Walk around the hallways of the Department of Communication Studies and you’re likely to run into a few unfamiliar faces. This summer alone, three new administrative staff joined the department following the departure of several previous staff – Gloria Blumanhourst, Dawn McConkey, Carly Hennegan (now a CMST advisor in the college), and Lindsey Nielsen – who each left to pursue new life adventures.
We had a busy summer replacing these outstanding colleagues, and doing so before the start of the new semester (we’re still working on hiring a new ACT Program Coordinator). But we did it and are thrilled to welcome Eliza Wagner-Kinyon as our new office manager; Nancy Schindele as our new accounting technician; and, Lisabeth Bylina as our new graduate studies support coordinator.
These fantastic additions to our team mean that three out of our five administrative staff hold both a bachelor and master’s degree in communication studies from CSU. Department wide, a full 40 percent of our community (staff, advisors, graduate students, and non-tenure track and tenure track faculty) earned either their B.A. or M.A. (or both!) in communication studies from CSU.
Never before have so many of you called the department your professional home. Maybe mass employment by alumni is a common across all College of Liberal Arts departments at CSU, or even among other communication studies programs around the country. Makes sense, right? If you loved school, why not stick around in one fashion or another?
Since we can’t make any empirical claims that this dynamic is unique to CSU or our discipline, we thought we’d at least learn what drew Wagner-Kinyon (‘15, ‘18), Bylina (‘09, ‘12) – who earned a Ph.D. in media studies from the University of East Anglia, and Kalie McMonagle (‘11,’17) – who has worked as program coordinator for the Center for Public Deliberation since the summer of 2017, to return to the second floor of the Behavioral Sciences A-wing as gainfully employed administrators.
Speaking from Experience
In August 2018 Lisabeth Bylina returned to the department as the new Graduate Studies Support Coordinator. Her path from undergrad to doctoral graduate readied her for the role of being a guide and mentor to the department’s 26 graduate students.
Lisabeth says she always wanted to be a pathologist. She attended the University San Francisco and became a media studies major since having a non-science major could increase her chances of getting into medical school.
When she took a policy and law in media course, her interest shifted to intellectual property rights and she said goodbye to medicine. But after transferring to CSU and enrolling as a communication studies major, she took a film class, found a mentor in Dr. Scott Diffrient and unknowingly began an academic career in media studies.
She began her graduate studies in the department’s then terminal master’s degree program. Her thesis looked at how the cinematic representation of border personalities exists as a type of film genre.
“I really enjoyed my M.A. and writing,” says Lisabeth. “We were really exerting ourselves intellectually but having a great time doing it.”
The M.A. program also gave her another boost she wasn’t expecting.
“Having to take public speaking as an undergrad and the teach it as a grad student has made me more comfortable and confident in talking to people,” Lisabeth says. “Being forced to teach other people how to overcome the thing they dread most has been incredibly useful. I’ve developed skills that are applicable across disciplines.”
Lisabeth pursued her Ph.D. at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England, looking at comedy remakes between the U.K. and the U.S. She earned her doctoral degree in 2017, returned to Colorado, and taught English at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley.
When the coordinator position opened she jumped at the chance to come back to the department and not only talk about the program to prospective graduate students but do so from a place of firsthand experience.
“This position allows me to take what I like most from teaching, building a relationship with a student and helping them figure out what they are doing.,” Lisabeth says. “I had such a great time in this program. I want to give back and help it grow.”
A Return to the Magic
Kalie McMonagle joined the Center for Public Deliberation (CPD) as its first-ever full-time program coordinator in July 2017.
She oversees the process of training up to 30 undergraduate student associates in the art and science of facilitation. She also works with different community partners to design events that help them arrive at better decision-making and solution implementation, and she plays a critical role in reporting outcomes.
Kalie is no stranger to the Center for Public Deliberation. Serving as the Center’s first program coordinator is a logical progression that calls on her years of experience as an undergraduate CPD student facilitator, a CPD community volunteer (between undergraduate and graduate school), and, most recently, a communication studies graduate student specializing in deliberative practices. She estimates she logged 585 hours working with the CPD as a student.
When Kalie began CSU as a communication studies major she thought she wanted to into radio journalism. She idolized Ira Glass, host of National Public Radio’s This American Life radio program.
“I believed that the way we tell stories makes a difference,” she says. “I still believe that, but throughout my B.A. I realized that I like listening to stories as much as I like telling them. Now, as a program coordinator, I have the skills to do both, because the CMST major provides you with a diverse set of courses that approach communication in many, many ways.”
Kalie caught the “deliberation bug” as an undergrad CPD student associate. She says there’s just something for her about sitting down across the table from strangers and problem solving an issue. “We’re so rarely called on to participate in deliberative democracy,” she says. “There’s a kind of magic that happens there.”
She didn’t have to wait too long to return to “the magic” after completing her graduate studies. She worked less than a year as a marketing assistant at CSU Online before the CPD position was created and she was hired.
“I am lucky enough to work with a small, dedicated group of students from across the university,” says Kalie.
“They continue to push the boundaries of what community members believe undergraduates are capable of. Are they able to facilitate complex topics like regional planning or housing affordability? Absolutely, yes. Do they ask me if they can put on sweat pants as soon as the event is over? Also, yes. That’s the fun of working with undergraduates.”
From Thesis to Practice
In late summer Eliza Wagner-Kinyon joined the department as office manager and lead support, a position held for several years by the irreplaceable Gloria Blumanhourst (yet another B.A. and M.A. alumna!).
She went from graduate student to the department’s lead administrator in less than three months. While the work load might be similar, the responsibilities are dramatically different. Instead of wrapping her head around organizational communication theory, Eliza has taken a deep dive into learning the multiple and complex administrative systems in use at CSU – among many other duties.
However, Eliza’s background in hospitality management and her graduate school research interests have readied her for jumping into a multi-faceted leadership role amidst abundant employee turnover (yes, she handles human resources for the department).
Eliza fell into hospitality while she was earning her undergraduate degree. She loved the rhythm of management and excelled at working one on one with employees.
“I love supporting people and being behind the scenes” she says. “There’s a ripple effect that comes from helping people help others. I like the bigger picture.”
As an undergrad she was drawn to communication studies courses, particularly intercultural and group communication. As a graduate student she focused on organizational communication. Her thesis was a case study that looked at three multi-faceted changes in one company: change in ownership, leadership turnover, and a large-scale renovation. She specifically explored how employees need to be treated and supported so they can maintain or reach their workplace goals while achieving a healthy work-life balance.
Eliza says her move into a lead managerial position following the department’s surge of employee turnover is apt. “My thesis was about workplace resilience and resistance during turbulent times,” she says.
Now she finds herself in a new role that offers the best of both worlds. “I want to be a manager in an academic setting,” she says. “Part of what attracts me to this position is the potential to grow personally and professionally. If I miss teaching I may have the opportunity to teach. If I miss research, I could submit to a conference or publication. I can do what I love.”