Congratulations graduates of the Department of Communication

Posted on: April 26, 2017

Congratulations graduates of the Department of Communication. For the second year in a row, one of our majors is the general undergraduate Convocation Speaker for the entire University. While this is a pretty amazing programmatic feat, it's even more impressive when you meet Matt St. Germain, this year's Convocation Speaker, and listen to him. He is friendly, driven, socially responsible and welcoming-all traits that you might associate with future leaders. Matt has accepted admission into our LINKed MA program.

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down to lunch with four of our 12 new Communication degree CAS scholarship winners. I asked their opinions for ways to improve the undergraduate experience in our department and they had great ideas. I ran out of notepad paper. These four stars are McKenna Jennings, Gabrielle Dolenga, Victoria Gan, and Brooke Wylin.

If you are thinking of Communication as a potential degree and have questions, contact me ( In the recent Washington DC March for Science, which took over the National Mall for a day, "science communication" as a key skill and necessary new ability for future researchers, journalists, policy advocates, supervisors and engineers, and scientists and their managers was emphasized again and again. We can teach you how to be a leader in science communication!

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Get Involved

Posted on: March 28, 2017

The Michigan State Department of Communication has a proud history of federally-supported research as well as leadership in federally-supported training programs. Our faculty and students have been supported by the National Science Foundation, National Cancer Institute, National Institute of Mental Health, Agency for International Development, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Environmental Protection Agency, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Department of Justice, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and others. This Earth Day, April 22, 2017, is host to the March for Science in Washington DC and other cities. Social scientists at Michigan State University and other Big Ten universities can play key roles in this event. March for Indiana! On Wisconsin! Let’s see Buckeye Nation! And go Green!

Scholars are very often apolitical in public forums. That time is past. Social scientists have a role to play by getting engaged. Write letters, join marches. Make sure your elected representatives understand your views on academic research and the contributions of our federal agencies to the generation of knowledge and to understanding what works in translating science to practice. My first grant at MSU was from the EPA. It was a small budget, great project, with results that were used by that agency. What can you do? Tell your story about social science and our federal agencies to our elected officials.

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March for Science

Posted on: February 13, 2017

Earth Day, April 22, 2017, is host to the March for Science in Washington DC and potentially many other cities. Social scientists at Michigan State University and other Big Ten universities can play key roles in this event. Scholars are very often apolitical in terms of public sentiment. That time is past. Social scientists owe it to their mentors and forebearers to defend and justify the importance of knowledge and systematic inquiry to society. It’s time to pay it forward for our students and their society.

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Warm and Sunny East Lansing

Posted on: December 8, 2016

Fake news is, well, much in the news these days so consider this post to be our department's contribution to the new milieu.

It is remarkable how people consistently find a way to use communication media and other types of innovations in new and unanticipated ways. We see this often in organizational communication studies, in the blossoming field of social media research and of course front and center in anecdotal and journalistic reports of human behavior. The tendency of people not to adopt and use innovations as intended by the designers of innovations plays out across settings and contexts of all types. Call it what you like: Reinvention, adaptation, user creativity, decentralization. Individuals have their own motivations and purposes-uses & gratifications-for new technologies, programs, practices and knowledge that others have communicated to them.

Changes in social media environments and the collectivities that comprise the groups and crowds that inhabit them are grist for the mill of academic research. A number of our graduate students and faculty use the social media ecosystem as the basis for their work. And accelerating rates of change in this ecosystem pushes us to find faster ways to conduct studies before the landscape shifts from under one's feet. Having a sense of what's next in social media and consumer use of communication technology is part of what's great about having undergraduate students with us at Michigan State. Their behavior (and the behavior of their little sisters and brothers) and the ways that they learn to critically assess their behavior and that of their friends and family helps the rest of us to know what to study.
There are constants, of course. The magnetic personality, the persuasive speaker, the opinion leader, and the maven seem to operate across new and old contexts of communication. But the dissemination of information and thus the acceleration of change have become sudden and sometimes, dramatic in both rate of change and outcomes.

If you want to study the future, study communication.

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ICA a success in Japan

Posted on: June 21, 2016

Professors William Donohue and Franklin Boster were elected as Fellows of the International Communication Association at ICA’s annual conference in Fukuoka, Japan, June 9-14, 2016. Designation as a Fellow is the highest honor bestowed on scholars by ICA. Donohue specializes in research, teaching and outreach about conflict resolution, negotiation and communication theory. Boster’s scholarship concerns persuasion, social influence and research methods.

The election of Donohue and Boster brings the number of Michigan State Department of Communication former faculty and graduate students and current faculty who have received the Fellow designation from ICA or Distinguished Scholar designation from the National Communication Association to 25, the highest number associated with any communication department worldwide:

  • Charles K. Atkin, Charles Berger, Franklin Boster, Judee Burgoon, Michael Burgoon, JosephCappella, Akiba Cohen, Robert Craig, Brenda Dervin, James Dillard, William Donohue, Edward L.Fink, Bradley Greenberg, Randall Harrison, James McCroskey, Gerald R. Miller, Peter Monge,Scott Poole, Byron Reeves, Everett M. Rogers, Michael Roloff, David Seibold, Sandi W. Smith,

    Joseph Walther, Steven R. Wilson

The Department of Communication has launched the Future Fellows Fund, an endowment fundraising drive to ensure continuation of the highest quality doctoral training so that current students can become future Fellows. The website to donate to the Fund is

Incoming Professor David Ewoldson who will join the Department of Media and Information was also elected this year as an ICA Fellow.

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Three New Faculty to Join Communication this Fall

Posted on: January 13, 2016

Winson Peng, Allison Eden and Ralf Schmalzle have agreed to join the faculty of the Department of Communication for Fall 2016. “This is a best possible result of our faculty search this year,” said Jim Dearing, chair of the department. “While we had an extremely strong applicant pool, these are the three that we really wanted.”

Taiquan (Winson) Peng is an assistant professor at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore where he specializes in constructing and using unusually large data-sets to study information and social networks, diffusion of ideas and emotions across social media users, and the creation of new measurement metrics. His PhD is from the City University of Hong Kong. He will join MSU as an associate professor.

Allison Eden is an assistant professor at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam where she studies communication neuroscience, social psychology and media psychology with a focus on how people process messages. Her research has appeared in a number of leading social science journals. She earned her PhD from Michigan State in 2011.

Ralf Schmalzle is a postdoctoral fellow at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. He works at a communication neuroscience lab at Penn where he studies how individuals think and feel about health. The overall aim of this work is to understand the neural mechanisms of health risk perception and effective health risk communication. His PhD is from the University of Konstanz in Germany.

Peng, Eden and Schmaelzle all excel at creating and testing communication theories. This was the strength sought by the faculty of the department, especially as embodied in scholars who could contribute to and deepen the department’s well-known core course sequences for graduate students. “They will each work with undergraduates too, but to be able to improve our graduate program in such a bold way is almost unprecedented for us,” said Dearing.

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Securing the Future of Communication Science

Posted on: November 17, 2015

The highest honors awarded by the International Communication Association and by the National Communication Association are the naming of Fellows and Distinguished Scholars, respectively. The Michigan State University Department of Communication has contributed to the careers of 23 Fellows and Distinguished Scholars, meaning that they earned their M.A. or Ph.D. here, or taught here as a tenure-track faculty member. That's more than any other communication department in the world. These are many of the most prolific and insightful scholars in the discipline: Chuck Atkin, Chuck Berger, Judee Burgoon, Michael Burgoon, Joe Cappella, Robert Craig, Akiba Cohen, Brenda Dervin, Jim Dillard, Ed Fink, Brad Greenberg, Randy Harrison, Jim McCroskey, Gerry Miller, Peter Monge, Scott Poole, Byron Reeves, Ev Rogers, Mike Roloff, Dave Seibold, Sandi Smith, Joe Walther, and Steve Wilson.

We have established the Future Fellows Fund to ensure that the future of communication science worldwide and at Michigan State is as bright as our collective past. 100 percent of the money donated to the Fund is vested in an established endowment at Michigan State University that is administered by the Department of Communication. Interest earned from endowed funds is used to support graduate students in communication by underwriting graduate student stipends. Think of the highest quality doctoral training, the research team model, and the attention to scholarly detail that faculty like Frank Boster, Ron Tamborini, Mary Bresnahan, Kami Silk, Maria Lapinski and Bill Donohue provide.

Donate via the link above. It's easy. It's important. It's about extending in perpetuity our collective legacy.

Jim Dearing

Questions? Give me a call at 517-353-3259 or email me at Go Green!

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Communication BAs getting jobs

Posted on: February 9, 2015

The last year that the Georgetown Center for Education and the Workforce reports national employment data by academic degree is 2012. In that Analysis of American Community Microdata, Communication and Journalism graduates (combined) had a 2012 unemployment rate of 8.2%. Graduates with degrees in agriculture, education and physical sciences had lower (better) unemployment rates, and graduates in architecture, law, psychology, social work, and social sciences were higher (worse).

Jobs often are found by individuals through interpersonal connections, especially through connections that are outside of one's usual close network of friends and acquaintances. Getting outside of your common and frequent contacts facilitates interest in your skill set and abilities that can seem novel and in short supply by people who have lived in other places, and graduated with different types of degrees, and who have expertise that differs from yours. Want a job? Get to know new people.

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Avatars, robots and agents

Posted on: December 16, 2014

Some of the most exciting advances in communication science concern extensions of the self: Who you believe you are, where you believe your identity exists, and how you behave in social situations. Of the many promises of avatars, robots and agents in training, learning, rehabilitation, team performance, and social and emotional support, perhaps none is more far-reaching than our fundamental sense of ourselves. Avatars, robots and agents enable us to see and evaluate ourselves in situations we've never encountered. Self-appraisal in computer-mediated environments--virtual realities--is a rather safe way to observe how others react to us, whether the activity is dating or dying, infant care or negotiating for a raise, interviewing for a job or counseling a patient. Want to practice your persuasive abilities to get small business owners to install energy efficient technologies? Or deceive a loved one? Or lead a highly trained team in a high-risk mission? Or try out a political appeal?

Fully immersive VR with high definition avatars--you, not a cartoon image--allows you to see yourself "through the looking glass" of self-reflection, from an omniscient vantage point or that of another person. It enables you to practice behavior and experience responses to that new behavior, again and again and again, and not just in controlled ways, since multiple interactants can immerse themselves together. If attitude and behavior change has proven difficult in social science research, what will happen if VR frees users of real and immediate social repercussions? Will norms prove mallable? Human values themselves? What would Milton Rokeach study in virtual environments, and how would he do it?

Communication phenomena such as our abilities to mutually understand one another will be affected by these technologies. But how those impacts will play out and with what sustained impacts is unknown. We have faculty and students who are collaborating with scholars in other countries. Together they are postulating answers to these and related questions and acting on those hunches by writing proposals and constructing laboratories. We are doing this with colleagues in computer science, kinesiology, and engineering. Our initial explorations will involve avatars, but robots embody similar extensions of the self and communicative capabilities. If these types of fundamental relational questions interest you as a student or a faculty member, check us out!

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The USAID-Michigan State Legacy

Posted on: October 7, 2014
Kerry Byrnes

Kerry Byrnes

Kerry J. Byrnes retired from a career at the United States Agency for International Development on September 30, 2014. Kerry had most recently been with USAID's Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean and was honored with the agency's Administrator's Outstanding Career Achievement Award in 2014. After earning his BA in Sociology at MSU, Kerry received his Master's in Communication here in 1968. He then traveled to Iowa State for his doctorate in Sociology with a minor in Economics. Kerry Byrnes knows more about a critical period in the history of our department than anyone.

The National Project in Agricultural Communications (NPAC) began as an idea in a presentation to the American Association of Agricultural College Editors during May of 1952. The objective of NPAC was to improve extension worker communication with American farmers. The presenter? Kerry's father, Francis C. Byrnes, who worked at Ohio State but would follow NPAC to its new institutional home at Michigan State College (to be renamed Michigan State University in 1955). That same year, the College of Communication Arts was established (later to become CAS). In 1957, the Department of General Communication Arts was founded (to be renamed "Communication" in the early 1960s). The first chairperson of this department was David K. Berlo. One of the department's first doctoral students was Frank Byrnes. Naturally, Byrnes served to tie NPAC and its mission to the new academic unit. Thus began a close working relationship between Berlo and Byrnes as their entrepreneurial partnership led to a NPAC Communication Training Program that fused Berlo's nationally adopted Communication Source-Encoder-Message-Channel-Decoder-Communication Receiver Model of the communication process, with Joe Bohlen and George Beal's sociological model of how agricultural technology is adopted and diffused. Berlo had been a star student of Wilbur Schramm's at Illinois; Beal was to produce a star student, Ev Rogers, at Iowa State. These ideas and people would converge in the new Department of Communication at MSU.

The institutional importance of Frank Byrnes to the theoretical and methodological mash-up at Michigan State was to provide entree into relationships that could fund the application of ideas, the collection of research data, and provide a supply of smart students. Byrnes' interests were, from the beginning, international. It didn't take long for NPAC to spin its Communication Training Program for international groups of trainees. An idea was put forward for a series of Communication Seminars as pre-departure trainings for foreign students prior to their arrival in the U.S. Then the U.S. International Cooperation Administration (to become USAID) contracted for week-long seminars to help its grantees from foreign countries prepare for their cultural transitions back home. Berlo, Byrnes, Erwin Bettinghaus (a major persuasion researcher who would become department chairperson and college dean) and other MSU faculty traveled to and led these seminars beginning in 1958 for 39 participants from 9 countries. Communication seminars, both reflecting the theories of MSU Communication faculty and offering the opportunity for field-based studies, grew and grew, providing regular funding for larger cohorts of doctoral students, many of them having been Seminar participants from around the world. By 1978, more than 550 Communication Seminars had been held with 30,000 students. Aside from USAID, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Ford Foundation had contributed funding for the long-running series.

Francis Byrnes

Francis Byrnes

One of Frank Byrnes' influences was on his son. Kerry, as a young man, would help at the dinner table to put together the Communication Seminar packets of materials. The department would later hire him to work in a couple of the seminars when he was studying for the Masters. The history of our department and, to a degree, the communication field, rests on the important initiative and careers of people like Frank and Kerry Byrnes.

- Jim Dearing

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