serving grades K-6 (Pickens County), Librarian Shannon Moore
Dixie Elementary School, serving grades PreK-5 (Russell Country), Librarian Charity Wade
Goshen High School, serving grades 7-12 (Pike County), Librarian Kim Dillard
Moundville Elementary School, serving grades PreK-5 (Hale County), Librarian Wendy Tucker
William R. Martin Middle School, serving grades 7-8 (Dallas County), Librarian Debra Stauffer

2020 Book Bonanza Beyond Winner:

Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School, serving grades PreK-5 (Madison County), Librarian Jared Wasson
Westlawn Middle School, serving grades 6-8 (Tuscaloosa County), Librarian Georgia Tidwell

Note: County listed is the county in which the school resides and not necessarily the name of the school system.

Established in 2009 by Dr. Jamie Campbell Naidoo, the SLIS Book Bonanza for the Black Belt (& Beyond) is an annual program that provides free new books to school libraries in the Black Belt region of state. Schools in the Black Belt region are encouraged to apply again in January 20201 for a chance to receive free books for their school libraries during the next SLIS Book Bonanza for the Black Belt & Beyond Program. Low-income private schools in the Black Belt Region or schools in economically disadvantaged areas of the state outside the Black Belt are encouraged to apply next year (in January 2021) to be a Beyond Winner. If you need additional information about the program, please contact Dr. Jamie C. Naidoo at or SLIS at 205-348-4610. Information is also available on the program website:

C&IS Alumni Spotlight: Andy Britton

“If you are able to communicate, a company can teach you just about anything they want you to do.”

Andy Britton (B.A. in Public Relations and B.S. in Economics ’87) is the Director of Public Affairs and Communications for Coca-Cola Bottling Co. UNITED. Inc. in Birmingham, AL. Over his 20 years with the Coca-Cola system, Britton has grown passionate about the Coca-Cola experience—the feeling consumers get when they pop open a Coca-Cola beverage. To ensure a positive Coca-Cola experience, he drives approximately 1,000 miles per week to manage relationships with businesses and universities across the Southeast. Britton continues logging the miles in his spare time, traveling the region as a football referee for the Southeastern Conference (pictured).  As he looks into the future of the bottling industry, he sees a shift toward more sustainable practices through increased recycling initiatives. He looks forward to being part of this movement.

Read below to see Britton’s insight into his current career, where he sees his industry headed within the next five years and how C&IS helped create his story.

Why did you choose C&IS for your studies?

I’m originally from Athens, Ala., and was the first person in my family to go to college. For the first two years of my college experience, I went out-of-state to Florida College in Tampa, Fl., on a baseball scholarship. I soon realized that I wasn’t going to make my living or a career out of baseball and transferred home to The University of Alabama since I’ve always wanted to attend the school. I chose to major in Public Relations and study within C&IS because I knew that it would give me the communication skills I needed to secure a good job and fruitful career in the future.

What lessons from C&IS have helped you in starting your career?

I took a public speaking class with Dr. Bruce Roach and he always said that “60% of the people who watch professional wrestling believe that it’s real but 90% of those people vote in every election” meaning that the world is always viewed through different eyes. The most important thing I learned within C&IS is that you have to communicate. Whether it be verbally, in person or through broadcast, it is important to know how to be an effective communicator. If you are able to communicate, a business can teach you just about anything they want you to do. As long as you’re able to communicate you’ll always be successful.

Tell me about a typical workday for you.

There is no “typical” workday for me. I’ve been with the Coca-Cola system for about 20 years in various roles. In my role today as Director of Public Affairs and Communications for Coca-Cola bottling Co. UNITED, Inc., I drive about 1,000 miles every week. Our footprint spans from Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, part of Mississippi and the Florida Panhandle. I manage relationships with businesses and universities in the region, and each organization has a different group of stakeholders. Sometimes I may be meeting or speaking with the university presidents and sometimes it may be the Director of Student Life – but each of those individuals is looking at the brand partnership with my company through a different lens.

How do you see your industry evolving over the next five years?

I think that the next step in our industry is going to be recycling and sustainability. We do not produce any single-use vessels, all of our bottles and cans are specifically designed to be recycled. In fact, the aluminum cans that you drink out of every day have 70-90% of already recycled materials in their makeup. Our biggest challenge is actually getting the bottles back from consumers. Only about 10% of the plastic bottles are made out of recycled materials and we are trying to change that in the coming months and years. Our bottles are not necessarily going into a landfill but we are competing with carpet and clothing manufacturers along with other businesses who utilize recycled plastic materials.

What’s the most challenging aspect of your position?

The most challenging aspect of my position is when I have to deliver bad news. No one particularly likes to deliver bad news, but it’s challenging to deliver bad news to good people. One of my professors at C&IS once told me, “Public relations is the truth with sensitivity,” and I’ve always remembered that. You always need to tell the truth, but also be mindful of how you’re conveying the truth.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

Being able to share the experiences of our consumers. As a brand, we are all about the experience and the feelings you have when you drink one of our beverages. The most rewarding part of my job is being able to be a part of that experience and sharing in the joy.

What motivates you?

I enjoy what I do. Life’s too short to dread going to work.  I am lucky to be in a career that I love and working for a company that I love.

Thank you, Andy!

C&IS Students Make History with YouTube Program

The first all-female sports show hosted by university students.”

When C&IS students Katelyn Heffler and Jayde Saylor transferred to The University of Alabama in 2019, they never thought that they would be meeting their future business partner among their classmates. In the male-dominated field of sports talk and radio, these young women are determined to strengthen their reporting packages while completing their degrees. By creating Bama Network, a YouTube channel covering topical sports stories from UA sports and around the world, including a recent tribute to the late Kobe Bryant, Heffler and Saylor have successfully created and launched the first all-female sports show hosted by university students. They have seen their following increase exponentially within the past year and are confident that their channel will continue to grow.

Read below to hear how Saylor and Heffler’s determination to build Bama Network has made them better journalists and how C&IS is helping them create their story.


Tell me a little about yourselves and what made you come to UA and choose to study within C&IS.

KH: I’m from San Diego, California and transferred to The University of Alabama last spring to pursue my dream of becoming a Sports Broadcaster. I know that this field is very competitive. Therefore, I knew that I needed to find the best program possible. I chose to come to C&IS to study News Media with an emphasis in sports.

JS: I am from Kentucky and originally went to Eastern Kentucky University before transferring to The University of Alabama last January. I’m currently in a junior studying sports news media. I transferred to UA specifically to change my major and study within C&IS to pursue a career in sports media. I couldn’t think of a better school to do that, especially since I’ve always been an Alabama sports fan.


How did you meet?

JS: Katelyn and I met through our sorority. We joined around the same time because we both transferred to UA in the same semester, and realized we had the same major and shared a class together. Shortly after meeting our friendship bond grew quick over our love for sports and the idea of a career in covering it one day.


Why did you start Bama Network?

KH: Over the summer, I was brainstorming with my parents ways that I could improve my resume and set me apart from others as I started to apply for summer internships. We came up with the idea to start a show that would be broadcasted on YouTube. I reached out to Jayde and told her about my idea and she immediately loved the idea and we started to get to work that day! We are the first college female co-hosts to start something like this.

JS: We started Bama Network to begin practicing for our future careers. We wanted to use it as a way to stay on top of sports news, research, practice our on-air broadcasting skills, writing skills, and editing skills. We also use it as a way to gain exposure in the industry and network with other people that have given us several opportunities.


What challenges have you faced while starting Bama Network?

KH: Some challenges we have faced would include time conflicts. We are both full time students and our school work is very demanding, especially with upper-classmen courses. In the beginning, we also had a lot of technical issues. Our first episodes were filmed from our iPhones so they weren’t the best quality. Now, our latest episodes have improved tremendously with our new camera and learning how to adjust the audio.


What has been the highlight of building Bama Network?

KH: The highlight of Bama Network is the number of supporters we have gained and people that have contacted us to be on their podcasts and radio shows. We have been featured as guests on the Gary Harris Show on Tide 100.9 FM which led us to an internship opportunity with them this semester. Furthermore, we are also going to be on a podcast Thursday, Jan. 23 and also another radio show on Friday, Jan 24. We love talking sports and learning from the best!


What is your favorite thing about Bama Network?

KH: My favorite thing about Bama Network is honestly the experience. Jayde and I are just two best friends with the same dream. When we first started this, we had no idea what it would turn into. We spend each day researching stats and studying teams. We are constantly in communication throughout everyday coming up with new ideas and ways to make our next moves. Whenever we film, we are hardly ever agreeing on everything. We have our own opinions and aren’t afraid to share our differences. I think that is how we have learned so much.

JS: My favorite thing about Bama Network is just being able to talk about sports with my best friend and give our opinions on games and what is going on in the sports world. It’s a lot of fun for us because we are constantly texting or meeting up to talk about sports or attend games/watch them on TV together so we can stay up to date on everything going on for our next episode, or the next time we are on the radio.


How do you plan on utilizing your experience with Bama Network to further your career?

KH: Bama Network really helps us in every aspect of our future career. We have learned technology techniques as well as how to speak clearly and develop unique and individual ideas. Furthermore, we have to be on top of stats and what is happening every day in all sports so that we don’t fall behind or miss anything. This experience has taught us how to be real journalists and reporters.

JS: In the future, I plan to utilize my experience with Bama Network by taking all the advice I have received from people in the industry and using it to better my skills. Not only have I learned how to stay on top of sports and talk about them through this, but I have learned the technical side of things and what it takes to write and film and edit a good episode. We have gone from filming on an iPhone to using a camera and microphone and learned in our most recent episodes how to edit our audio. I also plan on utilizing it as a highlight reel. Anyone that needs to see a video of me talking about sports in front of a camera can pull up Bama Network and it will always be there.


What tools have you implemented from your courses in C&IS into your work at Bama Network?

KH: In class, we are taught how to cut, edit and film through projects. We utilize these skills by putting it into practice outside of the classroom and creating real life content that we can use for our professional portfolios. We do all of our own research and keep up with what’s going on in the sports world on our own, and this has made us better students in the long run. I guess you can say it all comes full-circle one way or another!


Thank you, Katelyn and Jayde!

Capstone Agency’s 2020 CreateAthon generates over $50,000 of pro bono, strategic work

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Capstone Agency members came together and produced $51,375 worth of strategic communications work for 13 Tuscaloosa and Birmingham nonprofits last Friday. The agency’s fourth-annual CreateAthon was hosted in Reese Phifer Hall — home to UA’s nationally ranked APR programs. 67 students spanning all levels of experience worked with their client teams and dedicated 24 hours to strategizing and designing campaigns for their assigned nonprofit.

Capstone Agency’s pro bono director, Heather Griffith, spearheaded this year’s event and emphasized the necessity of supporting these nonprofits, which can’t always dedicate their limited funds for the communication work they need.

“A lot of the nonprofits we partner with, unfortunately, do not have the financial resources for extensive communication work, because they pour as many resources as possible into the wonderful work they do,” said Griffith. “Through CreateAthon, we hope to fill that gap as much as we can in 24 hours and provide these nonprofits with work to support them and their missions.”

This event not only benefited the nonprofits; students were also able to gain valuable, real-world experience. Their nonprofit’s brief was the foundation for their objectives— they needed to research, brainstorm, create and edit to produce professional work in a short timeframe. At the conclusion of the event, the teams presented to the nonprofits and provided them with everything necessary to implement these new ideas.

In its four-year history, Capstone Agency has been able to provide $209,880 of pro bono strategic communications benefitting nonprofits that serve this community.


Contact Information:

Maribeth McClenny, Capstone Agency Senior Media Coordinator


About Capstone Agency

Capstone Agency is an integrated communications agency comprised of top students at The University of Alabama, focused on strategic and innovative communications for its clients. Capstone Agency strives to maintain excellent working relationships with current clients while growing in student membership and experience. The agency was named the top student-run communications firm by the Public Relations Student Society of America in 2016 and 2018. The agency currently has 143 members and nine clients.

C&IS Graduate Student Spotlight: Mackenzie Pike

This story is one in a continuing series of C&IS graduate student spotlights. These spotlights give insight into the academic and professional lives of master’s and Ph.D. students as they advance knowledge in their respective fields of communication and information sciences. The questions serve to highlight the many aspects of the graduate student experience as well provide guidance for prospective students. To nominate a current C&IS graduate student for a spotlight, email Cole Lanier at

Mackenzie Pike, a current graduate student in the Communication Studies program, discusses her time as an Accelerated Master’s Program (AMP) student. When she’s not studying people in the Human Communication Research lab, you can find Pike on the tennis court. Recently, Pike competed in the university-wide Three Minute Thesis competition and placed third as a first-time competitor. Here is what she has to say about her experience within C&IS:

Tell us about your experience in graduate school.

I entered graduate school in communication studies through the Accelerated Master’s Program during my senior year as an undergraduate student at the University. While the classes are challenging – especially while juggling teaching, research and extracurricular activities – it is the challenge that makes it so much more rewarding. I have had an amazing experience, as I have had the opportunity to focus on communication topics and research that truly interests me. I have also been able to teach sections of the “Critical Decision Making” courses. It is amazing to be able to guide students through a course and help share my love for communication and, more broadly, learning, with others. Graduate school at The University of Alabama has helped me realize my passion for research and learning and will guide me as I move forward with my education.

What is your greatest accomplishment in the program?

I believe my greatest accomplishment relates to my thesis: I tackled a project that examined power language in company financial statements. This means that I not only had to thoroughly examine the communicative aspects of financial statements, but I had to become well-versed in the nuances of accounting research as well. This inter-disciplinary project was very difficult to manage; after all, my undergraduate degree was in communication, so I had little to no financial background. It was very exciting to work through the project and get interesting findings! Not only do companies that use more power language in their financial statements make more money, but I also examined the companies with male and female CEOs. I found that companies with female CEOs actually make more money, but they also use power language differently than companies with male CEOs. While it was a challenge to tackle this project, the results were extremely rewarding!

What has been your greatest challenge?

My greatest challenge, like other graduate students, has been balancing school, teaching, research and my personal life. It is very easy to keep yourself constantly busy in graduate school but if you don’t give yourself time to decompress and relax, burnout is inevitable. Learning to work hard when I can and give myself time to do things that I enjoy really helps me recharge and prepare myself for the next challenge.

What advice do you have for students about to enter graduate school?

The biggest piece of advice I could offer a student entering graduate school is to engage in the academic community around you. The other students in your program can relate to your struggles and successes and will be your biggest motivators and cheerleaders! Some of my greatest friends have been found in this program and having them by my side has helped through the hard times of graduate school. It takes lots of hard work but staying on top of your work is really important. I was once told to treat my school like a 9-5 job – staying diligent not only helps prevent getting very behind on your work but also allows you to have time for yourself.

Why did you choose UA for your graduate studies?

I chose UA for graduate studies because it presented me with opportunities that I could not have found in other programs. First, I was able to participate in the Accelerated Masters’ Program, which allowed me to start my graduate studies while finishing my senior year of undergraduate classes. I also had the opportunity to teach classes that I was interested in and found value in – Critical Decision Making is an interactive learning experience that has helped me connect with students. Finally, I was excited to stay involved with the HCRL and my research community at The University of Alabama. I was encouraged to pursue research that interested me and challenge myself to ask meaningful questions. I am very grateful for my time at the University and the opportunities the program has allowed me to see to fruition.

Thank you, Mackenzie!

Rising to the Challenge: R. J. Nealon

Nealon at ESPN Headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut.

R. J. Nealon has always craved competition. He is a national champion swimmer, a national runner-up in football and basketball, holds a blue belt in Brazilian Jujitsu and is a lifelong wrestler. On Saturday, Nealon graduates with a degree in journalism, and—like all his other accomplishments to date—he didn’t let his cerebral palsy hold him back.

Cerebral palsy is a group of disorders that affect movement and muscle tone or posture. It’s caused by damage that occurs to the brain as it is in development, most often before birth. Complications during childbirth caused Nealon to suffer a stroke which resulted in his cerebral palsy (CP). His experience with CP affects the right side of his body, which limits his range of motion and functionality.

Nealon competed in the Special Olympics for 15 years, where he won three gold medals at the 2010 Special Olympics USA National Games. Ever the athlete, Nealon also competed in sports outside of the Special Olympics realm, alongside high school classmates who would go on to be NCAA Division-1 student athletes.

“I had to train harder than anyone else,” said Nealon. “Swimming with those guys helped me a lot because they pushed me; they wouldn’t let me modify things. They made me do things the right way.”

What Nealon learned from his experiences on the field, on the mat and in the pool easily translated to his success as a student. In Summer 2019, he worked 10 weeks as a programming intern for ESPN in Bristol, Connecticut—scheduling television content network. The fast-paced work environment and constant motion at the ESPN offices fueled his desire to one day be a senior sportswriter for ESPN.

Nealon at the 2019 X Games, where he produced X Games content for the ESPN Twitter account.

“The experience I had at ESPN—I want to be in that competitive atmosphere,” said Nealon. “I want to be working with people who are the best at what they do, who push me every day. That doesn’t just make me better; it makes them better too. I know It’s going to take some work, but I’m willing to do the work to get back there.”

His experience is already paying off. Not only did it open Nealon’s eyes to the full scope of the industry—in front of the camera and behind the scenes—it also further developed his skill as a writer. He’s is currently working on a story he pitched to ESPN about a Special Olympian. Nealon says that writing and editing this story with input from Rebecca Nordquist at ESPN have improved his writing for the Crimson White and WVUA 23, where he serves as a digital sports reporter.

Beyond his goal of becoming an accomplished sportswriter, Nealon serves as an advocate for people with physical and intellectual disabilities. He’s currently scheduled as a keynote speaker for the Special Olympics 2020 Law Enforcement Torch Run International Conference in National Harbor, Maryland in, September 2020 and hopes to one day present a Ted Talk to elevate the platform of his message.

Whether as an athlete or an intern, Nealon embraces the challenge—choosing to be pushed and made better by his peers rather than running away from the heat of the trials. As he graduates on Saturday and begins his next chapter, countless challenges surely await him, and he intends to answer them.

Research Spotlight: Dr. Scott Parrott

Women veterans and veterans of World War II appear more often in newspaper photos than their make-up of the country’s veterans, according to a study by researchers at The University of Alabama.

The study examined photos of veterans shared on Twitter over a 10-year period by a newspaper from the largest metro area in every state, which combined for about 10.8 million Twitter followers.

“It’s important we understand how the media represent veterans because more and more, the media are serving as a primary source of information about veterans,” said Dr. Scott Parrott, UA associate professor of journalism and creative media. “We’re examining how exposure to these stories shapes people’s emotions, beliefs, attitudes and behavioral intentions toward veterans.”

Parrott is co-author on a paper published in Visual Communications Quarterly along with Dr. David L. Albright, UA’s Hill Crest Foundation Endowed Chair in Mental Health Research and director of the Office for Military Families and Veterans. Former graduate students and UA alumna Caitlin Dyche and Hailey Grace Steele, both in journalism and creative media, are also co-authors on the paper.

Through marking a random sample of the photos in a database, the research found women veterans were in 14% of photographs, despite accounting for 8% of the nation’s 20 million living veterans. Those who served in WWII were in 20% of the photos, the most of any American conflict, even though WWII veterans, at 3% of living veterans, are the smallest group.

Though women veterans were overrepresented, men still dominated the media images, appearing in 86% of all photos. White veterans also appeared in 82% percent of photos, close to the 84% make-up of all veterans.

In fact, the most used combination of race, gender and service was of a white, male veteran of WWII, which appeared in 13% of photos.

“The military is becoming more diverse in terms of both race and gender,” Parrott said. “However, when many people picture a veteran or service member, they picture a man. They picture an older white man. This can be problematic.”

That women appeared often in the photographs can be important to changing that image, he said.

There is a divide between military and civilians as the number of people with a close friend or relative serving in the military dwindles. The mass media, including newspapers, play a crucial role in portraying veterans to the public with possible implications on policy and behavior toward veterans, Parrott said.

“We’re interested in how people are exposed to media messages overall and how these shape beliefs and attitudes when people lack knowledge concerning military service,” Albright said. “I think our study suggests that additional work needs to be done to unpack the use by media of social categorizations.”

Two C&IS Students Named to AAF Most Promising Multicultural Students Class of 2020

C&IS Students Erica Howie (left) and Gabbie Waller (right)

The American Advertising Federation (AAF) has named two students from the College of Communication and Information Sciences (C&IS) to its annual Most Promising Multicultural Student program. Erica Howie and Gabbie Waller, both senior advertising majors, joined 48 other students around the country in the 2020 class.

“Being a part of the Most Promising Multicultural Student Class has given me the confidence to know that I have what it takes to be a young talent in the industry,” said Howie, who was born and raised in Japan. “As I start my career in the industry, I want to be an advocate for diversity and inclusion. I saw the Most Promising Multicultural Students program as an opportunity to do just that.”

The Most Promising Multicultural Student Program is in its 24th year and is part of AAF’s initiatives towards promoting diversity and inclusion within the advertising industry. Next, students will take part in a four-day industry immersion program with professional development workshops, site visits and meetings with recruiters in February in New York.

Waller, a Houston native whose mother immigrated from Honduras, sees the Most Promising Multicultural Student program as a way to share the stories of the students with diverse backgrounds from around the country.

“This program is imperative to multicultural students as it not only allows us to network but also gives us a chance to meet others and translate diversity into our advertising careers,” she said. “In this position, I can not only tell my story but also fulfill the duty of the advertising industry to represent diversity, which has been one of my goals coming into this field.”

The award is a familiar one to C&IS, as 4 students have been selected to the program since 2017. C&IS is committed to promoting an environment that harbors diversity and inclusion and influences student leaders to affect change in their respective industries.

COM 219 Students Impact their Communities with the “Make a Difference” Project

Tatianna Zambrano shares her final Make A Difference project presentation with her COM 219 classmates.

The first day of a college class is typically a guided walkthrough of the course’s content and a breakdown of the assignments with rubrics detailing how to make the grade. But in COM 219: Honors Interpersonal Communication, students are tasked with more than making the grade; they’re challenged to make a difference.

Though COM 219 has been taught since Fall 2018, this is the first implementation of Dr. Jennifer Becker’s (communication studies) “Make a Difference” project. Becker assigned her students to apply their research by identifying a need, developing a plan and executing a community-based project. Each finalized project was required to have specific, measurable and actionable outcomes that demonstrated how the students made a difference.

“The learning that occurs by designing, executing and analyzing this project is so much richer than traditional methods,” said Becker. “This project empowers the students and helps them recognize that they are capable, and there is so much they can do to impact their communities.”

The students researched an interpersonal communication concept, theory, process or principle  to develop various projects aimed at making a difference. Joey Vargo (civil engineering) planned a ping-pong tournament and movie night for peers on his residence hall floor to interact with one another, Wen Walsh (mechanical engineering) and Nicholas Coker (MBA) directed and produced a public service announcement highlighting different University programs that feature authentic conversations, and Kennah Davis (psychology) created a website that houses resources to assist college roommates with conflict resolution.

“This project is the first that I’ve ever had where you actually implement your research,” said Tatianna Zambrano. “There have been so many hypothetical projects I’ve created for classes that I’ve never gotten to do. When Dr. Becker told us we had to execute this project, it didn’t intimidate me; it excited me.”

Zambrano worked with guidance counselors at Holy Spirit Catholic Middle School to normalize their contact with students and to destigmatize mental health issues. The students involved in the project had 30-minute sessions with their school counselors which led to an increased willingness to visit the counselors on an as-needed basis. By the end of the project, none of the students answered that they felt uncomfortable visiting the counselors, which was an improvement on the data collected at the project’s start.

“This class is one of my favorites and one of the most beneficial classes I’ve taken in undergrad,” said Zambrano. “When I go to grad school, a lot of the skills that I’ve worked on here are really going to help me.”