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Department: Communication & Digital Media
Title: Associate Professor
Best Office Artifact: Fake Window Poster
Learn from your challenges. That’s one piece of advice Professor Lynn Brownson shares with her students. Having followed that same advice when she was a college student led her down an unexpected but ultimately rewarding road.
At Carthage since 2008, Professor Brownson is also a corporate trainer and consultant who has stressed the importance of communication in both the academic and business worlds.
We spoke with Professor Brownson to learn more about the Communication and Digital Media Department and she shared some advice about how students can find success in their chosen field.
How did you get into Communication and Digital Media?
As an undergraduate, I didn’t start in communication. Luckily for me, another major didn’t work out, so I took a required public speaking course, and the rest is history. I changed my major to communication, with an emphasis in radio/television/film, and really enjoyed all the communication courses. An opportunity for a great internship came my way, and it was an incredible experience. I learned from gifted professionals in television production. I produced, wrote, directed, shot, and edited shows. I walked away with a strong production reel.
I hadn’t planned to go to graduate school, but the internship helped me attain a graduate assistantship. I completed my master’s degree in a year and a half while working in Media Services for the university. While my graduate emphasis was media-related, I did half my coursework in broader communication theory. I hadn’t considered a career in academia, but after finishing my master’s, I took an instructor position at Southeastern Louisiana University. Two years later, I was enrolled in the communication Ph.D. program at Louisiana State University. I taught full time at SLU while doing doctoral coursework at LSU part-time except for one year’s residency, after which I returned to teaching full time while completing my dissertation.
You have been at Carthage for over 10 years. How has the Communication and Digital Media Department evolved over the time you were there?
In my time here, the Communication and Digital Media Department has evolved primarily through the strengthening of our curriculum and course offerings. None of this would have been possible without the dedication of gifted faculty members I get to call my friends and the feedback and inspiration from former students who came through our courses and programs. We have made significant changes to each of our three majors: communication, graphic design, and public relations. We are committed to continual assessment of program requirements and individual courses to best help our students prepare for the work world that awaits them after Carthage and CDM.
We also continue to engage our students outside the classroom. In addition to existing student groups like DRAFT (the Carthage chapter of the American Institute of Graphic Art) and Lambda Pi Eta (the Carthage chapter of the Communication Honor Society of the National Communication Association), we are pleased to have a brand new Carthage chapter of PRSSA (Public Relations Student Society of America). In 2017, we inaugurated the CDM Speaker Series, and have welcomed alumni, new faculty, and professionals in the community to share their expertise and experiences with students across campus.
How has your experience as a consultant and corporate trainer affected your teaching?
Perhaps it’s a “hazard” of my profession, but I tend to look at most situations as an opportunity for teaching and learning. To me, learning is communication. Teaching is communication. But the most important part of either teaching or learning is listening. As a consultant, I have to listen carefully to what clients need and desire. And if they have trouble articulating those ideas, I tend to prompt them by asking the simple questions first. What’s the problem you’re trying to solve? What hasn’t worked in the past? With regard to corporate training, I’d say there’s an obvious parallel to teaching. The demographics of the learners may be different in a corporate/organizational setting compared to a traditional college classroom, but the objectives are the same. Trainers/teachers have to understand what learners need in order to accomplish their goals: learn, apply, succeed.
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“I tend to look at most situations as an opportunity for teaching and learning. To me, learning is communication. Teaching is communication. But the most important part of either teaching or learning is listening.”
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There is a fear about finding jobs after studying Communication and Digital Media. How does the department prepare students to find and succeed in a communications job?
I don’t think fear about finding a job after college is at all unique to students in Communication and Digital Media. We are unique, however, in that we have three distinct majors that are based on fundamental student learning outcomes. These include the ability to effectively and ethically communicate through various means, including visual, spoken, and written forms. Communication jobs, though, can be a bit different from other jobs our graduates get. Graphic Design students get to call themselves Graphic Designers. Public Relations students get to call themselves PR Specialists. In general, Communication students don’t have a succinct label or job title, which I actually think is great. There’s such a huge variety of careers for communication graduates, including business, education, law, social and human services, journalism, media (traditional and new), government/politics, health care, etc. Communication, in all its forms, is no longer a “soft skill”, according to hiring decision makers. Whether you craft your message with creative and intriguing visuals, a strong and multi-layered campaign, or with a well researched and organized article or speech, the ability to motivate and persuade an audience (of one, 100, or millions) is what employers are looking for.
The rise of self-employment has changed many digital media-related industries, how has the program evolved to prepare students for those changes?
Self-employment takes a certain kind of initiative, confidence, and discipline. For all our majors, we help them create/update résumés and develop a portfolio (electronic and/or print) they can use for job prospects and self-promotion. In many of our courses, we encourage students to take advantage of social media (such as LinkedIn) and other opportunities for networking. In our introductory course, we have students work on their own elevator pitch so they’re ready to sell themselves or any project/organization. We believe the fundamentals we weave through our program help give students the tools with which they can build their skills and the confidence needed for any job prospects, including self-employment.
What advice do you have for new or prospective students interested in Communication and Digital Media?
Have an open mind and explore all possibilities. Do what brings you joy. Find your voice. Use that voice to make the world a better place. Always try. Learn from challenges. Keep trying. CDM can introduce you to new concepts and tools to build on for your time at Carthage and beyond. Come visit us, sit in on classes, talk to students and faculty, ask questions. At the beginning of every class I teach, I tell students I hope they leave with more questions than answers. Here’s one of my favorite quotes I put into every syllabus: “Knowledge is having the right answer. Intelligence is asking the right question.” (~unknown). Always keep asking; always keep questioning.
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“Do what brings you joy. Find your voice. Use that voice to make the world a better place. Always try. Learn from challenges. Keep trying.”
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What is your favorite class to teach?
Oh my gosh, do I have to pick just one? I truly love them all. But since I have to pick, it’s a tie between Gender Communication and Nonverbal Communication.
What are some hobbies or interests that students may not think you have?
Don’t tell my husband, but I’m trying to turn our home into an actual greenhouse. I love plants, especially new varieties I’ve never seen or grown before. I seem to have a green thumb, which I must have inherited from my late Grandma. From time to time, when I’m not playing with dirt, I’m playing percussion and harmonica and singing in a band with my husband and friends. They are great musicians who inspire me to be better.
What are some ways you have pushed students outside their comfort zones?
Does getting them to put their phones away count? I’ve had plenty of students tell me they never thought they’d live through public speaking. Literally. But they lived. Every single one of them. I don’t sugar coat the potential for anxiety, but I stress the importance of the message and find ways to encourage speakers who struggle. Most of what I teach revolves around interaction and human behavior. I try to challenge the way my students think about themselves, the world around them and their roles in the world, and how they engage with others personally and professionally.
What are some unexpected paths in your career?
When I first started college, I wanted to be an accountant by day and a rock star by night. Then I thought I was going to be a television/video producer and director. Then I found teaching. Well, at least I’m still rockin’ …
— Interview by William Dowell ’22; Photography by Jenna Link ’22