In 2015, the Department of Communication celebrated its 30th anniversary. Prior to 1985, speech communication existed as an emphasis area inside the Department of English. That year, it was founded as a separate unit as the Department of Speech Communication and Theatre Arts with a mission to “give students the knowledge and practical skills to become active citizens in the public sphere and ethical members of a diverse society.” By the end of the 1984-1985 school year, the department had over 100 hundred undergraduate majors.
The graduate program soon followed. In 1990, under the leadership of Kurt Ritter, the department created an M.A. degree focusing on rhetoric and public affairs. In 1998, a PhD program was introduced and the initial emphasis on rhetoric expanded to include three research: 1) health communication, (2) organizational communication, and (3) rhetoric and public affairs. Attracting many of the best scholars in each field, the department soon became ranked among the best graduate programs in the country.
In 2000, it became the Department of Speech Communication, and in 2002 the title officially changed to the Department of Communication. It also expanded to include a fourth research area. Interested in pursuing their mission of giving students practical skills, as well as an emphasis on scholarship that makes a difference, the department realized that as the world became more globalized, media studies must be accounted for within the department. In September 2003 the Department of Communication merged with the Department of Journalism, leading to the creation of both a B.A. and B.S. degrees in Telecommunication and Media Studies. An emphasis in Telecommunication and Media Studies also became the fourth area of graduate research.
Thirty years later after its inception, the department is still growing. As of Fall 2014, our department enrolled 1148 undergraduates students majoring in Communication, and 337 students working on their minor in Communication—totaling almost 1,500 students within our department. The graduate program has also expanded. Starting with just 9 graduate students in the first year of the doctoral program, our program now averages between 35-40 students any given year. And we continue to hire talented faculty. At the inception, the Communication Department consisted of 18 faculty members (13 tenured/tenure track and 5 non-tenure track). As of Fall 2014, our department is comprised of 29 faculty (22 tenured/tenure track and 7 non-tenure track on recurring appointments).
The focus, as it has been from the beginning, is on exposing students to both cutting edge and classical knowledge of communication, ensuring students are gaining practical skills in oral and mediated communication, encouraging active and engaged citizenship, and learning the communication ethics commensurate with a diverse and global society. Provided with models and techniques for understanding and navigating complex organizational environments–in politics, in social media, in the corporate world, in non-profits, in health providers, and in social movements, among others–students will graduate prepared to take on the multi-faceted roles demanded of them in today’s society.