Department of Communication Recognized as Best in the U.S.

The Ripon College Department of Communication received the prestigious 2014 Rex Mix Program of Excellence Award from the National Communication Association (NCA) at the NCA’s annual convention in Chicago, Illinois, Nov. 22.

Each year, the Program of Excellence Award recognizes one undergraduate department of communication for overall excellence above all others in curriculum, program quality, course design and special programs.

“We are deeply honored that our commitment to student development and empowering them as agents of change has been recognized at the national level,” says Steve Martin, associate professor and chair of the Department of Communication. “While the core of our program engages students in rigorous, traditional studies of rhetorical theory, American public address, and rhetorical criticism, we also invest time and resources to provide students with opportunities to apply what they learn in the classroom to the world beyond campus.”

The department established a national reputation in the early 2000s through the creation of its Speakers Bureau program, an elite traveling group that empowers students to serve as spokespeople for nonprofits whose missions align with their passions. Speakers Bureau students annually conduct interactive anti-bullying, violence-prevention and college-access presentations at middle and high schools in Wisconsin and Illinois. On three occasions, they have been invited to address high school students from around the nation at the annual Youth Summit of the National Association of Students Against Violence Everywhere. For the past three years, students in the group also have participated in special “speech exchange” panel discussions with medium-security inmates at a nearby prison. Individually, members of Speakers Bureau have served as advocates for a regional domestic violence shelter, Survivors of Suicide, the American Cancer Society, and a variety of other local and national non-profit groups.

Now in its eighth year, the department’s extravagant “Mr. Ripon” comedic pageant challenges Applied Communication students to use theory learned in other courses to wage a large-scale fundraising and awareness campaign which, to date, has raised nearly $60,000 to support Huntington’s Disease Society of America research.

“Speakers Bureau, Applied Communication and, of course, internships, help our majors develop career skills and a solid sense of professionalism. But those experiences are only effective because they build from the foundation of the core, traditional coursework in the major,” adds Jody Roy, professor of communication and interim vice president and dean of faculty at Ripon. “The major challenges students. They have to work very hard, on their own, together and with faculty. They have to push themselves, often much farther than they at first believe they can manage.”

“By senior year, they have to write papers to academic conference standards as their norm, collaboratively produce a journal for high school educators and students, and also sit for both written and oral comprehensive examinations,” continues Roy. “By commencement, they have learned not only a great deal about the field of communication, but also something that serves them well in any career for their rest of their lives: they learn to trust their own potential. They learn the priceless lesson that with diligence and dedication, they can succeed.”

Chloe Piepho, a senior communication major from Rochester, MN, says she owes the department as a whole for her success and accomplishments: “Expectations are set high for the students of this department, which instills a strong work ethic in all of us. I have grown as a scholar in both writing and critical thinking skills.” Piepho spent this past summer as an external relations intern in the public affairs department of Mayo Clinic.

“The communication department at Ripon College has prepared countless graduates for careers in the real world. I will always be grateful for how I was challenged, pushed, and required to go beyond the norm,” says Gail Gitcho ’01, communications director for the Republican Governor’s Association. Since graduating with a major in communication from Ripon, Gitcho has held a variety of high-profile communications posts in national politics, including director of communications for Gov. Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign.

Jeremy Johnson, a 2012 graduate of the department and current doctoral student at Pennsylvania State University, says he had no problem going directly from Ripon to a combined master’s/Ph.D. program. “I have not once felt overwhelmed,” explains Johnson, who is a recipient of Penn State’s prestigious University Graduate Fellowship. “I believe firmly that my confidence comes from the rigor and excellence of Ripon’s program. I was pushed at every moment to be an exceptional student at Ripon.”

“No fewer than eight Ripon graduates have come to Penn State since I arrived in 1998, which is more students than we have recruited from any other college or university. And every one of them was ready on day one,” says J. Michael Hogan, liberal arts research professor and director of the Center for Democratic Deliberation in Penn State’s Department of Communication Arts and Sciences. “I could go on and on about the Communication Department at Ripon College—the dedication and scholarly achievements of the faculty, the excitement and engagement of their students, and the difference that program has made on the Ripon campus and beyond.”

“Our master’s program actively recruits Ripon students because they are typically the best-prepared students we admit. They are always fantastic writers, and their knowledge of the field of communication studies is robust,” adds Karrin Vasby Anderson, professor of communication studies and director of graduate studies at Colorado State University.

“Ripon’s faculty hold all students to a high standard; treat them all as equally capable of achieving that standard; and work tirelessly to help them all do so,” explains Mary Stuckey, professor of communication and political science at Georgia State University and a guest in the department’s unique Ripon Forum on Ethics and Communication program. After spending three days as a Forum Scholar on the Ripon campus working with students to collaboratively analyze the oratory of America’s greatest leaders and to consider unique challenges of communication in the contemporary world, Stuckey recalls, “I have never seen such dedication, and I’m pretty sure I’m not capable of it myself. I left Ripon both exhausted and inspired.”

More than 90 percent of students who graduate from Ripon’s Department of Communication are employed within their career field of choice within six months of graduation; typically, more than half have secured full-time employment in their field of choice prior to Commencement.

Since 1996, 17 percent of communication graduates at Ripon have attended a master’s or Ph.D. program in communication immediately following completion of the bachelor’s degree. One-hundred percent of graduates who have applied to graduate school have been accepted to at least one program with a full-tuition scholarship and teaching assistantship stipend.

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