At the beginning of June, we celebrated the graduation of more than 400 UW Communication students. On a beautiful afternoon in the University’s Quad, our faculty and staff joined with family and friends to share the milestone of degree completion by our Bachelors, Masters, and Doctoral students. It is always one of the best days of the year. For this newsletter, I’d like to celebrate a couple of our departmental highlights of this past academic year, my tenth as Department Chair.

First up, two of our faculty received university-wide recognition in spring for their excellence:

Ekin Yaşin, Senior Lecturer and Associate Director of our Master in Communication Leadership program, received the Distinguished Teaching Award, the university’s highest honor for instructional excellence. Yaşin has contributed in vital ways to the Department, including teaching core introductory courses in both undergraduate and graduate programs, a very uncommon ability. She is one of our very best at tailoring her instruction and mentoring to an increasingly international student population.

Yaşin also has extensive life and professional history overseas, and her research and teaching focus on communication in a wide range of cultures. One of the significant challenges for the University of Washington, and perhaps for all leading Research I institutions, is to adapt to a student body that increasingly brings such widely and diverse histories and frames of reference. Yaşin does this, and both international students and, more broadly, students of color, have connected with her as a mentor. With greater diversification as a clear part of the future for both the Communication Department and for the University, Yaşin is a vital resource and leader. She also created a well-trafficked blog on food and cooking, culture, and communication, which I encourage you to visit.

Ralina Joseph, Associate Professor and Director of the Center for Communication, Difference, and Equity (CCDE), was honored with the UW Alumni Association’s Distinguished Service Award. Joseph is a campus-wide leader on research and teaching on difference and equity, and in partnership with the UWAA and UW Graduate School she created a one-credit course, Interrupting Privilege. In this course, currently enrolled UW students and UW Alumni come together for vital conversations about racial identity, communication and media, power and privilege, and culture — and how all of these shape who we are, our understandings of the world, relationships, and institutions. This course has been recognized by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education with their prestigious Silver Award for Diversity Programs. CCDE Assistant Director Gina Aaftaab works closely with Joseph on this seminar.

Over the past 15 months, Joseph has received four additional awards of recognition: the UW Women’s Center Women of Courage Award, the UW Ethnic Cultural Center’s Faculty Mentorship Award, the UW Undergraduate Academic Affairs’ Undergraduate Research Mentor Award, and a Royalty Research Fund award. And in May, the UW Provost’s office awarded her a Presidential Term Professorship, which provides five years of significant funding support for Joseph and for the CCDE.  Since joining the Department of Communication in 2005, Joseph has spearheaded the development of courses on communication and difference; she has mentored dozens and dozens of students; she has launched the CCDE; she has contributed to many campus-wide initiatives, and she is now working with departmental colleagues on the expansion of a pre-major Communication and Difference course into a campus-wide resource. During approach after approach, contribution after contribution, Joseph is a transformative faculty leader and mentor.

Finally (for the moment that is!), the Department underwent an Academic Program Review this past year. These occur every 10 years at the UW for each academic unit. The process includes (1) a self-evaluation report conducted by a unit’s faculty; (2) an evaluation, campus visit, and report by four faculty outside of the Department; two from inside the university and two from other institutions (ours came from University of Texas and Michigan State University); and (3) final meetings with leadership of the UW Graduate School and the College of Arts and Sciences. This review was led in our unit by faculty Leah Ceccarelli, Richard Kielbowicz, and Patricia Moy.

This evaluation process was positive and productive for our Department. We have a strong body of faculty research and teaching, our student advising and support are superb, our junior faculty are developing in ways that are valuable for them and for the Department, and we are weathering budgetary challenges as well as possible. Our major area of needed attention is to identify, and then to execute on, targeted curricular points of focus that match student interests, faculty expertise, and broader civic needs. The field of Communication is constantly evolving, so hitting an ever-moving bullseye for the curriculum requires constant updates and evaluation. We’re on it, we’ll stay on it, and we plan to ask for alumni input along the way.

It’s an honor for us to be at the UW and to work with our students. Thank you for all your support.

David Domke