Communication Studies

Jordyn Baker

Message from the Department

Our country and our region continue to wrestle with the many challenges brought on by demonstrations supporting Black Lives Matter and other calls for social justice. We are also confronting what it means to live in a country where political discourse, social media and traditional media contributed to a failed insurrection. At the national level there is clearly work to do.

But there is an old saying that “all politics is local.” And we can take that all the way down to “it starts with me.” Months into a very tough period in our nation’s history, our department continues to do the work we seek to do and so does UNCW. We want to respond by saying, “Thank you.”

Thank you to the staff who have come in as essential workers and kept buildings safe and clean during COVID. We know that the disruption has been hard on you.

Thank you to those who have been vocal advocates of change at and for UNCW and COM Studies. We need your expressions of what could be and what needs to be. And thanks most to those who have also partnered on solutions and making connections.

We are especially thankful to those COM alumni who have formally joined in through alumni chapters and other groups to help move conversations and tangible changes forward. Thank you for continuing to put trust in us to make your efforts worth it.

As department chair, I also say, thank you to the COM faculty who have engaged in formal and informal professional development efforts including workshops, conferences, presentations, joining book groups and more. To some, such efforts may sound passive or insufficient. But it is our belief that it is harder to look in the mirror than it is to point the finger. We cannot simply say to UNCW leadership, “Fix this!” without doing the self-work needed on our end as well. We are all “in process” and cannot lead others in a journey we have not taken ourselves.

Thank you to our students who have leaned into hard conversations, taken on challenging assignments and more to grow as citizens of this world at this time. Your efforts can change lives beyond your own.

We are still “doing the work” and looking at all of the big challenges through the lens of our discipline and our primary responsibility as educators. For example, our upcoming COM Studies Week will feature a diverse array of graduates from our program. We will have special class sessions on the Black experience in WW II and many others. We are in our second semester of offering a class on interracial dialogue open to all UNCW students. We are co-sponsoring speakers that can further illuminate the challenges we face and solutions we can pursue.

We continue to review our courses for ways we can organically integrate examples and discussions of social justice and ethical rhetoric. Our graduate program in IMC has learning outcomes and course content directly focused on diversity and IMC.

We are working with our COM alumni chapter to determine what tangible efforts we can make to make UNCW and our department more accessible and more inclusive. If you want to join in those efforts, please contact us.

It is helpful as a teacher to embrace process: dialogue, rhetoric, teaching and learning. We embrace the challenge of helping students see that unity, civility and inclusivity which goes beyond mere tolerance is hard work and rises above the speed and ease of “callout” and “cancel.” The issues are too complex, and the stakes are too high. We trust our students—past, present and future—to be the change they seek within their spheres of influence.

With hope and solidarity,

Rick Olsen, Ph.D.



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.