Faculty Feats: Professor Lawless Wins Distinguished Teaching Award

By: Crystal Wong, Junior Communication Studies Major

An Exclusive Interview with Professor Lawless, This Year’s Distinguished Teaching Award Recipient

Congratulations to our COMS Department’s very own Professor Lawless for receiving this year’s Distinguished Teaching Award. I had the exciting opportunity to conduct an exclusive interview with her, and I asked her to provide some insight on how it feels to be the recipient.

Q: How does it feel to be the winner of this year’s Distinguished Teaching Award?

Professor Lawless: “It feels great. I mean, some of my classes have some emotional baggage that come with that, and it takes a lot out of a teacher to be able to navigate some difficult topics, so then to be rewarded for that feels really great, like that was for a purpose. I had one class last year where we all kind of cried together over some different topics and that can take a lot out of you, but for somebody to say that was important made a difference.”

Q: What are some ways you navigate through the emotional topics?

Professor Lawless: “Well, I actually bring it up with my students that I think that research shows a gap in the discussion of emotions in class and what could happen if we were vulnerable. I asked the students, ‘What do you feel about teacher vulnerability and a teacher being able to be emotional in class?’ This is something I think is maybe unique to my teaching style in some of my upper division classes. We start the conversation there and depending on the class, we broach different topics in different ways. There has to be some foundation made that makes us feel comfortable as a community before we can talk about systemic racism and things like that.”

Q: What was your initial reaction when you found out you received the award?

Professor Lawless: “I was driving home from yoga, and I was dropping my neighbor off at her house. It was 7 a.m. As she was getting out, I was flipping through my phone. I leaned out the door, and I was like, ‘Oh my god! Sandy! Sandy! I won!’ I was really shocked, and I couldn’t believe it. I was really excited. I was excited to tell the students who wrote me letters of recommendation. We had a moment together in class and celebrated a little bit. I was shocked, but excited.”


Q: Can you briefly go over the process of applying for the award?

Professor Lawless: “There are nominations. To submit a nomination packet, I needed to submit five letters of support. They could be from students, faculty, administrators, whomever. I needed to revisit all of my student evaluations and send all of them from the last five years, but also aggregate the scores. I made a chart where I listed all of the questions that were asked and all of the scores for each of the questions showing every class. I had to write a personal statement of what I do that’s unique and why I think I deserve the award. Also, send evidence of teaching excellence. I sent my syllabi, different activities that I think are important. I sent a publication that I did with two students that came out of my classes, and I sent a picture of this [picture frame], which is something my students gave me after a good class together. It says, ‘Thanks for being our COMS Mom’ and it has a picture of all the students in the class.”

Q: What motivated you to apply for this award?

Professor Lawless: “I felt like I had a really powerful year with my students, and it was something I wanted to write about. I wanted to see how my students felt about it, as well, by soliciting those letters. It has a cash award, so that was motivating. Also, because I am pre-tenure, awards can help point out excellence in different areas and can help my tenure evaluation.”

Q: How would you rank this accomplishment in your career?

Professor Lawless: “When I gave the acceptance speech, I said, ‘I believe that a teaching award is the highest accomplishment that one can receive.’ I don’t care if I ever get a research award. I am invested in my research, but I am most invested in my teaching, and my teaching being honored means that I have had an impact on actual people whom I can point out as tangible examples, so that means everything to me.”

Q: To my knowledge recipients of the award are invited to join the CTE Steering Committee for one year. Did you accept the invitation? If so, what do you do on the committee?

Professor Lawless: “Yes. I’m on the steering committee of the Center for Teaching Excellence. We are responsible for planning pedagogical activities on campus for staff and faculty, in addition to nominating people for the awards.”

Q: What will you look for in future candidates of this award?

Professor Lawless: “If I were to nominate somebody, I would think about the colleagues who I have been able to learn from. Maybe they’ve shared activities with me. Maybe they’ve shared a moving experience. Maybe they’ve shared readings that have helped them. Maybe there are students who talk to me about them and, so I would want to look for something that goes beyond a good teaching evaluation, but they can point to tangible examples of how they can create transformative experiences in the classroom.”

Q: Last question, what did you plan on doing with the reward money?

Professor Lawless: “I treated myself to something I wouldn’t buy, unless I won that money.I got a new personal computer, a new Mac, so that I could continue my research. It’s rose gold!”


Alumni Spotlight #24: Nicholas Brinkerhoff, ’15

By: Basem Totah, Junior Communication Studies Major

Today, our alumni spotlight highlights class of 2015 alum, Nicholas Brinkerhoff. Brinkerhoff came into USF as a transfer student, majoring in Communication Studies. He became a member of Lambda Pi Eta and in his senior year, was nominated as the president of the honors society. Soon after graduating, Brinkerhoff received an internship working for Wagstaff Worldwide, a public relations firm. After exploring other job opportunities, he met up with an alum from USF who introduced him to Nectar Communications.

USF COMS Alum Nicholas Brinkerhoff

USF COMS Alum Nicholas Brinkerhoff

Brinkerhoff works as an Assistant Account Executive at Nectar Communications. His role allows him to be involved in company decisions and allow his voice to be heard about which approach would work best for their clients. Wanting to make an impact in the world, he had many opportunities to bring his voice into his work. Public relations is a very fast paced environment where information is constantly changing. While this is viewed as a challenge for Brinkerhoff, he uses the ever-changing environment to motivate him to work better within a short amount of time. Some of his proudest accomplishments include an article he wrote himself being posted on Forbes’ website, securing a broadcast role with KTVU as well as obtaining the opportunity to speak at many conferences to represent not only himself but Nectar Communications.

I asked Brinkerhoff what sparked his interest in public relations. He always viewed himself as being organized and working well with deadlines. Throughout his life, he wanted to steer his career in a direction to help people and give them the tools to tell their story to a wide range of people. Through public relations, he is able to accomplish this goal and work with big name clients and get great experience for eventually partnering with an in house public relations department.

Some advice Brinkerhoff had for students aspiring for a public relations job was to take advantage of all the resources USF offers which includes events, career services, as well as professor’s advice through office hours and hearing their personal stories about communication. Reaching out to alumni helped him receive job offers and really hone into what he wanted to use with his Communication Studies degree. Lastly, he stated to focus solely on yourself. Be your own person and you will grow into the individual you aspire to be. Everyone’s path is unique to them and makes their story that much more interesting.

In the future, Brinkerhoff sees himself working in tech public relations. He described the field as “new, up and coming” which he believes will advance not only his skills, but his career opportunities later down the road. In the meantime, he is working at an agency to get a wide variety of experience from multiple clients, in order to be prepared for future scenarios.

We are very excited to see Nicholas’ progress throughout his career and hope all the best for his future endeavors.


Alumni Spotlight #23: Nick Benza, ’11

By Heavyn Jackson, Senior Communication Studies Major

Today’s “Alumni Spotlight” shines on the 2011 graduate, Nick Benza. Nick works as a recruiter at Sungevity, a solar panel company. Since graduation, Nick has been working diligently. I asked him what his plan had been after graduation and if in any way it had shifted. Benza told me that he indeed had a plan going into graduation and he stuck to it! He was older than most students in his graduating class because he’d chosen to work and to attend community college. In 2007, most of his high school friends were beginning to come back from college, showing off their degrees and new salaries. This resulted in Nick thinking about the life that he could have after graduating college, and from there he chose to apply to USF. His plan at USF was to get in the sales industry and, on top of this, his dad and friends were very supportive. They would tell him that technology sales were a great way to get money and also that he had a great personality for it.

Although tech sales was something Nick wanted to pursue, recruiting wasn’t always a passion that he had or even had thought about. The way Nick stumbled onto this career was by putting his resume on websites and getting job offers to be a recruiter. When this first started happening Nick was very confused, and he began to consult with his friends and his dad. Hiring managers continuously reached out to Nick to see if he would like an interview. At first, Nick was hesitant. However, he still took a few interviews, and then the rest is history. He took a job offer and from there learned about recruiting. At Sungevity, Nick works as an internal recruiter which basically recruits people in house. He told me that with his job comes a bit of pressure because there’s a certain amount of people each month that he and his colleagues have to recruit and hire for their company. As a recruiter, he spends most of his days at work in interviews, meetings, or skyping potential hires. Even though there’s pressure with his job, he also told me about some of the perks!

COMS graduate Nick pictured outside his job skyping with me for this interview!

COMS graduate Nick pictured outside his job skyping with me for this interview!

Check out some of perks that come with Nick’s job:

  • Free breakfast and lunch
  • Short commute because he lives fairly close
  • Great view of Jack London Square
  • 100 percent paid medical and dental care
  • $1,000 each year to go towards professional development

Nick’s advice to a graduating senior:

  • Always have your resume ready, especially one month before graduation
  • Always tailor your resume to the specific job you’re applying for
  • Get as much experience as you can because internships look amazing!
  • Networking is huge!
  • Get a LinkedIn profile

It was such a great pleasure being able to connect and learn from an alumni from the University of San Francisco. From the COMS department, we wish you all the best Nick!


Student Shout-Out: Kelsey Duff at IARSLCE

By: Blake Gregor, Senior Communication Studies Major

At the University of San Francisco, students are taught to “change the world from here.” So how do students take what they learn in the classroom and apply it towards a positive change in the real world? For Kelsey Duff, a USF senior communication studies major, she has directed her qualitative research to bring awareness to underrepresented groups in the Bay Area. To expand her outreach and awareness, Kelsey participated in the International Association for Research in Service-Learning and Community Engagement Conference (IARSLCE). I sat down with Kelsey to discuss IARSLCE and the many USF experiences that led her there.

Q: What is the International Association for Research in Service-Learning and Community Engagement Conference?

Kelsey Duff: “IARSLCE is an international conference in which university faculty, graduate students and undergraduate students can present various works and research they have completed in regards to service learning and community engagement alongside their community partners. Research varies from quantitative studies, qualitative studies, ethnographic research and so on. The mission is to promote the development and dissemination of research on service-learning and community engagement internationally and across all levels of the education system. The objectives are to advance the fields of service-learning and community engagement research across the educational spectrum (primary, secondary, post-secondary, and further education).”


Q: What was your role within this conference?

Kelsey Duff: “My role was providing the undergraduate student service learner perspective to a multi-perspective group presentation with research conducted by Brandi Lawless.”

Q: How did you become involved with IARSLCE?

Kelsey Duff: “I became involved with this organization thanks to Brandi Lawless. I am Brandi’s research assistant and helped her collect data for her research with her community partner Faithful Fools. Because I also took Brandi’s Organizational Communication class, I actually did my service hours for the Fools. This ultimately led to a major reason why I was offered to attend the conference and present with Brandi and Sam Dennison, a volunteer at the Fools.”

Q: What type of research have you conducted that promoted a discussion about service-learning and community engagement?

Kelsey Duff: “The research I have conducted for this was through a qualitative lens. I have done some focus groups for Brandi, as well as transcribed and coded data alongside using thematic analysis. The research was primarily on the Fools’ Street Retreat, grass-routes approaches on service learning in which students actually don’t necessarily give or offer anything but rather are told to walk the streets of the Tenderloin and just observe the area.”


Q: Do you believe communication research is important, and, if so, why?

Kelsey Duff: “I absolutely believe communication research is important. If we do not have this research then how do we improve? Where else will we look to make changes in the world if we don’t critique the present communication? Also, researching communication enables us to develop a better understanding of different cultures, ideologies, backgrounds and histories.”

Q: Do you believe USF has prepared you to conduct research and properly use it as a tool for change, and, if so, how?

Kelsey Duff: “Absolutely! I was honestly so impressed with how well I knew the terminology being discussed. It got to the point where I was even asked if I was a professor! I would have to say; it’s honestly getting to the basics and having a strong qualitative studies class like I did with Brandi. The information she had taught me in just that one class has made my understanding of research much clearer and easier to practice to the point where certain parts of conducting research are just part of my second nature now. That single class and the research paper I composed not only led me to attend other conferences, but it also triggered my desire to become a professor one day.”

Q: What else would you like to share with me?

Kelsey Duff: “I think I’d love to share that overall the conference was good. But, man, oh man, is USF way more diverse than its colleagues who attended. The event was filled with primarily white people, and it just seemed they were touching the surface on critical pedagogy. I will say how honored I was to watch USF shine and present themselves to such a high standard.”


Red Alert: Introducing Professor Kristin Stimpson

By: Taylor Donatell, Senior Communication Studies major

The communication studies department has hired a new full-time rhetoric professor, Kristin Stimpson. Faculty and students warmly welcome Professor Stimpson to USF as a full-time faculty member after working as an adjunct professor for the last few years. Stimpson earned her MBA and Ph.D. in communication studies with an emphasis in rhetoric and language from the University of Texas at Austin and has been assistant and adjunct teaching in the Bay Area since 2013.

I interviewed Professor Stimpson to ask her about her education, career, classes at USF, and personal interests to give communication studies faculty and students a look into the life of our new full-time professor.

Professor Stimpson, full-time rhetoric professor at USF and creator of the upcoming communication studies class, “Rhetoric of San Francisco”

Professor Stimpson, full-time rhetoric professor at USF and creator of the upcoming communication studies class, “Rhetoric of San Francisco”

Tell me about your academic background and how you became interested in the communication and rhetoric fields of study.

Professor Stimpson: “I went to undergrad at Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles and was a communication studies major and English minor. After graduating, I worked in the marketing industry in marketing associate and manager roles for a number of companies.”

Professor Stimpson worked on marketing teams for companies like MTV and SmashBox and found many callings and interests in her time interning and working post-grad. She had a special interest in rhetoric and fashion and found ways to combine the two interests in her marketing roles.

Professor Stimpson: “I did trend forecasting and analyzed why people are going to be attracted to these colors two years from now and how that’s going influence people’s styles. I also named products [for SmashBox], and worked on marketing campaigns. There was so much rhetoric in my day-to-day, and I loved it.”

Professor Stimpson loved rhetoric so much that she started her own “rhetoric folder” of rhetorical resources she’d created or referenced in her work. This folder of resources reminded her everyday how interested she was in rhetoric, and it inspired her to go back to school and get her MBA and Ph.D.

Why should students take “Rhetoric and the Public Sphere”?

Professor Stimpson is teaching three communication studies courses this semester, “Rhetoric & the Public Sphere,” “Critical Rhetorical Methods” and “Green Speech.” Of all her current curriculum, I asked her why she thought communication studies students should take her “Rhetoric & the Public Sphere” course, which I took a year ago.

Professor Stimpson: [“Rhetoric & the Public Sphere’] is a great introduction to rhetorical theory. It helps round out a communication studies student’s fundamental understanding of rhetorical discourse and its application into everyday life, as well as a solid theoretical background. This class is a great intro to the major. It evokes critical thinking in and outside of the classroom. It gives communications students some tools, knowledge and confidence.”

Be sure to check out Professor Stimpson’s brand new and original course being offered soon, too: “Rhetoric of San Francisco.”

Do you have a favorite reading, article, short story or lesson that you teach?

Professor Stimpson: “I really like teaching Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave.” It creates really good discussion, and it’s so applicable today. It’s cool that I can talk about this ancient man’s insights into the way people think, and it creates a contemporary discussion, and students always have good rhetorical criticism of it. And I love that the theories are applicable to pop culture and things we do every day.”

What are some of your personal interests or hobbies?

 Professor Stimpson: “I’m originally from Southern California, Chino Hills. I moved to San Francisco a few years ago, and I just love to tour around the city and explore. I love the natural beauty of the city and am really looking forward to teaching my “Rhetoric of San Francisco” class. It’s my dream class! I also like to surf, play the ukulele and hang out with my dog.”

Please join me in welcoming Professor Stimpson to our department and be sure to check out her upcoming offered courses. For more information please visit Professor Stimpson’s list of offered classes at USF and linkedin Profile.