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Core Skills in Action: Collaboration

COM Faculty Utilize Teamwork to Publish Book Chapter

By Claire Johnson

In the communication studies department, students are familiar with teamwork on projects inside and out of the classroom. Dr. Deborah Brunson and Dr. Jeanne Persuit showcase their collaboration on the study of rhetoric with the speeches of first lady, Michelle Obama. The duo of COM educators explored the First Lady’s use of rhetoric throughout her speeches and her search for identity as a mother, wife, First Lady, African-American feminist and activist. They offered insight from their prospective areas of expertise to produce their own chapter in Michelle Obama: First Lady, American Rhetor.

Brunson came across the opportunity months ago while searching for fresh content to incorporate into upcoming courses, and almost immediately requested Persuit’s assistance on the job. While they both contribute invaluable research and perspectives, they bring very different concentrations to the table. Dr. Brunson has focused most of her career on diversity in communication. She was able to contribute insight into not only what it means to have a voice as the First Lady, but to utilize her voice as an African-American First Lady. Persuit’s background comes from rhetoric and branding; an area needed to deliver the full concept of their chapter.

While these two are no strangers to brainstorming and “hitting the drawing boards,” they found this opportunity came with room for growth and learning experiences as well. Initially, they saw their chapter going in a particular direction, while the editors imagined a different approach. Brunson and Persuit began analyzing the Michelle Obama’s more popular speeches, such as the eulogy given at Maya Angelou’s funeral. Upon editorial review, they were directed to explore her lesser known and self-written speeches, that the average person may have missed. “There is a whole product out there and that’s the goal of the editors. They see the whole picture and they’re saying, ‘in order for this work, we think this needs to be changed,’” Brunson said.

With a clear direction, the two began writing about an inspirational woman and in the process became just that for each other. “Dr. Brunson was right. In going for the branding approach we found a new take on this so that it would be competitive and create new knowledge, because this is what research and scholarship is supposed to do,” Persuit said. They each wrote independently first, and then shared their findings with each other to choose a focus for their main points. Incorporating both of their areas of expertise, branding and diversity, gave the team an advantage to strengthening their supporting evidence.

Brunson and Pursuit had a vision and inspiration for their chapter that extended far beyond analyzing the First Lady’s speeches. They explored the role of the First Lady in relation to her husband, and the struggles she faces when finding her role under so many different titles; mother, wife, First Lady, childhood health activist and public figure. Michelle Obama’s negotiates what the traditional roles of a First Lady are in our society and the legacy she, as a person, wants to leave on the capitol. “She’s not just this bland first lady trying to keep everything calm for her husband. She speaks her mind and has a story to tell and a point of view that she gets out through these other ways,” said Persuit.

The rhetoric associated with Michelle Obama’s speeches is influenced by the pursuits of her platform, her role as a feminist in the public eye and all that comes with it and her relation to the President, both personally and professionally. “If you look at it from the beginning, the opening pages of the book, this is an inaugural series so it’s much bigger than what I understood it to be and so this laid the groundwork for something that’s coming after us,” said Brunson.

Dr. Brunson and Dr. Pursuit have used this opportunity to create something as a team, while growing personally and inspiring each other along the way. With their writing process at an end and their chapter in Michelle Obama: First Lady, American Rhetor published the authors have their own big plans for the future. Persuit plans to celebrate her published work with her family and continue to work on another passion, Integrated Marketing Communication. Brunson will be trading one of her passions, teaching, to focus more time with her newest adventures, her grandkids.


Michelle Obama: First Lady, American Rhetor was published by Lexington Books on August 27, 2015

Dr. Deborah Brunson has begun phased retirement after 24 years of teaching full-time at UNCW. Visit her Faculty Page to learn more: 

Dr. Jeanne Persuit has been working with Lexington Books on a new series, Integrated Marketing Communication: Creating Spaces for Engagement. Find out more by following the link: