Amid the extraordinary challenges presented in 2021, the Department of Communication Studies had much to be proud of: last year, three Ph.D. in Communication students were the first to graduate with that degree from Colorado State University. The entire cohort, including two students still working on their dissertations, accepted competitive job offers inside and outside academia— everywhere from liberal arts colleges to the City of Fort Collins.
Hailey Otis’s graduate research on contemporary fat activism in online and digital spaces built a strong foundation for her own unique scholarship as a Visiting Assistant Professor of Rhetoric, Film, and Screen Studies at Bates College.
In her dissertation, Otis investigated persuasive arguments about intersecting forms of privilege and oppression. She was awarded the 2020 Stephen E. Lucas Debut Publication Award by the National Communication Association (NCA) for her first paper, “Intersectional Rhetoric: Where Intersectionality as Analytical Sensibility and Embodied Rhetorical Praxis Converge” in the Quarterly Journal of Speech. She has since gone on to publish two more papers, with another forthcoming.
Otis credits her coursework at CSU for her impressive publishing record. “The academic writing class taught me how to get a class paper ready to submit for publication to a journal,” she said. I really believe it’s the main reason I’ve been successful with academic publishing.”
Jordin Clark was first drawn to the rhetoric of space and place while earning her M.A. in Communication Studies at CSU. As a Ph.D. student and graduate teaching assistant, she had the opportunity to develop and teach three of her own undergraduate courses. Clark’s outstanding teaching was recognized by the department with a 2020 Excellence in Teaching Award.
Now, as a Visiting Assistant Professor of Rhetoric at Wabash College, Clark said her experience developing a new course at CSU is what’s behind her ability to thrive in a small liberal arts college classroom. “Not many graduate students leave their programs teaching more than two classes and even fewer, I think, are given such agency and trust to create their own,” Clark said. “Yet, as soon as you leave graduate school, building course material is the expectation, so I am grateful to have had those experiences under my belt as I entered my professional career.”
Andy Gilmore came to CSU by way of the UK, Hong Kong, and the University of Colorado Denver. His dissertation explored how Hong Kong protesters challenge the Communist Party of China through creative performance of national identity and other strategies. “I was given the freedom to study my passion” at CSU, Gilmore said. This passion culminated in the 2020 Xiao Award for Outstanding Rhetorical Research from the NCA’s Association for Chinese Communication Studies for his paper “Hong Kong’s Vehicles of Democracy: The Vernacular Monumentality of Buses During the Umbrella Revolution” in the Journal of International and Intercultural Communication.
“I was also provided with the opportunity to teach a range of different classes,” which Gilmore said led to his success in a competitive job market. He is now an Assistant Professor at Central State University, a historically Black university in Ohio.
Newly Minted World Makers
Launched in 2017, the Ph.D. in Communication is a four-year, fully funded program for students to pursue three areas of study: Film and Media Studies, Relational and Organizational Communication, and Rhetoric and Civic Engagement. CSU has been home to a nationally recognized M.A. in Communication Studies program for decades, and with the new Ph.D., the department and its acclaimed faculty aimed to build on that program’s successes.
For the three graduates, the benefits of their Ph.D. extend beyond the academy. Clark sees herself as a “teacher-scholar-activist” who recognizes “the need to hear community voices and experiences within and in resistance to… systems of power.”
For Gilmore, his Ph.D. “highlighted how vital communication is to the process of change” during a time of great global upheaval, helping him to “take action by thinking toward our future.”
Looking ahead during a pandemic, Otis’s degree helped her “develop a keen sense of awareness toward possibility and hope,” reminding her “that I can be—that I am—a world maker, and that I can… make a better world in front of me.”
Bright and rewarding futures lie ahead not just for CSU’s Ph.D. in Communication graduates, but for the many scholars they will influence, and the countless students they will teach.
“With its first graduates, CSU’s Ph.D. in Communication program has demonstrated that it successfully prepares students for a variety of careers,” said Director of Graduate Studies Elizabeth Williams, Ph.D. “Not only does our program train students to make an impact in the academy through teaching and research, we also train students on how to ensure their scholarship reaches a broader audience.”