Photo of the Week, 28 September 2014

This screengrab from a helps to explain why a degree in Communication or Communications (there is a difference) is always a good investment. It may not be a ‘photo’ but it’s worth sharing.

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Why you should major in Communication Studies

There are so many reasons to be a communication major, but this is just the latest report to tell you why– if you won’t take my word for it.
Yahoo! Education reports that “According to a 2012 report by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce called ‘Hard Times: Not All College Degrees are Created Equal,’ the risk of unemployment after college depends largely on your major.” Specifically, they mention that “the unemployment rate for recent communications grads is only 7.4 percent, lower than the average for all recent grads.”


Photo of the Week, 9 June 2013

Although I’m inclined to post a photo from the Vanishing Georgia collection, given the wonderful discovery of this archive through Melanie Kitchens-O’Meara, I thought I would share a photo of one of the lovely lady slippers here at The Mountain. What a great experience– performing, talking, sharing, and focusing on the unique communicative properties of performance. What a privilege it is to be invited to come to this special place.



The Good, Racist People

I have been thinking about Ta-Nehisi Coates‘s op-ed in The New York Times ever since it was published. I’ve discussed it in my classes and plan on using it, permanently, in my Intercultural Communication courses. Do yourself a favor and read his piece. He provides one of the most compelling, self-reflexive questions we can ask ourselves– If a person is prejudiced, is s/he still a good person? I continue to carry his words with me on my imperfect journey through this world. In sum, “The idea that racism lives in the heart of particularly evil individuals, as opposed to the heart of a democratic society, is reinforcing to anyone who might, from time to time, find their tongue sprinting ahead of their discretion.”


Dear Students… e-mail edition

Dear Students,

I feel compelled to remind you that I teach communication courses and pay close attention to the nuances of the various types of communication in which we engage. Our abilities to communicate are, in part, what makes us human beings. Too often in our professor-student communication, I find myself frustrated, put off, and generally discombobulated because our interaction isn’t as competent as it could be. Please consider this my request for you to reconsider your communication with me more carefully.
An increasing percentage of mishaps occur via e-mail. Please consider what e-mail stands for— electronic mail. If letters are an important form of written communication, e-mail is then an electronic form of important, written communication.

When writing e-mails, please familiarize yourself with the different parts of the e-mail.
• The subject line is the area that you can alert the recipient what your message will be about. Please make sure that this subject line is pertinent to the message you are writing. When you simply reply to previous e-mails I have sent you, you may send me a message the week of final exams that reads “Welcome to COMM 110.” I will undoubtedly scratch my head as to why you’re just now responding to a message I sent at the beginning of the semester and may not open it immediately since it’s not pertinent to the end of the semester.
• The salutation is the greeting of a message. Traditionally this would be: Dear Dr. Darnell, Dr. Darnell, or Professor Darnell. Hey! is not an appropriate salutation. I’m your professor, not your b.f.f..
• The next section of the e-mail is the body. This is where you address the subject with which you are concerned. Please make sure that in the body of your e-mail you are not showing that you either did not read the syllabus, grading philosophy, or honesty agreement, or simply chose to ignore those documents all together. For example, I do not ‘take doctor’s notes’ yet I get doctor’s ‘excuses’ e-mailed to me all the time.
• The ending of the e-mail includes a closing and a signature, or just a signature. A traditional closing is “Sincerely,” with your name as the signature. Given the medium of e-mail writing, a closing is not necessary in my opinion. When signing your name, make it your complete name. 🙂 S. is not an appropriate signature.

If you’re still confused by the format, consult this image of a traditional letter.

In general, please show common sense when you e-mail me.
• Do not ask “Did we do anything important while I was absent?” If you can’t figure out why you shouldn’t ask this, I’d be happy to explain this in person.
• If you want ‘my notes,’ come to class and listen to them. Ask your peers for their class notes. Class discussions are more than my lecture notes. Understand the difference.
• Spell words correctly. Proofread and then proofread again.
• Do not expect a response to your e-mail immediately. I’m not up at 2:30 a.m. checking my e-mail. You shouldn’t be either.
• Do not demand things of me or use your e-mail to angrily vent. Be careful of your tone. If you don’t mean to be aggressive and inappropriate then do not write an e-mail that can be interpreted that way.
• I do not need to know why you weren’t in class. Your personal life is yours, not mine. I don’t need to know that you were up all night throwing up, that your child had diarrhea all night, or that you’ve just felt really crummy with all your coughing and sinus infections and body aches. E-mailing me doesn’t mean you get ‘more’ excused absences. I understand that you may consider this a courtesy, but I don’t think you’re a bad person if you’re not in class.
• Don’t ask me to ‘look over’ your assignments, via e-mail, since you can’t make it to office hours because you’re too busy. If you can’t talk to me during office hours, then arrange a time to see me in person. You’re not the only person who is busy.
• When in doubt, come see me rather than e-mailing me from your Android/iPhone/smart phone/Segway/Whatever-you-call-the-technological-gadget-of-the-moment.

All of these things relate to our personal encounters as well. When you come to my office, do not walk in and say “I need you to sign this” while shoving a piece of paper in my face. Instead, let’s have a conversation after you have knocked and asked “May I come in?” You can choose to stand or sit while we talk about your speech, your desire to drop a course, or your travel plans that may affect class.

In this technological age where you may be used to communicating n shrt wrds w/no punct & less than 140 charactrs, you need to set yourself apart and show the world that you do indeed know how to communicate appropriately and effectively.

Please understand that I write this for you, not in retaliation against you. Please be mindful of your communication with all professors. We all want you to leave Columbia College with the best possible skills to help you achieve your personal and professional goals. Competent communication skills are key to achieving those goals.


Classroom Behavior 101?

Reading any article or news item online opens us up to the Pandora’s box that is the “Comments” section at the end of a piece. I, and many others, think that comment sections are where the scariest factions of human life seem to dwell, thrive, and even breed. I was reading a piece today about the new Atheism for Dummies book. As I got to the end I noticed a large section of ‘rules’ before commenting. I didn’t pay much attention to it until I noticed that, in red, were accompanying Bible verses to support the reasons for the Sojourners rules. I immediately commented that I wanted to figure out a way to adapt them to my own classroom. Well, I guess this is it– only they’re not adapted. I think they’re pretty perfect as they are.

How You Should Behave in Dr. Darnell’s Class, Not Just in an Election Year, but Always, Courtesy of the Sojourners Comment Community Covenant

I will express myself with civility, courtesy, and respect for every member of the Sojourners online community, especially toward those with whom I disagree, even if I feel disrespected by them. (Romans 12:17-21)

I will express my disagreements with other community members’ ideas without insulting, mocking, or slandering them personally. (Matthew 5:22)

I will not exaggerate others’ beliefs nor make unfounded prejudicial assumptions based on labels, categories, or stereotypes. I will always extend the benefit of the doubt. (Ephesians 4:29)

I will hold others accountable by clicking “report” on comments that violate these principles, based not on what ideas are expressed but on how they’re expressed. (2 Thessalonians 3:13-15)

I understand that comments reported as abusive are reviewed by Sojourners staff and are subject to removal. Repeat offenders will be blocked from making further comments. (Proverbs 18:7)


National Photo Month, 5/17/12 edition

Josef Miles gave his mother, Patty Akrouche, an early Mother’s Day present this past weekend. I think he gave us all something quite precious.

For more about Josef you can read this report from NPR.

[Image credit: Patty Akrouche]


The bad business of majoring in Business

When I was in graduate school I remember a young woman named Carrie who was an actor in my Master’s Thesis production. She was an English major and so much fun to be around. As the spring semester was winding down, she excitedly told all of us in the show that she had gotten a job. She would be working in entry-level management with Cargill, the multi-national agricultural corporation. We were a bit surprised that an English major would be working for an ag company. As Carrie explained it, Cargill specifically looked for non-business majors to hire. Their philosophy was that they could teach someone what aspects of business were important for an employee to learn, but they couldn’t teach employees the critical writing and thinking skills that came with liberal arts degrees. I’ve shared this story, ever since, with students since Carrie told me of her hiring experience. The following article from The Wall Street Journal confirms that college students aren’t doing themselves any favors by blindly majoring in business.–rethinking-the-value-of-a-business-major.html

Undergraduate business majors are a dime a dozen on many college campuses. But according to some, they may be worth even less.

More than 20% of U.S. undergraduates are business majors, nearly double the next most common major, social sciences and history.

The proportion has held relatively steady for the past 30 years, but now faculty members, school administrators and corporate recruiters are questioning the value of a business degree at the undergraduate level.

The biggest complaint: The undergraduate degrees focus too much on the nuts and bolts of finance and accounting and don’t develop enough critical thinking and problem-solving skills through long essays, in-class debates and other hallmarks of liberal-arts courses.

Companies say they need flexible thinkers with innovative ideas and a broad knowledge base derived from exposure to multiple disciplines. And while most recruiters don’t outright avoid business majors, companies in consulting, technology and even finance say they’re looking for candidates with a broader academic background.

William Sullivan, co-author of “Rethinking Undergraduate Business Education: Liberal Learning for the Profession,” says the divide between business and liberal-arts offerings, however unintentional, has hurt students, who see their business instruction as “isolated” from other disciplines.

Schools are taking the hint. The business schools at George Washington University, Georgetown University, Santa Clara University and others are tweaking their undergraduate business curricula in an attempt to better integrate lessons on history, ethics and writing into courses about finance and marketing.

Along with more than 20 other U.S. and European business schools, those institutions met last month at George Washington for a conference to discuss ways to better integrate a liberal-arts education into the business curriculum. It was organized by the Aspen Institute, a nonprofit group with an arm that studies management education and society. Other participants included Franklin & Marshall College, Babson College and Esade, a business and law school at Barcelona’s Ramon Llull University.

Doug Guthrie, dean of the George Washington University School of Business, is planning to draw on expertise in the university’s psychology and philosophy departments to teach business ethics and he’ll seek help from the engineering program to address sustainability. He expects to introduce the new curriculum, which will also include a core course on business and society, in the fall.

Such changes should appease recruiters, who have been seeking well-rounded candidates from other disciplines, such as English, economics and engineering. Even financial companies say those students often have sharp critical-thinking skills and problem-solving techniques that business majors sometimes lack.

“Firms are looking for talent. They’re not looking for content knowledge, per se,” says Scott Rostan, founder of Training the Street Inc., which provides financial training courses for new hires at a number of investment banks. “They’re not hiring someone just because they took an M&A class.”

Business degrees have been offered since at least the 1800s, but they were often considered vocational programs. Some experts argue that the programs belong at trade schools and that students should use their undergraduate years to learn something about the world before heading to business school for an M.B.A.

Next fall, the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business will provide a required course to teach first-year students how to view business issues in a global context. The class, being piloted this spring, will have instruction in business history, ethics, social responsibility, sustainability and other subjects.

Introducing such concepts early in students’ academic careers should help them “connect the dots,” says Daniel Connolly, associate dean for undergraduate programs at the business school.

Even some European schools, which have encouraged a narrow focus in college studies historically, are looking to expand.

“Education is more than technical learning,” says Alfred Vernis, director of university programs at Esade. He says the humanities need to be “embedded” in the rest of the program. Esade expects to unveil a new undergraduate business curriculum for the fall of 2013.

Are schools going far enough? It’s too early to tell, many recruiters say. But in any case companies will probably continue to look at nonbusiness students to ensure a diverse pool.

Facebook Inc., a hot destination for many college graduates, doesn’t recruit based on a particular major. “It’s not about what you have or haven’t studied,” says Kristen Clemmer Meeks, a recruiting manager at the social-media company. She says some jobs require more analytical know-how, though new hires for those teams can come from business, economics, math or other programs.

Margaret Copete is director of North America campus recruiting at consultancy Booz & Co., which increased undergraduate hiring 59% this academic year. She says that about a third of the newest class studied business in school, and the rest majored in subjects including math, nursing and economics. At the undergraduate level, Ms. Copete says, she’s looking for students with “the basic building blocks” who can be trained “to be great consultants.”

Many schools already require students to take at least some courses outside their business major. Jed Somers, a 22-year-old senior at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, says that while much of his schedule was filled with Wharton-specific requirements, he enrolled in Brazilian drumming and art history, among other courses. (Wharton says about half of its students’ courses are in the liberal arts.)

Mr. Somers will begin a job in fixed-income index product sales at Barclays Capital in July. He believes that studying business helped him secure the position because it showed he’s “passionate” about the field.

Tara Udut, the head of campus recruitment for the Americas at Barclays, says that about half the bank’s new analyst hires in recent years have come from business, finance, economics or accounting but that “students from nonfinance backgrounds bring a valuable perspective.” Still, she says, applicants from the liberal arts often need to “undertake extra due diligence on the industry.”

Top College Degrees
Bachelor’s awarded by field for the 2008-09 academic year
– Business: 347,985, or 21.7%
– Social sciences and history: 168,500, or 10.5%
– Health professions and related clinical sciences: 120,488, or 7.5%
– Education: 101,708, or 6.4%
– Psychology: 94,271, or 5.9%
– Visual and performing arts: 89,140, or 5.6%
Source: National Center for Education Studies


I wish it weren’t so

When I read the following article from The Atlantic, I recognized, all too familiarly, the pains experienced by the author. Similar to the college composition class, my public speaking classes have been taking an enormous toll on me. Each semester professors are given an opportunity to describe their classroom experience in a self-evaluation, at my school. This semester for COMM 110, I am going to respond in one simple way: 1/3 of my students missed the following vocabulary matching question on a quiz:

15.  ____  resembles steel in hardness.    She can be tough, and even a little _____, an attitude that stems, at least in part, from wanting to live up to the high expections her father set for her.

a. aspiring

b. grandiose

c. edgy

d. scrutiny

e. steely

A final insult took place when a Ph.D. colleague of mine, at another institution, got it wrong too, saying “Well, it takes me a minute.”