Category Archives: Communication Studies

CAS Alumni Spotlight: Marissa Pierce

UM-Flint alumna and Flint resident Marissa Pierce graduated in 2003 with a BA in Communication Studies and a minor in Africana Studies; she later returned to earn her MA in English Language and Literature, graduating in 2009.

Currently, Pierce is the Public & Community Relations Coordinator for the Flint Institute of Arts and a part-time English Instructor at Mott Community College. She also maintains an entertainment and lifestyle website,, and is in the beginning stages of starting Surprise! — a non-profit that will provide mentoring and host “parties for kids and teens that would otherwise be unable to have one.”

Marissa Pierce, UM-Flint alumna, in the FIA's under-construction glassworks studio.

Marissa Pierce, UM-Flint alumna, in the FIA’s glassworks studio.

Pierce’s decision to attend UM-Flint was an easy one. “I had always been a Michigan fan, and being able to get a Michigan degree close to home appealed to me,” she noted. “I also was drawn to the course offerings and small class sizes that made for a more ‘intimate’ educational experience.

“I chose to return for my Masters degree because I was interested in teaching and knew I would need the degree to position myself for that next step in my career,” Pierce continued. “I also consider myself a lifelong learner, and although I had vowed to not step foot in a school again until I took my child to kindergarten, I knew that continuing my education was important and would be worthwhile. It has not only helped my career, but also enriched my personal life.”

Choosing her path at UM-Flint

At UM-Flint, Pierce selected academic programs that gave her room to explore her strengths and interests, and that would allow her flexibility in her future career. “UM-Flint has great programs, committed faculty and staff, and continued growth that not only meets the needs of students, but the community,” she reflected. “Those strengths make it not just a good school, but a great one.

“What I loved about the Communication and English programs was the freedom. I was able to really tailor my college experience to my interests. I would definitely recommend these programs, because they both have a number of options career wise, and I have found that I have been able to ‘write my own ticket’ so to speak. The variety of options that have been available to me with these two degrees is astounding, and in many instances have been things I didn’t even realize I was interested in.”

Pierce found her UM-Flint faculty to not only be supportive mentors, but to be friends as well. She is still in touch with a number of them and they continue to be resources in her professional life. When considering her most influential faculty, Pierce noted Dr. Charles Apple of Communication Studies and Jan Worth-Nelson of English. “They were always available to chat and I knew they were not only committed to the success of the program, but to the students,” she reflected.

Pierce found many valuable experiences outside of the classroom as well. “I was a writer for the M-Times (UM-Flint’s student newspaper) and College Representative for Def Jam Records while in undergrad and those were some of my greatest experiences,” she said. “I began writing about entertainment in high school and continued that at the M-Times and I got to cover some great shows, including Ricky Martin during the ‘Livin’ La Vida Loca’ craze. And being a college representative for Def Jam was so much fun! I made some lifelong connections and one of my best friends still works there! I returned to write for the M-Times while working on my MA.”

Connecting Coursework and Community

In early 2018, the Flint Institute of Arts hosted Ubuhle Women: Beadwork and the Art of Independence. The exhibit showcased bead art created by a community of women in South Africa and was featured as a community event by UM-Flint Africana Studies for their annual Africa Week celebration. It was also a chance for Pierce to connect her undergraduate minor and her career. “I loved learning not only about African American history, but also African history,” said Pierce as she reflected on her studies. “I think being able to make the connection and ‘bridge the gap,’ if you will, is essential to really understanding the history of African Americans in the United States.”

UM-Flint alumna Marissa Pierce at the Flint Institute of Arts

UM-Flint alumna Marissa Pierce at the Flint Institute of Arts

Pierce has found that the impact of her courses still strongly resonates in her life. “I frequently talk about how the classes were some of my favorites during my time at UM-Flint, and how what I learned has shaped me as a person. I think learning about your heritage at the collegiate level is always beneficial, and exciting. I learned things that made a light bulb go off, and had many ‘ah-ha’ moments. In my career, I am able to bring many of the things I learned into conversations as it has relates to working with different cultures and ethnicities in the community.

“Exhibitions like this and the programming in the Africana Studies Department are important because they allow you to see art and the world through a very different lens than many of us are used to,” continued Pierce. “It does really allow us to make connections between the African and African American experience, and see beyond what we already know. Learning, be it at the Flint Institute of Arts or through the Africana Studies Department not only benefits the student, but the people and greater community that student interacts with. It really is a win-win for everyone!”

UM-Flint students can take advantage of the many learning opportunities provided by the FIA through their College Town program that provides free membership to college students. Learn more at

For information on Africana Studies, Communication Studies, and other programs and majors offered through UM-Flint’s College of Arts and Sciences, visit

Faculty Spotlight: Christopher Kowal of UM-Flint Communication

Christopher Kowal, PhD, joined the UM-Flint College of Arts & Sciences in Fall 2016 as an assistant professor of communication.

Christopher Kowal, PhD, assistant professor of communication at UM-Flint

Christopher Kowal, PhD, assistant professor of communication at UM-Flint

Read below to learn more about him and the field of communication, or join him in one of his Winter 2017 courses:

  • COM 316 – Advanced Advertising (TR, 9:30am-10:45am)
  • COM 512 – Consulting & Training (online)

Students can register now at or find more information at

Why are you passionate about your field?
I am passionate about what I do because it connects us and bonds us. I became an academic almost by accident, but have found that the curiosity that I have for understanding emotional communication has motivated me to ask questions and dive into concepts that we have often been misinformed about such as the role and importance emotions have on our interactions.

What are your favorite courses/subjects to teach?
I love teaching about emotions, nonverbal communication and leadership.

What is your latest or favorite research project?
Measuring hormones before and after interfacing with tech devices and looking if body positioning mediated the results, we found it’s not the size of the device you use but rather how you use it.

How did you fall in love with your discipline?
As an undergraduate student I was talking a theory class with the absolute worst instructor, she would read from her notes, get confused, confuse us, and then get angry at us. I’m sure she’s in a healthy relationship now. Anyway I was chatting with another professor and confessed that I hated the theory class. With a childlike look of disappointment she explained her passion for theory and helped me reframe how I was viewing the material. The instructor still made our lives miserable, but now I could look past the teaching and engage with the learning. I was able to touch and feel the theory that forms our understanding of our field.

What do you hope for your time at UM-Flint?
I am hoping for a few things while I’m here at UM-Flint. First, I hope I can have an impact in teaching, research and community. I hope that I can reach and teach that [which] engages while challenging students to think about knowledge and information to inspire curiosity. I hope that my research is meaningful and correctly expands the academy. I hope that my work, my passion, with how we view and effectively use emotions can have a larger impact within our community. Understanding emotional communication is an important skill that can be acquired by any willing participant. I hope to be able to provide workshops for the community that might motivate and inspire entrepreneurial spirits. Further, I hope that I make and nurture many friendships on and off campus.

What do you hope for students in your field?
Be bold and fearless. Communication has emerged as an important and pivotal skill in business and life, and I hope our students will use their creative problem solving, their voice, and achieve great things.

What are three things you think people should know about you?
Politics, Sex, and religion are my favorite topics of discussion. My favorite saying is life begins at the end of your comfort zone. With that said, I am not afraid to back down from important and difficult topics or conversations.

To learn more about communication at UM-Flint, visit To register for winter courses, visit or


UM-Flint Communication Major Finds Impact in Internship


When she graduates in December 2016, UM-Flint Communication Studies major Skye Whitcomb will be leaving the university with knowledge of her discipline and the memory of a life-changing internship experience.

Her department began requiring internships for all students in Fall 2016. “The faculty of Communication Studies require internships of our majors because we believe that it is important for students to apply what they are learning in their classes to their careers after they graduate,” said Communication Studies Chair, Marcus Paroske. “We think students should learn by doing as much as possible.”

A Meaningful Internship

Tony McGill, the department’s internship coordinator, contacted Whitcomb with exciting news during her senior year. He had found her a unique 10-week position funded through the General Motors (GM) Student Corps Program in which she would be working with ten Flint Southwestern Classical Academy students and two GM retirees.

“The Student Corps Program was started in GM by one of my past communication students now at GM,” said McGill. “The program accomplishes an amazing amount of positive change within communities and GM’s contribution is significant.”

“The intern’s work is both physically and mentally difficult and they apply the leadership, management, public relations, and problem-solving skills they learned, ” continued McGill. “The interns manage budgets, payroll, and employment records for the students who are GM employees during the 10-week project. The interns are also responsible for setting up media interviews and media coverage.”

Skye Whitcomb (far left) stands with her Flint Southwestern high school students outside GM’S Flint Assembly Plant.

Skye Whitcomb (far left) stands with her Flint Southwestern high school students outside GM’S Flint Assembly Plant.

The program provides significant funding to the high school students so they can complete meaningful projects. “The students chose what community and school projects they wanted to do and then we planned them,” remembered Whitcomb. “We worked on the playground at Broome Park, projects at Berston Field House, library floors, a new mural, and the tennis court at the high school. The retirees and I showed the students how to complete these different tasks since they hadn’t done them before.”

Whitcomb connected with the Southwestern students by sharing her life experiences and involving them in charity work. Said Whitcomb, “I really enjoyed taking the students to my farm and opening their eyes to agriculture and farming. Also working with the students to encourage that they save money, and working with the United Way to donate $10,000 to the Flint Child Health & Development Fund, which was matched by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation for $20,000.”

Skye Whitcomb captures high school students repairing tennis courts at their high school during her UM-Flint Communication internship

Skye Whitcomb captures high school students repairing tennis courts at their high school during her UM-Flint Communication internship

Whitcomb captured the group’s activities in photographs—both a requirement of the internship and one of her personal hobbies. At the end of the internship she and some of the students decorated a board at their high school to showcase their summer of hard work.

When asked what surprised her about the internship experience, Whitcomb responded, “How much I bonded with the students. I also learned so many things to take to my professional career. Working with such an age range, high school students and two GM retirees, I think really prepared me for many different types of people I may have to work with in a future job.” She also noted that learning to facilitate conversation between the two groups was a significant takeaway from the experience.

The bond between intern and the high school students also surprised Dr. McGill: “One notable thing I did not really expect when we started the program was that the interns also serve as role models for the students who often don’t get to personally know working college students or see themselves as college students. They often grow very close and form longtime friendships.”

UM-Flint Communication major Skye Whitcomb (far right) and students from Flint Southwestern Classical Academy

UM-Flint Communication major Skye Whitcomb (far right) and students from Flint Southwestern Classical Academy

The lessons learned during Whitcomb’s internship are exactly why the UM-Flint Communication Studies department has moved toward requiring internships for their students. Said Dr. McGill, “I find the GM Student Corps internship to be like many of our Communication Studies internships, if the interns are willing to work hard and learn, it can be a major experiential stepping stone for them, a networking opportunity, and an important entry on their résumé. Honestly though, this one is special to me because I get to watch them grow and apply what they have learned.”

Choosing UM-Flint Communication

Whitcomb originally chose UM-Flint Communication as her major after researching career interests and the associated degrees. And she appreciated that the campus was close to home.

“Every class I was in, I was intrigued. I also enjoyed many of my fellow classmates, and my teachers made coming to class awesome and something I looked forward to,” recalled Whitcomb. “The professors were always so willing to help the students with anything and were always wanting what was best for us. This was the right choice for me because I found the jobs that were associated with the degree were where I wanted to work for my life career.”

Whitcomb is looking forward to graduation, and has advice for the UM-Flint Communication Studies students who are following in her footsteps: “Take advantage of everything that is offered to you. Get involved in clubs and get to know your professors. Make connections, and spend time researching and looking for an internship that is right for you and where you want to go with your future career. I believe that an internship is necessary, helpful, and will give you the experience you cannot get in a classroom.”

For more information on UM-Flint Communication Studies visit or contact Dr. Tony McGill with questions about their internship program:

UM-Flint Communication Celebrates 30 Years

Dr. Charles Apple of UM-Flint Communication

Dr. Charles Apple of UM-Flint Communication

On October 6, 2016, members of UM-Flint Communication—both past and present—gathered to celebrate the newly independent department and all it has accomplished in its 30-year history.

“In 1986 when the COM degree was first introduced, the catalog noted that communication was both ‘one of the original liberal arts’ and that ‘effective communication is a basic life and career skill,'” said department chair Marcus Paroske. “That same blend of deep scholarly tradition and a healthy dose of applicable, practical skills is still  a hallmark of the department 30 years later.”

Continued Paroske, “Recent changes like the new M.A in Applied Communication degree and requiring internships for all communication majors builds on that tradition of combining theory and practice, of thinking deeply about human communication and also learning how to use that knowledge in speaking, writing, and group discussion, all in a context where faculty know and care about their students.”

Alumni and guests at UM-Flint Communication's 30th Anniversary gathering

Alumni and guests at UM-Flint Communication’s 30th Anniversary gathering

In addition to celebrating the department itself, the October 6 gathering honored Dr. Charles Apple, associate professor emeritus.

Dr. Apple joined the UM-Flint in 1986, quickly becoming a favorite faculty member and serving as its leader from 1987 to 1998.

1988 alumna Sherry Hayden noted, “I took as many courses from him as possible. His enthusiasm for teaching, for people, and for the art of communication has inspired me throughout my life. He is gifted and has freely shared his gifts with this very fortunate community of learners.”

Her sentiment was echoed by Andrea Chirich, a 1989 alumna of the program. She said, “Dr. Apple was my favorite professor! He brought much real-world practicality to the study of communication. The lesson that stuck with me the most was when he had us set up corporations…That exercise had very practical application for me in my corporate career, helping me understand how the chain of command worked, and how I could help it be more effective.”


Members of UM-Flint Communication gather to celebrate the new department and the program’s 30th anniversary

Read on as Dr. Apple shares his own memories of his career and his time at the University of  Michigan-Flint:

What theories or fundamentals have changed in your field over your career? What has remained the same?
This is a tricky one as the focus of the field has changed tremendously. When I was introduced to communication theory in 1965, the field focused on speech and classical rhetorical theory with a few courses at the upper level on other areas or contexts such as persuasion, organizational communication. The essential focus was on the spoken message with some concern for nonverbal theory. As the field moved into the 1970s things took on a broader application of classical rhetorical theory. Studies emerged on the study of social movements with the inclusion of modern forms of rhetorical theory. The field began to examine many other contexts of communication with a blend of rhetoric and modern social science theory—psychology, sociology, semiotics, etc. All of this was very appealing to me as I have always been more of an eclectic than a specialist. This why many of my courses and lectures have included ideas and theories from history, psychology, philosophy, and semiotics. Today, the study of communication continues to focus on speech and debate. However, it now examines such communication contexts as mass communication, film, small groups, interviewing, organizational communication, advertising, public relations, ethics in communication, rhetorical theory, health care communication, and communication and aging.

What were/are some of your favorite classes to teach? Why were/are they important for students?
I have taught a wide range of courses especially during the first 10 years here due to the lack of full-time faculty. Ethical issues in communication, film genre, social movements, propaganda, interpersonal communication, and conflict management [are some] favorites.

I think that ethics in communication is a critical course for any communication major or minor. The world of communication is rife with cases of shady to overtly unethical behavior. Someone once said that if you do not bring your ethics with you, someone else will give you theirs. I have found this to be true when I worked for a Fortune 100 service corporation and in my study of other contexts. Over the past 29 years of my teaching this course, I have found the majority of my students saying that they have never thought of what to do in most of the cases covered. I try to create a climate in the course where each student can find their own ethical beliefs. I rarely stress my own beliefs except for stressing that I believe in the dialogical approach to communication at all times.

I also believe that a strong course in interpersonal communication can serve to prepare students for their current and future relationships including personal, friends, worker relationships, and even difficult people. I stress the critical importance of how you talk to yourself. Self-talk has been studied in psychology and makes a cornerstone for me in preparing for how we conduct ourselves in relationships. I also stress the centrality of assertiveness. I have built my course on conflict management as a follow-up to interpersonal communication. Conflict is a basic reality of every relationship and the tools and techniques of handling ourselves in conflict are critical to the creation of any successful relationship.

I believe that my classes on social movements, propaganda, and film genre help my students prepare for how to digest those who change or try to change the culture in which we live. I have been lucky to have participated in the Civil Rights Movement and even marched with Dr. King. I also took part in the anti-war movement in the late 60s and early 70s. So I have firsthand experience with this powerful form of social and cultural change. I did my dissertation for my PhD on the conflict in Northern Ireland, including the history of the entire Irish question (or the English question as the Irish preferred to frame it). Propaganda overlaps with social movements both within the pro-change side and anti-change or governmental side. As Jacques Ellul has argued, there are both political propaganda and sociological propaganda. This connects to my approach to film genre. I try to awaken within my students the need to pay attention to the historical context of each film, the cultural values in evidence, the relative power of the narrative structure and effect, and any ties or connections to our cultural mythology. I have them watch films in three genres: mysteries, westerns, and adventure epics. Such films are seen by most audiences and I feel can have a profound impact on society.

What are some highlights of having been a part of the communication program/department at UM-Flint?
I have been able to see over 500 or 600 graduates grow during their coursework and after graduation. Our grads have done very well.  We have a grad in public relations who is presently placed in London. Another is a local TV news anchor. Quite a few work in departments of communication for a wide range of organization sizes.  Some have gone into teaching.  A few are out west in the film industry.

Over the years we have grown from a struggling-for-survival, developing program with a minimal faculty. Today there is a solid tenured faculty with a number of lecturers and part time faculty. We have graduated around 1,000 students. We have also had quite a few students who graduated with honors.

What are your hopes for the future of students in your field?
I hope that the field can maintain a balance between theory and practice. We have always been a mix, blending theory from other fields and applying it to a wide range of areas—speech, debate, sales, small group decision making, organizational effectiveness and interventions, TV and film production and critique, and so on. In my opinion we are a blend of liberal arts in terms of rhetorical criticism and practice along with modern social science theory and application.

For more information on the department, visit or call 810.766.6679.

UM-Flint Communication Students Unite for Charity Blitz

UM-Flint Communication 226 students in Fall 2016

Assistant Professor of Communication, Christopher Kowal, jumped right in to his first semester at UM-Flint. He came up with a creative project for students in his advertising class, splitting students into five groups and then challenging each to raise $150 for a charity of their collective choice. He noted that the assignment was meant to “challenge the groups’ urgency, strategy, and communication” in preparation for their final projects that involve working with local businesses.

Kowal was happy to report that, “They all met and exceeded the goal, raising just shy of $1,500 for a variety of charities. When I announced the challenge it was [met] with anxiety and resistance, today they were full of pride and confidence.”

The COM 226 students created a press release to share news of their success in their own words:

Students typically spend the second week of classes familiarizing themselves with syllabi, textbooks and the hallways on campus–not the case for Dr. Christopher Kowal’s COM 226 Advertising class who were recently charged with raising $150 to benefit a charity of their choosing…in just one week!

The charity assignment, part of a larger theme in Dr. Kowal’s class, was designed to teach students how to actively engage in team work and group projects–something that is “critical for success and survival in the advertising world,” according to Kowal. What better way to test a team’s functionality than to hold a charity fundraising blitz?

 All five groups of UM-Flint students met the goal to raise $150 and surpassed it, ultimately raising $1,456 for five different charities. The charities benefited were Flint Child Health and Development Fund for Water Crisis Victims, St. Jude’s Research Hospital, The Wounded Warrior Project for Veterans, Genesee County Animal Shelter, and the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

After reaching their goals, the teams reflected in class about how hard they thought it would be to raise $150 in one week. “Everyone has a different schedule and different responsibilities, so it seemed like an impossible task and we weren’t sure if we were going to reach our goal at first,” said Michelle Cardillo, a junior at UM-Flint. The teams came together to benefit a cause they believed in and in turn, ended up exceeding their goals and testing the dynamics of their groups. The teams were left with the feeling of pride and accomplishment, which is a great start to any semester–and may just be the beginning of a new tradition for UM-Flint Communications students.

To learn more about the College of Arts & Sciences’ Communication Department, visit or call 810.766.6679.

Phenom Fire 2016 at UM-Flint

PhenomFire 2016 logo

On Friday, June 24, 2016, the University of Michigan-Flint will host Phenom Fire: A Talk About Feminism, Womanism, and Female Fusion. This symposium aims to be “intentional about cross cultural conversations. A dialogue about intersectionality.”

The event will feature break out sessions, a lunch with performances, a panel discussion, and end with a finale performance in the UM-Flint Kiva. Phenom Fire is free and open to the public.

Says organizer and faculty member in the UM-Flint Communication Studies program Dr. Traci Currie, “This event comes out of a lunch conversation with two colleagues who are passionate about the work women do and the way we as women and men define ourselves (i.e. womanist, feminist, neither, both, activist, ally, so forth). With the support and encouragement from so many like the Women’s Educational Center and community partners, this symposium wonderfully [came] together. This event is a labor of love.”

Dr. Erica Britt, Assistant Professor of Sociolinguistics in UM-Flint’s English Department added, “I’m basically looking forward to the chance to have real conversations about our different experiences of race and gender (among other things) and the ways that our personal insights can influence a broader movement for social change within our institution and in the community.  I am particularly eager for this given that women, men, and queer people of color are often marginalized in institutional structures.  This symposium will allow us to really amplify voices that are often not ‘heard.’  Overall, I’m looking forward to having uncomfortable but deep and healing conversations, because I really believe that these types of conversations are key for building solidarity and stimulating our collective desire to create lasting social change.”

Dr. Erica Britt, Assistant Professor of Sociolinguistics at UM-Flint

Dr. Erica Britt, Assistant Professor of Sociolinguistics at UM-Flint

Dr. Britt will be speaking in Breakout Session 1: Race & Feminism at 10:30am in Michigan Room A.

Phenom Fire 2016 Schedule:

10am: Introduction, UCEN Happening Room

Emcee for the symposium is Leah Bailey.

10:30am-11:50am: Breakout Sessions, UCEN Michigan Rooms

  • Session 1, Michigan Room A: Race & Feminism – Drs. Rushika Patel & Erica Britt
  • Session 2, Michigan Room B: Men as Feminists – Jeff Bean, Tom Moore & Delma Thomas-Jackson
  • Session 3, Michigan Room C: Socio-Political Activism and Spirituality – Do They Mix? – Natasha Thomas-Jackson
  • Session 4, Michigan Room D: How to Heal & Create Solidarity between Women  – Ayanna Jordan

12pm-1:15pm: Luncheon, UCEN Happenings Room.

Special luncheon performances by:

  • Speed Painter Martina Hahn
  • UM-Flint Poets: Linda Samarah, Jordan Johnson, Jessica McLone, Tiffany Harris,

1:25-3pm: Panel Discussion, UCEN Kiva

Panelists include: Kristin Lindsey, Mama Sol, Muna Tareh-Sahouri, Jia Ireland, Lilianna Angel Reyes, and Elena Herrada

3:30pm: Finale Performance, UM-Flint Theatre

Finale Performers: Crystal Turner, Cherisse Bradley, Brinae Ali, La Shaun Phoenix Moore, Mama Sol, and Closing Out with Raise It Up. Emcee Amber Hasan

Phenom Fire finale performer Brinae Ali

Phenom Fire finale performer Brinae Ali

Jordan Johnson, a pre-med student in the Psychology Department, will be one of the Phenom Fire luncheon performers. Says Johnson, “My poetry/performance’s main themes are being happy with who you are, enjoying your personal journey, and not allowing anything to get in the way of your self worth, especially [as] a woman. It will show that women are strong beings and that we must give ourselves credit and the freedom to live.  My performance will display my own story as a young woman who had struggles with these things.”

Additional luncheon performers include Tiffany Harris – Health Care Administration Major; Jessica McLone – Social Work Major; and Linda Samarah – Communication Studies Major.

Johnson continued, “I believe events like this are a great way for the UM-Flint Campus & Flint Community to come together and love on each other. With all the negative things that have been happening in our city and our world, events like this are reminders that not all are bad and that there is hope and love in our communities. Events like these keep me encouraged and grateful.”

In closing, Dr. Currie noted, “It’s is key that we not only own our voices but that we also share our personal narrative as a way of helping people understand how we live out our activism in our local, national, global communities, especially in the 21st century where we are inundated with 20 second sound bites and endless digital catch phrases.”

Phenom Fire is brought to the Flint community by its partners/sponsors: UM-Flint’s Women & Gender Studies program, Women’s Education Center, Black Student Union, and Communication Studies program and 3W Beyond Words and a Share Art Flint grant.

Additional gratitude goes to Shon Norman for the Phenom graphic art AND to Brittini Ward for creating the programs.

For more information on Phenom Fire, visit

The University of Michigan-Flint University Center (UCEN) is located at 400 Mill St, Flint, MI 48503. Parking is available in the Mill Street Parking Ramp.

Communication Students Recognized for Excellence, Scholarship, and Leadership

Each year, the UM-Flint Communication program recognizes a few students out of its graduating seniors. We are pleased to share the accolades of those recognized for the May 2016 commencement ceremony:

  • Donald Rady, winner of the Outstanding Scholarship Award in Communication. This award is presented to the Communication major graduating in the current academic year who has exhibited the highest quality coursework throughout their academic career.
  • Stephanie Hare, winner of the Dottie Filak Outstanding Leadership Award. This award is presented to the Communication major graduating in the current academic year who has demonstrated the greatest impact on campus and community through engagement.  The award is named after the late Dorothy Filak, Lecturer IV of Communication.
  • Natalie Broda and Savanna Burnett, co-winners of the Chuck Apple Outstanding Student in Communication Award. This award is presented to the Communication major(s) graduating in the current academic year who best combine academic strength and engagement to leave the highest mark on their colleagues. It is the highest honor bestowed by the Communication faculty on a graduating student. The award is named after Associate Professor Emeritus of Communication Charles Apple.

Says department chair Marcus Paroske, “The awards for graduating Communication majors are the faculty’s way of recognizing excellence in students for not only their academic performance, but for their leadership on campus and their overall contributions to the community. It is a hard choice every year, but this year we have an especially strong group. It often comes as a surprise to the students, but they should be proud of how hard they worked to earn these awards.”

The Award Winners

Donald Rady, UM-Flint Communication graduate and 2015-2016 winner of the Outstanding Scholarship Award in Communication.

Donald Rady, UM-Flint Communication graduate and 2015-2016 winner of the Outstanding Scholarship Award in Communication.

When asked for a quote in response to winning his award, Rady said, “I think that a good quote would be from Psalm 23:1-3. ‘The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.’ Thanks to God, I have been successful at UM-Flint. I think that this award can be considered a good blessing. I am mildly autistic and am considered a walking enclyclopedia. I think that with God and my autism, I was able to be successful as I am today.”

Dr. Sara Rosaen, Associate Professor of Communication, noted, “Don is a committed student, the kind-of student you really appreciate because he appreciates learning.”

Stephanie Hare, UM-Flint Communication graduate and winner of the 215-2016 Dottie Filak Outstanding Leadership Award.

Stephanie Hare, UM-Flint Communication graduate and winner of the 215-2016 Dottie Filak Outstanding Leadership Award.

Dr. Tony McGill, lecturer IV in Communication, was one of the faculty who enjoyed teaching Hare. He said, “Stephanie is intelligent and always fun to work with. Her energy level is usually off the charts. She had me for two classes this semester and always put a smile on  my face. She created several new cheers this semester: Go Tony, Go Tony was my favorite.”

Dr. Rosen added, “Stephanie can get any group motivated and turn a frown upside down in two seconds flat!”

When asked about being an award recipient, Hare said, “My experience as a communication student here at UM-Flint has been challenging yet enlightening. I’m both honored and humbled to receive such an award.”

In addition to being an exception communication student, Hare has served as the Director of Student Relations for Student Government as well as a Peer Educator for the Women’s Educational Center and an intern for the Student Involvement and Leadership Center. Her concentrations in Organizational Communication and Public Relations will serve her well in her post-graduation plans which she lists as “doing an internship at Disney World following graduation. Then shortly after that, I’ll be doing a Masters program in Student Affairs.”

Natalie Broda, UM-Flint Communication graduate and co-winner of the 2015-2016 Chuck Apple Outstanding Student in Communication Award.

Natalie Broda, UM-Flint Communication graduate and co-winner of the 2015-2016 Chuck Apple Outstanding Student in Communication Award.

Natalie Broda is another highly engaged UM-Flint student: “I am a Communication major with a specialization in Media Studies and a minor in Writing. I am also a five-year staff member of The Michigan Times and its Editor-in-Chief for the last two years. I am also an Undergraduate Research Assistant/Co-Founder of, part of the Flint Youth Media Project, a program started by professor Donna Ullrich, other students and myself three years ago.”

About the award, she added, “I was touched when I found out I won the award. Over the last five years I’ve been lucky enough to be mentored by amazing, dedicated and thought-provoking faculty, and it’s an honor to be recognized by the Communication program. I’ve had many conversations over the years with my professors about how I felt the program was or was not helping students become professional media makers, and each and every time I was met with open doors and open minds. They took me seriously, challenged me to think on a higher level, and helped facilitate opportunities I never thought could be possible. The people who work in this department have never been just professors to me—they’ve been life mentors, guidance counselors and cheerleaders—and I’ll never be able to thank them enough for all that they’ve done.”

When asked whats next for her, Broda said, “After graduation I plan to move to Detroit to pursue a career in journalism and professional writing.”

Dr. Rosaen has no doubt she’ll be successful, noting, “Natalie is going places. I think we are going to see big things from her. She has skills.”

Savanna Burnett, UM-Flint Communication graduate and co-winner of the 2015-2016 Chuck Apple Outstanding Student in Communication Award.

Savanna Burnett, UM-Flint Communication graduate and co-winner of the 2015-2016 Chuck Apple Outstanding Student in Communication Award.

The Communication faculty had high praise for award-winner Savanna Burnett. Said Dr. Rosaen, “Savanna is earnest. She is hard-working, committed, and innovative.”

Dr. McGill added, “Savannah is quite unique and to say she is an interesting person is an understatement. She is the most dual brained student I have had in many years. She moves from right brain functions to left brain so quickly it caught me by surprise the first couple times. She is one of those old souls who seems to intuitively know and understand way more than they should. She is also one of the most polite and thoughtful students I have ever had. She can totally control an audience while singing, doing a formal presentation on a theory, or giving a PR pitch.”

Burnett, in turn, applauded her department and its faculty: “The communication program here at UM-Flint has allowed me to remain in the work force full time while pursuing this degree. If it wasn’t for the online classes, and the outstanding Communication [program], I wouldn’t have made it otherwise. Furthermore, it is very humbling to be recognized by a department that is so invested and hardworking themselves.”

When asked about her future plans, Burnett said, “I [was] recently voted onto the board of Restoration Place, a 501 C3 non profit founded by Amy Rouleua that seeks to build a home for girls 11-17 rescued from sex trafficking. We gain more momentum every day and continue to combat the darkness with support form the local community awareness concerning this issue. I hope to do many things in my lifetime career-wise; I have been working in HR these past few years and would like to continue in that vein. Eventually, I hope that my education will take me through to a Doctorate so that I can teach at a collegiate level.”

For more information on the Communication program, and the ways in which they support and engage their students, please visit their website.

UM-Flint Communication Students, Alumni, and LinkedIn

UM-Flint Communication faculty are using social platforms to help their students think more strategically about their time on campus and their careers after graduation.

Said department chair Marcus Paroske, “The Communication faculty recognized we had this network of over 1,000 graduates out there, and new students every semester looking for internships and employment. It made perfect sense to connect the two through our own LinkedIn group. We hope the UM-Flint Communication LinkedIn group will strengthen our own ties with our alumni, and over time generate a massive network that will benefit students for years to come.”


UM-Flint communication students attending a workshop on using social media as a professional tool.

To prepare their current communication students for this project, Assistant Professor Dr. Dan Lair held a workshop titled, LinkedIn as a Platform to Promote Your Professional Self. He noted, “Whether you like it or not, employers are taking advantage of the internet to piece together a story about you as a potential employee. LinkedIn offer students an opportunity to put those pieces together for them and tell your professional story the way you want it told.”

Throughout the short presentation, Lair focused on the idea of each student balancing their personal self with their professional brand. He encouraged them to consider their time at UM-Flint as their current “career” if they weren’t otherwise working. He mentioned the importance of including volunteer work, group activities, and leadership opportunities in addition to making notes of particularly useful or applicable classes. He added that LinkedIn can be viewed as “a resume without limitations” and that it should be used as “one tool among many, one that you can control.”

Dan Lair presents LinkedIn tips to his Communication students at UM-Flint

Dan Lair presents LinkedIn tips to his Communication students at UM-Flint

Lair advised that, at the bare minimum, the students should keep an active profile that can be viewed by potential internship providers and employers. He noted a few key areas that anyone with a LinkedIn should pay attention to:

  • Profile Pic: first, have one! But aim for a professional looking shot that shows your head and shoulders. Avoid selfies, pictures with others, or extreme close-up or faraway shots.
  • Summary: this is the distinguishing feature of your page and the key advantage of LinkedIn. Use it to show your personality, voice, and story. Demonstrate your unique value.
  • Customized URL: take advantage of this feature to have a clean, memorable, URL that reflects your name or personal story.
  • Keep things updated: work histories, certifications, activities, and qualifications should be regularly updated to reflect the current YOU.

After the formal presentation Lair and other faculty members worked with the individual students to get started on their profiles.


Dan Lair works with UM-Flint communication students to perfect their LinkedIn profiles

Looking forward, the communication faculty hope to keep the LinkedIn group growing and adapting to the needs and strengths of their students and graduates.

Already nearly 100 alumni from the program have connected with their former faculty members and have been added to the group. They are sharing job postings, news, and updates about the department.

For more information, or to request to be included in the Communication LinkedIn Group, contact department chair Marcus Paroske at


Opera Outreach Brings “Jack and the Beanstalk” to Area Schools

UM-Flint Music students perform their newest outreach opera: Jack and the Beanstalk

UM-Flint Music students perform their newest outreach opera: Jack and the Beanstalk

The UM-Flint Department of Music is continuing its traveling opera outreach this spring. After the successful productions of The Three Little Pigs and Hansel and Gretel, the department has moved on to John Davies’ Jack and the Beanstalk. The 40-minute opera, set to the music of Gilbert and Sullivan, is fully staged and costumed. Both student performers and teaching artists are involved in bringing the production and music education to area schoolchildren and the community. The leading force of this project is Dr. Joshua May of the music department.


  • Jack: Marada Dahl (Voice Performance, Music Major Sophomore)
  • Giant/Trouble Man: Kevin Starnes (Alumni, Current Grad Student M.A. in Arts Administration)
  • Giant’s Wife: Jhane Perdue (Music Major, Voice Performance Major Freshman)
  • Giant’s Wife: Amanda Rodman (Music Education & Voice Performance Junior)
  • Narrator: Erica Kennedy (Theater & Voice Performance Music Major, Voice, Freshman)
  • Mother: Hannah Wikaryasz (Voice Performance, Music Major Senior)
  • Mother: Vanessa Salisbury (Voice Performance Music Major & Theater Major Freshman)

Teaching Artists:

  • Zachary Smith (Music Education Major, French Horn in Orchestra, Senior)
  • Alesha Akins (Music Education Major, Flute in Orchestra, Senior)
  • Heather Smith (Music Education Major, Voice)
  • Amanda Rodman (Music Education/Voice Performance, Junior)

Jack and the Community

The premiere of Jack and the Beanstalk was held at the Flint Farmers’ Market in fall 2015. Now the students are heading to area schools and community spaces to give free performances and supplemental instruction. Throughout the spring they will visit the Swartz Creek Performing Arts Center, Cook Elementary School, Mason Elementary School, the Flint Public Library, and, in a first time collaboration, the Whiting Auditorium. The May 6th performance at the Flint Public Library is free and open to the public. The school performances will be limited to internal audiences.

Classroom Learning

One of the aims of the opera outreach mission is to connect music to multiple core curriculum disciplines. UM-Flint Music Education students will visit the schools’ classrooms prior to the actual performance to develop lesson plans that teach math, science, reading, theater arts, foreign languages, geography, and storytelling through the elements of music. They will also guide students through a variety of learning activities that engage them with innovative lessons to help prepare them for the opera performance.

Says Karen Salvador, Assistant Professor of Music Education, “This opera outreach provides amazing opportunities for UM-Flint students and children all over Flint. Music education students are gaining real-world teaching experience in Flint classrooms, Flint children are interacting with college students, seeing live opera performed right in their school, and learning more about music in a hands-on, immersive way. Josh’s vision for this outreach is exactly in line with our university’s mission to partner with communities in ways that are meaningful to all parties. I know that this is an experience that will help shape our Collegiate-NAfME students as teachers, and it could also be an inspiration for a child who loves music.”

Supporting Outreach

Opera Outreach is made possible by the James A. Welch Foundation, the Nartel Family Foundation, University Outreach, and the Department of Music. Grants and funding have covered transportation for students, set pieces, costumes, and more.

For information, call 810.762.3377 or visit




UM-Flint Communication Student Invited to White House

UM-Flint Communication Major, Tajhae Barr

UM-Flint Communication Major, Tajhae Barr


“I always knew a Communication major from UM-Flint would make it to the White House. I didn’t think it would happen before they graduated though!” said department chair Marcus Paroske. His student, junior Tajhae Barr, was invited by the White House to attend the annual Women’s History Month reception in Washington, D.C. on March 16, 2016.

He added, “Seriously, it is the chance of a lifetime for Tajhae and we are all very proud of her. Even the loftiest goal is attainable by putting yourself in the right position.”

For Barr, being in the right position began with sending a message to the President one September night while she was studying. She had been feeling the pressure of a new semester and thinking about the President’s time in office coming to an end. “I was telling him that with him getting ready to be gone, I was kind of discouraged. I let him know that even though he will be gone, I still am determined to finish the job. But it just kind of made me feel more empowered with him being there, to actually get it done. The intent was kind of just to vent to the President, to tell him what I was thinking and feeling. I was studying and just thought ‘I’m going to write the President.'”

Barr wrote about starting a non-profit organization, and giving back to her community. Her idea involved creating a safe space for adolescents, and specifically girls, where they could feel safe and learn. The aim would be to “Give back to the girls up here as far as having something to do, keeping them off the streets and keeping their heads in the books. Learning more about their history and where they come from.” Barr compared her vision with her own growing up, where she found safety and solace in skating. But she never expected much to come from her note, “It was just regular writing. I didn’t think it would go far, they get so many emails, so many calls.”

But on March 8, 2016, she received an email from the White House requesting her presence the following week. It wasn’t until she arrived at the event that she even learned the source of her invitation. “They read it in the Social Secretary’s office in the White House. And they picked people based on those who thought they would never be there. They read it and decided to pick me . . . I just wrote it from my heart and pressed send. So I never would have thought it would be read or anything would come from it. The original response I received was general, telling me I could go to for funding, etc. But I never would have thought the letter would have landed in the White House, ever. I didn’t think it was connected to that at all.”

UM-Flint Communication Major Tajhae Barr in Washington, D.C., with an intern for the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Tajhae Barr in Washington, D.C., with an intern for the National Conference of State Legislatures.


Barr’s evening at the White House opened with a performance by the Spelman College Glee Club as she and the other women entered the East Room. “The party was starting as soon as we were walking in. The room was so lavish and so grand! It was so much opportunity to just connect and network. I met some amazing women! There were women there that were directors of these big orgs from New York, New Mexico, Florida—it was women from everywhere. Everywhere. (And I may have landed an internship in the White House.)”

The President spoke to the group after being introduced by Sana Amanat, a director and editor at Marvel Comics. His speech focused on gender equality at a global scale, noting “What we’ve seen, even in our own lifetimes, is that change is possible. That’s why we have to keep fighting, because there are battles that still need to be won.”

When asked about hearing the President speak, Barr said, “I was very humbled. I couldn’t even be over excited because I was so honored and humbled to be in his presence. I really loved his speech, how he talked about all the differences that he has made in the Office and appointing more women leaders. It was just really humbling. I can’t even explain it. It was so surreal, because that’s history. His speech only lasted about 15 minutes. After that we got to mix and mingle again. It was just really amazing. I wish I could go back to just relive it.”  Barr was able to shake the President’s hand after he spoke.

Other notable guests of the evening, as recognized by the President, included Cecile Richards, activist and president of Planned Parenthood; Dr. Jennifer Welter, the first female NFL coach; and members of Congress, including Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. Michelle Obama was not in attendance as she was at South by Southwest speaking about her “Let Girls Learn” initiative.


Tajhae Barr with Congresswoman Candice Miller at the White House


Barr credits her time at UM-Flint for helping her to find the original inspiration to write the White House. “Honestly, this school has made me feel so empowered and like I have the ability to do whatever. When I was a freshman I came into this school with a 2.3 GPA. My freshman year I got a 3.85. This school has been supporting me and having my back since I set foot on campus. Seriously. [UM-Flint] has been very supportive, and I’m not just saying that—I love this school! Even though it’s a big university, it’s still that one-on-one relationship. I didn’t think that I’d even be able to pull off going to D.C. in a day or two, because it was so sudden. I had to come up with money for the flight, the hotel, and the other expenses that came up. I’m honestly amazed and very thankful.”

Barr recognized the university offices that gave or helped her secure the funding needed to travel to the White House, including the Communication program, the Office of Educational Opportunity Initiatives (EOI), Student Affairs, the Women’s Education Center (WEC), the College of Arts & Sciences Dean’s Office, and others.

When asked what impression this experience has left on her, Barr said, “I just want to say that no matter what you are going through and no matter how hard it seems, you have to try your best to stay positive. You never know the next blessing that’s around the corner. You never know. Because I never would have expected this. It doesn’t matter if you get straight As, it doesn’t matter if you are president of this or that, ordinary people do extraordinary things every day, that’s what I’m trying to say. So when you’re feeling down or you’re feeling like ‘this is frustrating, I’m never going to get through this’ you just have to try your best to be positive because you never know. You never, ever know. And your blessing is really in your next breath. Sometimes we take the small things for granted, because I was just huffing and puffing about bills and voila – the White House.”

Watch the President’s National Women’s History Month reception speech: