Our new Experience Learning initiative recognizes that learning is enhanced—and more enjoyable—when lessons are used to experiment, solve problems, and innovate. It challenges faculty to look for new and creative ways to work with students. As part of Faculty Appreciation Week 2016, here is a look at two College of Communication and Information faculty members who “go the extra mile” in their teaching, research, and outreach.
Courtney Childers has always loved art and teaching.
“As a kid, I would line up my dolls and Barbies and teach them,” she said.
She enjoyed four years of high school art and participated in DECA, a club for students interested in marketing and related fields.
“I saw that you can still love that creative side, but use it for a specific purpose,” she said.
Childers majored in advertising as an undergrad and then went on to get her master’s degree and doctorate, deciding she wanted to teach.
“It was the perfect marriage of all of my interests,” she said.
An associate professor of advertising and public relations, Childers teaches a social media class and an advanced media strategy course. Her research focus is social media marketing to youth. It’s an interest that’s deepened since she’s had her sons, Crawford, age four, and Cole, age one.
Because social media and advertising are ever-evolving fields, Childers brings in practitioners and collaborates with community organizations to ensure her students get the most current information.
Each semester, students in her social media course help a community organization develop its marketing plan. Her classes have worked with Dell, Atom Tickets, Autism Breakthrough of Knoxville, and Rebuilding Together Knoxville. This semester, they are working with VOLstarter, UT’s crowdfunding tool.
Childers also has chaired UT Social Media Week since its inception. The fifth annual event will be held March 28–31.
This January, for the tenth year, Childers helped lead a group of UT Ad Club students to New York City to visit ad agencies, meet alumni working in the business, and interview for internships.
This year, the group—which included twenty-eight students, most of them juniors and seniors—visited Y&R (Young & Rubicam), Grey Group, J. Walter Thompson Worldwide, Mediacom, Droga5, and mcgarrybowen agencies.
“I look forward to the trip every year. It provides a context of what we talk about in class and brings it to life,” Childers said. “And it is literally life-changing for so many students.”
Childers has received numerous awards from students for her teaching. She thinks her success comes from students seeing how their classroom work is going to transfer to the world.
“I love to interact with students. I love to think I’m making a difference,” she said. “I love to connect students with professionals and give them an experience that is as real-world as possible.”
Maureen Taylor, head of the Department of Advertising and Public Relations, said it takes someone special to teach social media—and Childers fits the bill.
“It is truly a full time job to learn the new tools and then be able to guide students to critically engage them,” she said. “Courtney has single-handedly transformed the study and teaching of social media in the School of Advertising classes. By combining theory and research, she provides students with cutting-edge skills and reflection on social media in our society.
“Instruction does not stop at the end of a class period,” Taylor added. “Courtney keeps fifteen hours of office hours each week and encourages students to stop by to talk about their career plans, internships, and dreams. She is often the first person to come to the office in the morning and often the last person to leave. I have never seen her walk to a class alone, nor have I ever seen her return from class with fewer than three students following her back to her office to talk. She is an outstanding teacher.”
Courtney Wright studies interpersonal communication, social influence, and conflict management—and those skills have been instrumental to her teaching.
An associate professor of communication studies, Wright earned her bachelor’s degree from Vanderbilt University and master’s and doctoral degrees from Northwestern University before joining UT’s faculty in 2008.
She teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in interpersonal communication, conflict, and close relationships. Through her courses, students learn communication theory, concepts, and research and also develop relevant communication skills.
Wright believes real-world experiences, even small ones, are key to helping students learn the concepts she teaches. She uses project- and problem-based learning in her classrooms, having students work together to develop case studies in which they take the role of expert consultants to analyze and manage real-world communication issues affecting an organization, a community group, or a close relationship.
Students in her courses also use feedback from others, coupled with research and theory, to critically reflect upon and improve the communication in their professional and personal relationships. This helps them better understand topics including relational maintenance, conflict management, forgiveness, reconciliation, and overcoming barriers to building positive relationships across cultural differences.
John Haas, head of the Department of Communications Studies, said Wright has a knack for helping her students understand why their classroom lessons matter.
“She is fair but challenging, and she really, really values good classroom teaching,” he said.
Wright said she believes the classroom should be a safe place to learn important life lessons.
“I encourage students to see value in the challenges they encounter—academic or otherwise,” she said. “These intellectual, personal, and professional challenges provide opportunities to grow in perseverance. Perseverance not only helps individuals develop effective skills in interpersonal communication and conflict management, but is essential to maximize one’s potential and navigate life’s journey successfully.”
Wright said her research benefits her teaching.
For example, her research on difficult interactions influences how she facilitates class discussions on challenging topics, establishes a classroom community, and communicates with students about performance outcomes and other potentially sensitive topics. Her research also informs her mentoring of graduate teaching assistants.
She received the 2013 Faculty Research Award for the College of Communication and Information and was recently featured in the Fall/Winter issue of UT’s Quest magazine. In her spare time, Wright enjoys the arts, tennis, and creative writing.
Amy Blakely (865-974-5034, email@example.com)