Communication Connection

Friends of Com Newsletter


Turning the Tables on Dr. Olsen

Friday, February 21, 2014

By: Amy Jackson

Anyone that has had Dr. Olsen for COM 200 remembers waking up for class at 8 a.m. and trying to be coherent enough to answer the daily clicker quiz. With the memory of that class still fresh in my mind, it was nice to be able to call the shots and quiz Dr. Olsen on matters that truly interest our COM students. While these questions are not nearly as challenging to figure out, it was still intriguing to sit down with Dr. Olsen and hear his take on the department in his own unique and humorous manner.

How has this academic year started off for the Communication Studies Department?

With a bang as usual! There's the excitement of all the new projects such as an emphasis on applied learning, and we're also working on getting involved in some new minors and clusters to make it easier on our COM majors to graduate as well as students outside the major. Overall, it's great to have the energy back in the building and to see and hear what our students are doing in and outside of the classroom

Do you have any advice for current students on how to develop a better relationship with professors to help with networking and recommendations when it is difficult to get the same professor for more than one semester?

The way to bond with professors that you think may be worth a recommendation is to ideally follow up with another class or a Directed Individual Study. You can even ask to help with research that a professor is doing, and you may receive credit for your help. It's part of our job to talk with interested students about what we're doing and how to apply what you learn in our classes. Another thing to remember is that professors talk to one another. The really good students get talked about so remember that you have a reputation. Do great work and the networking takes care of itself.

What do you love about COM students here at UNCW?

What I love most about COM students is their optimism. They're very hopeful about life. Many of them are engaged in some of the best activities that we have across campus such as student government, Greek life, and other organizations. Our major is really involved in the university, and that to me is a big part of our pride as a department. There are a lot of students already involved in issues that they are passionate about such as non-profits. They're not chasing the money, so to speak, which is really rewarding to see.

What makes the COM department and professors unique and therefore stand out from other departments on campus?

It's the people and cultural expectations in our department. Our desire to be role models of what we teach makes the difference. The respect and civility we have for each other and the connectivity we model is distinctive of our department. We hire for a generalist with a specialty that is willing to see the value in all interests. Also, we're interested in making students great people, who are generalist with a specialty, like ourselves.

If you had to describe the COM department in one statement, what would it be and why?

I would say its diversity around commonality. We're broad but we've worked hard to connect the dots. We celebrate diverse teaching styles, but we have a common mission. We're always walking along this dialectic tension between diversity and commonality. We don't want to be rigid even though we pursue commonality and we don't want to be incoherent even though we pursue diversity.

How is the major planning on growing, if at all?

Growing depends on how you want to define it. We would only get larger by adding new faculty but we don't want to make classes too large because then you can lose the necessary instructor and student relationships as well as lessen the effectiveness of some assignments. Our challenge as far as growth is being as big as we can given the resources that we have. The partnerships with the minors are our primary method of growth as well as looking ahead to where the future of communication is, such as challenges and issues that face future graduates.

What is the biggest change you are hoping to make in the Communication Studies department?

Most of the big changes come from those in the Academic Affairs division. The COM department was already doing a lot of applied learning before eTEAL, the applied learning initiative, but now we have to formalize that and push it even further in our curriculum. We're switching course evaluations from SPOTS, which have been used for decades, to a new online instrument. This will be a challenge but we're looking to see how we can be a model department with this modification. There have been a lot of changes over the past few years, such as the Core Skills our department focuses on and our partnership with the Forte Institute. Now we're working on how to recognize these changes and fine tune all the positive implications that have already begun.

On a more personal note, since you became a professor at UNCW in 1997, what has been your favorite course to teach, besides COM 200?

Well I like them all, which is why I was a generalist in graduate school, but I would say Rhetoric of Pop Culture is one of my favorites. Students know so much about Pop Culture and then I can bring in the rhetoric side so there becomes a partnership. The energy of partnering makes it one of my favorites. My other favorite is Rhetorical Theory because in a similar way to COM 200, students come in expecting that it is going to be boring and that they're going to hate it. I really enjoyed the challenge of getting them to see the relevancy and value of exploring rhetorical dimensions. Honestly, you could name about any course in the department and I would love to teach it.