Interview by Shelby Barbour
Q. What brought you to WSU? Why do you enjoy working here?
A. Well, I just finished my 30th year here. I came from Stanford, where I got my doctorate. When it was time for me to look for a job, my husband said, “I will give up my job and follow you anywhere, as long as it’s west of the Mississippi and not a big city.” He was in the Silicon Valley. So, we got out the big map and I was just looking around and I found this university in the middle of no place, in Washington. It was a member of what was then the PAC-10 Conference and I said, “Well, what do you think of this one?” He said, “Well, that would be perfect.” And, sure enough, the perfect job opened up, and when I interviewed, it was the most exciting thing ever. Just knowing that the fit was right here. We came here when I finished my doctorate and I’ve loved it ever since. Nice balance of cutting-edge research, teaching and making a difference.
Q. You started working for the College of Communication in 1989, so you’ve seen many changes and advancements over the years. What is one big change that you’ve noticed?
A. The Murrow College. When I came, it was the Department of Communication. Then it became the Murrow School of Communication, still within the College of Liberal Arts, which became the College of Arts and Sciences. And then I helped lead the School of Communication to college status, and I was its first dean. It’s been a whole evolution. I was here at the beginning.
Q. Why did you decide to focus your research on media literacy and communication campaigns, with an emphasis on health promotion and civic engagement?
A. When I was in the Bay Area, I had a job working for an elementary school district, which was cool. I was doing public relations for them, so part of my job was to go out to the schools and see what was going on. I went to this one school and they were teaching a Montessori-style kindergarten class. It was around the holidays and they were asking the students to come up with their own spelling words for the week, and I was pretty impressed. Kindergarteners coming up with spelling words. The words they came up with, you could tell it was holiday season and they were seeing lots of advertising. It was in the days of Cabbage Patch dolls and so that was one of their spelling words. So, they were coming up with these words that were very holiday-oriented, but then there was one word that took me back, and that word was “kidnap.” I thought, “Why are kindergarteners coming up with kidnap as one of their spelling words? This is disturbing.” So, I went home and I thought about it. Then I looked at the milk carton on the table. There on the milk carton was a picture of a missing child. I became interested in media effects, and unintended effects, and how media can have positive effects by helping find these missing children. You have to be able to navigate the media successfully. We have to make sure we’re using media, not letting the media use us. They didn’t intend for kindergartners to be frightened by milk cartons on the breakfast table. So that’s how I got interested in all of that.
Q. What makes you passionate about your research?
A. Making a difference, helping people use the information and the media to make decisions that are beneficial to themselves.
Q. I know in 2015 and 2016 you served as interim co-provost for the WSU system. How was taking on that job? Were there any challenges?
A. It was very challenging, I’d never heard of co-provost before. The interim president and the other co-provost and I all wanted it to work. We all had shared goals and visions. We all understood it was a really important time for the university. So, it worked because we wanted it to. It was a real privilege to serve in that role. We were focused on maintaining momentum and continuity, making sure that while we were in an interim year, we didn’t stop making progress as a university.
Q. Now you’re coming back as director of the Murrow Center of Media and Health Promotion Research, as well as being a professor? How do you feel taking on these roles?
A. I’ll have more time for the things I was trying to keep going while I was doing these other roles, and I’m very excited about that.
Q. Tell me a little about your publications. Which ones have been your favorites and which ones do you feel are the most important?
A. Well, when you’re a researcher it’s always the most recent projects you’re most excited about. Some of the things that I’m excited about are when we have done some sort of media literacy lesson or intervention for people and we see the difference it makes. One of the things I’ve been excited to be able to demonstrate is that you can help make people more skeptical of the media without trying to make them hate the media. Every message is created to achieve a goal. So once people understand that, their perspective starts to change and they become more skeptical. We don’t want people to be cynical. We want them to be skeptical. Our research shows that you can do that. You can have media literacy that helps people become skeptical without expecting them to be cynical. So that’s powerful.
Q. Are there any big changes you have for yourself, or even for the Murrow College?
A. Well, I’ll be working with the leadership and faculty on the future of the college and how the center can make the best contribution to what we’re trying to accomplish as a college. So, I’ll be looking at what role the center should be playing and then making sure we move it in that direction.
Q. Lastly, who are your role models? And who has influenced you most in your life?
A. Oh, wow. Edward R. Murrow. He’s certainly a role model. Then, of course, my parents.