It probably sounds trite to say that I am more hopeful than ever about the future of our discipline after spending a weekend with 17 rising seniors in communication this past weekend, but it’s true. NCA hosted its first undergraduate honors conference here in Washington, DC on the campus of American University. And as the future of our discipline, these students represent a bright path forward.
The weekend began on Thursday evening with an orientation and dinner followed by an opening talk by speechwriter Lindsay Hayes. Lindsay, just two days post successfully defending her dissertation, regaled her audience with many stories of her speechwriting career and left with one simple message: success wasn’t about luck, it was about thorough preparation meeting opportunity.
Friday included a tour of the Library of Congress and the Newseum. Although time was short and participants could not conduct any research in the library, many obtained readers cards and pledged to return to devote more time to researching their interests. The Newseum, more than anything a museum of modern communication, demonstrated the power of mass communication. From exhibits on award winning political cartoons to the collection of Pulitzer Prize winning photographs, participants encountered journalistic accounts of our nation’s history.
Saturday’s activities included traditional scholarly sessions. Two paper panels produced lively conversation, both from respondents (Professor Mark Mormon and Professor Trevor Parry-Giles) as well as from the participants who engaged their colleagues with questions. A poster session followed the panels and 7 students visually depicted their work and held many conversations about their projects. From critical cultural studies of place and space, to rhetorical criticism of political speeches, to quantitative social scientific inquiry on how veterans use communication to adjust to college life, these students represented a broad array of communication scholarship. The afternoon concluded with group discussions about their plans for their senior thesis or capstone project.
The conference concluded Sunday morning with Dr. Mormon, Dr. Parry-Giles and myself leading discussions about selecting the right graduate program and preparing an outstanding graduate school application. Résumé preparation and interviewing for entry-level positions entered the discussion also. Most all of the participants planned to continue their education after receiving their B.A. and a few had clear plans to be academics. We will continue to grow as a discipline with these talented young scholars in the pipeline.
It is hard to convey the excitement of this conference. As a novice event planner (they never taught contract negotiation with housing services in grad school), I was quite nervous throughout the weekend. But there were very few snafu’s and by Sunday afternoon as we all enjoyed a lunch out of the dorm at Panera before everyone headed home, it was clear new friendships were forged that will stay with these budding scholars for a long time to come.