Communication Studies


Message from the Department

We are currently surrounded by a growing set of interrelated messages: Black lives matter, blue lives matter, all lives matter.  We have a seemingly endless supply of hashtags about diversity, equity and inclusion along with #metoo and “enough is enough” and other calls for social justice and the extension of rights and dignity to people who have been, and are still, marginalized and victimized.  It’s a lot to take in and it can feel overwhelming.

So what does an academic department like communication studies do in response to the current moment we are all in?  We respond through the lens of our discipline.  We use dialogue and argument, words and images and collaboration to push toward the outcomes we seek.  We start within our spheres of influence while also hoping that a ripple effect will extend our good work.  What does that look like?  Here’s a snapshot of where we are now.

We have committed as a department to intentionally review our courses for ways we can organically integrate examples and discussions of social justice.  We have some courses where such concerns are already a major theme.  One of our faculty came out of retirement to teach a course on interracial dialogue.  We are thankful.  Others of us will make smaller but equally important revisions.  Further, we will teach with more awareness and authenticity about our own backgrounds, limitations, privileges.  We will admit that we are experts who are, nevertheless, still growing and learning.  Our graduate program in IMC has a course directly focused on diversity and IMC.  The work done in and through that course will inform our other courses. 

We are partnering with internal and external groups and individuals.  We are working with the College of Arts and Sciences that has recently formed a diversity, equity and inclusion committee to create programs, hiring initiatives and other tangible actions to help UNCW meet its promise and also impact Wilmington and the region.   We have already helped community partners like Cedric Harrison and Support the Port and we continue to connect with worthy partners where our teaching goals and their needs overlap. 

It is helpful as a teacher to embrace the process.  We embrace the challenge of teaching our student dialogue and argument so they do not succumb to the speed and ease of “callout” and “cancel.”  But, we rarely see the finished product.  Students are with us for a while and graduate and move and we trust that the work we did with them and in them made a difference.  We can certainly enjoy seeing the fumbling sophomore become a poised and confident senior.  But we are more hopeful that they become a great co-worker, community member, spouse, and live a life of impact.  We trust our students and graduates to be the change they seek within their spheres of influence.  We have to trust the process for outcomes we may not see.  Such is it with the work we do here and now.  We will enjoy the victories we get to see, but we will be even more deeply motivated by those we hope for. 

With hope and solidarity,

Rick Olsen, Ph.D.


The Department of Communication Studies is operating in an electronic format at this time and until further notice. Please see our Response and Updates page for more department level information.

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Greetings from the Chair

Richard Olsen

Richard K. Olsen
Professor and Department Chair

What do entrepreneur, lawyer, minister, social media manager, pharmaceutical regulations liaison, corporate trainer, videographer and client services all have in common?  These are just a few of the many career paths our graduates have chosen.  Choice is a wonderful thing.  But, choice requires power.  So where does the power of a communication studies degree come from?

First, it comes from a fundamental need for great communication in everyday life.  The ancient Greeks figured this out very early in their efforts to create democratic rule.  Thus, arête, or the power to manage oneself well in public settings became a hallmark of a well-educated citizen.  We embrace that goal today.

Second, the power of a COM degree comes from the versatility we build into our curriculum.  Our students learn to think strategically about communication.  They become aware of the power of symbols to shape reality and grow in their ability to make effective and ethical arguments through whatever communication choices are available to them.  This foundation is great for folks who know exactly what they want to do next... and is equally appropriate for those that have no idea what’s next!

Finally, our curriculum embraces personal development as well as professional readiness.  If you are going to become a powerful communicator it is also best if you become a good person.  We are proud that many of our students engage in projects that make positive differences in the community and in their own lives.  In those projects we see the power of connecting timeless truths with cutting edge application.

If you are interested in exploring how mastering communication can foster your personal growth and professional readiness, explore our website and I think you’ll find that choosing to major in communication studies can provide you with many great choices in the years ahead.