Communication department celebrates 50 years

Julie Sisler

This week, the WKU Department of Communication will celebrate its 50-year anniversary. The department is celebrating with a week of events.

On Tuesday evening at 5 p.m. in Ivan Wilson Fine Arts Center room 198, the department will be hosting a panel of Nashville-based professionals from the International Association of Business Communicators. The panel will be made up of individuals from various professions and educational backgrounds, giving attendees a glimpse into the real world of business and how communication plays a role in it.

Thursday evening at 7 p.m. in the Gary Ransdell Hall auditorium, John Lyne, a department of communication alum and current professor at the University of Pittsburgh, will be presenting “Scaling Common Sense.”

Friday, the department will host “Comm50Con,” a communication mini-conference of presentations, workshops and projects. The event will take place from noon until 4 p.m., including multiple 55-minute sessions on various subject areas within the department. Sessions will be put on by capstone class students, graduate students and faculty. One session, “The Tale of Communication: Fifty Years on the Hill,” will feature interviews with emeritus faculty about their experiences within the department over their careers.

To department head Helen Sterk, the variety of projects involved in the week’s festivities highlight the diversity within the department.

“I think students will see what a huge diversity of projects and ideas and topics that the department covers,” Sterk said. “I think they’ll see that this department cares about writing well, speaking well and creating visual messages well. We’re all about connecting people and messages and audiences.”

Sterk said she believes this milestone illustrates the stability and success of the department.

“The department of communication hitting its 50th year means that this is a long-term, stable entity on campus,” Sterk said. “Over the years, it has included different departments that have kind of come and gone, but the heart has always been there — the heart of people making messages that are meaningful to audiences.”

Sterk graduated from WKU’s communication department with her master’s degree in 1979 and has been the department head for nearly eight years.

“It is such a deep pleasure to return to people who have founded this department and made it what it is,”

Sterk said. “To get to know the new faculty, who are each and every one of them strong scholars, great teachers and just really caring and loving people.”

Some students said they share the sentiment that the department provides a caring support structure.

“The department is truly like one big family,” Kenna Haywood, a sophomore and public relations major, said. “All of the professors are so kind and truly care about you and your success. I am so glad that the department was established 50 years ago. Otherwise, I probably never would have made it to Western.”

To sophomore corporate communication major AC Chan, the department provides more than just support.

“The communication department is where things happen for me,” Chan said. “The department is focused on my academic and potential career goals and has given me many opportunities to pursue experiences that will lend towards those goals. It’s where things get done and where opportunities lie.”

Carl Kell, who joined the department’s faculty in 1972, also finds the department to be a launchpad for getting things done and achieving dreams.

“The department gave me a job and the freedom to pursue all of my dreams all these years,” Kell said.

Kell also said he believes the department’s success lies in the high quality of the education it gives its students through each class, internship and extracurricular opportunity.

“Together, the department has been in the vanguard of communication education across all platforms of professional teaching, research and service,” Kell said.

Sterk said she believes the strengths of the department lie in all of this and even more, as the department provides the support and skills necessary for more than just a future career but also a future life.

“I think the strength of our department is that we educate students in the things that they need to know to have a successful career,” Sterk said. “But, we also deal with the big issues of life and ethics and decisions. I just think it is the best of all possible disciplines to be a part of.”

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly spelled John Lyne’s name. The Herald regrets this error.

Features reporter Julie Sisler can be reached at 270-745-6291 and [email protected]. Follow Julie on social media at @julie_sisler.