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Catching Up with Dr. O.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

By Stephanie Meccia

Richard Olsen, Professor and Chair of the Department of Communication Studies at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, would agree that there is a lot to cover in terms of updates in the COM Studies Department.

I sat down with him this past Tuesday to catch up and really understand the goals of the department.

“What COM Studies events have changed or stayed over the years?”

“Rock for a Cure is a student run event that has become a success,” Olsen says. There is a lot of participation from the student body and teachers, seen as something quickly becoming a tradition.

Dr. Olsen added that there is an IMC camp for professionals every other summer that aims to function as a developmental workshop for graduates and others interested in strategic communication. “We’ve had to change our strategy.” A conference is also held biannually, focusing on academics including undergrads from our campus and other campuses. The summers with even years focus more on bringing in practitioners and balancing “theory and practice”.

While the events are growing and doing well, Dr. Olsen admits there’s one problem. “Promotional effort always seems to be as if it’s the first year doing an event,” he says. By the time seniors become interested in participating, it’s a little late in their academic careers. Getting freshman and sophomores engaged is key. “In order for these things to be successful we need a departmental effort,” says a concerned Olsen, “It isn’t just someone’s pet project.”

“Aristotle said the goal of education is to teach students to ‘love what they ought and hate what they ought’,” says Olsen. Incentives should be tied to areas that students enjoy and connect to, not just for “extra credit.” Olsen believes that “moving students from reactivity to intentionality” is the ultimate goal here and maturity may be lost or gained. It’s hard work.

What about the people who’ve graduated already, who participated and contributed to all these things? What about the Alumni?

“Is the interaction between students and alumni at these events a positive one so far?” I asked.

Olsen seemed to perk up in spirit, “It’s getting there.”

Although there are definitely many alumni who come back to such events as COM Studies Day, students seem to freeze up when interacting with them. Olsen thinks that this has to deal with the decline of conversation in our culture and prevalence in social media. “You better follow up and engage,” he warns.

Olsen compared these various successes and downfalls in a metaphor: “It’s like the way a child grows is almost imperceptible in the time,” when he looks back at the years shaping what Communication Studies is at UNC Wilmington.

“This is growth we can take pride in.”