Communication faculty transition to teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic
School of Communication professors held their annual faculty retreat on Zoom.
After UNF transitioned all its in-person courses to remote instruction in spring 2020, School of Communication faculty accepted the challenge of teaching through Zoom and the university's intranet site, Canvas. During the spring and summer, faculty kept up with students via emails and phone calls, and the university made plans to reopen on-campus activities for fall.
Now that the re-opening plan for the fall term has been approved by the university's Board of Trustees and the state Board of Governors, face-to-face classes have returned, but there have been many changes to promote the safety of faculty, staff and students. Large classes continue to be taught through remote instruction, while many smaller skills classes have gone to a split model of only half the students in the classroom on one day and the other half the next day. Other small classes have been moved to classrooms twice the normal size. CDC guidelines of practicing social distancing, wearing face masks and disinfecting classrooms have been implemented.
Some annual fall events, such as Media Week, will be downsized and turned into virtual activities. What has not changed is the faculty's commitment to high educational standards and a passion for preparing students to succeed in their communication career.
Retired professor discusses her COVID-19 battle
Dr. Paula Horvath, COVID-19 survivor, talks about her surprise, struggle and the importance of wearing a mask.
It's a common human belief that bad things happen to other people; that poor man we read about in the newspaper who died unexpectedly, the family in the next town who lost their jobs then their home, that young woman next door who was paralyzed in a serious car accident.
So, when that "bad thing" strikes you, it not only rocks your sense of invulnerability, it rocks your world.
That's precisely what I felt like when I was struck down by COVID-19 in March. Sure, being a former journalism professor at UNF, I'd been almost obsessively reading about coronavirus even before it entered the U.S. But the thought that it could strike me was preposterous.
So, when I came back from a short trip to Denver and fell sick the following day, I was both dismissive and flabbergasted. It was easy to chalk it up to something else - anything else really - as I didn't have the precise symptoms of which experts warned.
But a COVID-19 test my physician insisted upon came back positive and I had to admit that, yes, I was vulnerable. Not only was I vulnerable, I was a victim of what was to become one of the worst pandemics on record.
Luckily after weeks of overwhelming fatigue, gastrointestinal issues, pounding headaches, wracking coughs and other issues, I recovered. I was not hospitalized. At no time did I fear for my life in the ways I've seen the terror in others.
But it could have been different. Much worse. Even deadly.
The tales of people struggling and sadly losing their lives to this monster are horrendous. The fear and agony faced by COVID's victims in ICUs across the country are so extreme, victims must be placed on massive doses of tranquilizers, pain pills and paralytics to stop them from writhing.
Although I have recovered, there's no guarantee I - or anyone else - is out of the woods yet. There's more to come. More pain. More death. More grief.
That's why until we get a vaccine for this awful illness or ways to successfully treat it, we each must do everything within our power to stop the spread.
It's not that hard to have an effect. We know what to do.
Wash your hands. Maintain safe distances from others. Avoid crowded spaces.
And wear masks. It's not an invasion of personal liberty; it's a gesture of personal compassion.
You're not wearing that mask to protect yourself. You're wearing it to protect others. So in case you have the disease, in case you have no symptoms or in case you attribute those symptoms to another cause, you don't inadvertently spread the disease to others.
Just look around you. You're wearing a mask to protect that person in the store who's bagging your groceries. To protect that person who just gave you an Uber lift or that older man you passed in the street.
Think of your parents. Think of your sisters and brothers. Think of that little kid standing next to you in line. Think of me.
Like me, you may think you're invulnerable. You're not. And just as important, neither are the people around you.
Hard work and saying "yes" to opportunities is what made UNF alumna a top PR professional
UNF public relations graduate Liz Anderson Slobodian is using her crisis communication skills to help her company react to COVID-19.
With corporate, nonprofit and agency experience, Liz Anderson Slobodian, APR, is a leader in the public relations field. With more than a decade of professional experience, Slobodian is currently the director of public relations for Firehouse Subs where she oversees strategic public relations, media relations, external corporate communications as well as crisis management for one of the leading fast-casual restaurant franchise companies in the country and the globe.
Having graduated from UNF in communication in 2009, Slobodian is also actively involved in the Florida Public Relations Association where she served as president, and was recognized for her outstanding contributions to the field. In addition, Slobodian was selected by the Jacksonville Business Journal as a "40 Under 40" honoree for her business success, leadership skills and community involvement.
We reached out to Slobodian to reflect on her career in public relations.
Q: You have had a very successful career with non-profits and for-profits. Is there one skill that has been most important in your professional advancement?
A: These are more characteristics than skills, but one thing that has been of the utmost importance in my professional advancement has been tenacity and ambition. No matter the circumstances, I always do my best. I've never been an athlete, but with my love of sports (hence my sport management minor), I have always approached my career with the mindset of an athlete. There were many times in my career where the cards were stacked against me. In those moments, I reminded myself to dig deep and outperform my best self.
As a public relations professional, the skill of adaptability has continued to help in my career growth. As PR pros, we're hardwired to be adaptable to media and client changes. But I think the true meaning of being adaptable is to be nimble to "lift and shift" - as I say to my team - quickly on things that may not even necessarily be a marketing promotion or storyline - but being adaptable in your thinking of everything business related.
Q: COVID-19 has been particularly tough on restaurants. How did you use your role as a public relations manager to advise leaders, encourage employees and retain customers?
A: COVID-19 has certainly been unlike anything our brand has ever experienced. The restaurant industry has been hit so hard. As the crisis team lead, I worked with our CEO to assemble a COVID-19 task force on March 11 before the national state of emergency was declared. This group is comprised of headquarters representatives from PR, quality assurance, guest services, marketing, supply chain, field operations, corporate communications, operations services as well as our CEO and CFO. Since that time, we've met twice daily for a morning and afternoon briefing to ensure we have our finger on the pulse for all things that could impact our restaurants and more than 525 local franchise owners within our 1,180 locations across 45 states, Puerto Rico and Canada. Our No. 1 goal was to watch out for our franchise owners and ensure we were doing everything we could to make the changes needed in a rapid-speed fashion and as seamless as possible. We certainly accomplished that. In fact, year over year we are seeing record-breaking sales.
Q: What are some PR strategies you've incorporated during this COVID-19 pandemic?
A: A key piece of the PR strategy for our brand was to show our communities through media relations, social media and more, that giving back to our communities isn't just something we do during a pandemic, it's something that is in our mission statement each and every day: Our commitment to and passion for, hearty and flavorful food, heartfelt service and public safety.
Our franchisees donated tens of thousands of boxed lunches to essential workers across the map during the pandemic, and we even invited media to follow along during this time. It was important for us to educate the public that the local Firehouse Subs in their area is actually locally owned and operated by a member of their own community.
Q: You have been extremely active in the professional community, including outreach to students. What do you think alumni can do to help students coming behind them?
A: Giving back to PR students is one of the things that I love the most about my Firehouse Subs and Florida Public Relations Association platforms. When I started my PR journey at UNF it was important to me to become a sponge for information.
I took to heart all advice from Dr. Perkins and Bobbi Doggett, APR, to ensure that I left college set up for success to enter the workforce as a professional. I recall asking Dr. Perkins to share her journey to her Ph.D. to see if that was something I was interested in pursuing. I discussed Accreditation in Public Relations with Doggett, which was a goal I set for myself in 2008 and earned my APR last year.
It was important for me to pass along advice, professional wins, professional fails, and everything in between when I left UNF. Since I graduated in December 2009, I've mentored countless students looking for a career in communications, public relations or even students who just need someone to review their LinkedIn and resume. I love that part of my career and wouldn't trade it for anything.
For alumni looking for something more - give back. Share your career experiences - the good and the bad. And be open to hearing their feedback and experiences. PR and communications have changed so much with the advancement of technology and social media. Listening to a new generation of young leaders can teach us all a thing or two.
Q: You are part of your organization's thought leadership. What is one of the most important skills to earn their trust?
A: Follow through with what you say you will do. I know that sounds vague, but there are a lot of layers to it. It's not just about writing a great press release or securing a national broadcast segment with "Good Morning America." It's about taking accountability when something goes sideways on your watch; asking questions or seeking counsel when you really don't know what to do as opposed to believing that your way is the only solution; and it's about listening. Building trust as a thought leader in a 1,180-unit franchise company is about following through on your word that you will stand beside that local franchise owner or CEO to ensure that they know you've got their back until the crisis is behind us.
Q: What would you advise 18-year-old Liz Anderson to do differently, if she were beginning her public relations career today?
A: I do a lot of circuit speaking on PR across the state to both professionals and students, and this question is one of the most frequently asked. "Everything happens for a reason" is a mantra I have always believed. My father passed away in September 2009, I graduated UNF in December 2009, and moved to Los Angeles a month later with nothing but a determination to build a career for myself. Sometimes I forget that I made that big move at age 22 with no job lined up, no money in my pockets and no "connections." When I look back, I can't imagine not making that move because it ultimately brought me back home where I met my husband, I'm closer to family, and living my dream job leading the public relations team that I built from the ground up at an international company.
My career path hasn't come by luck - it's a result of hard work, saying yes to opportunities -- even if I felt uncomfortable with change -- believing in myself, taking advice from mentors, and knowing that every task, job position, company and critique was only going to make me a better professional.
UNF alumna wins literary award
UNF journalism alumna Sonja Mongar wrote about her work with AIDS victims.
"Two Spoons of Bitter, A story of love, betrayal and redemption" by Sonja Mongar, UNF communication alumna, won a prestigious Royal Palm Literary Award by the Florida Writers Association at its 2019 conference last fall. The book, published by Paradise Alley Publishing, won the Gold award for literary fiction.
"I am really proud of myself for getting an important story out there and thrilled that 'Two Spoons of Bitter' based on a true story that took place in Jacksonville, Florida, has been recognized by a well-respected organization like FWA," Mongar said.
A 1994 journalism alumna, Mongar was featured in the spring 2019 issue of the School of Communication's alumni newsletter. In her book she uses her past experiences of working with AIDS victims and a diary she kept years ago to write this compelling story of hope and healing.
"Two Spoons of Bitter" was one of 513 entries in the competition and was named as one of the top five books entered and published in 2018. The book, which has been sold in 39 countries around the world, was also recognized by Wishing Shelf and Book Readers Favorite with a 5-star rating. In addition, it won the EVVY Merit Award for fiction by the Colorado Independent Publishers.
Mongar continues to pursue her interests as a freelance journalist, songwriter and blues harmonica player. Before recently moving back to Florida, she was an English professor at the University of Puerto Rico for more than a decade and then spent some time in the Pacific Northwest where she penned the novel.
"There's a lot of struggle and self-doubt involved in being a writer," Mongar said.
But getting recognized by the industry gives her the push to keep working on her next project -- a 1922 Montana western.
Florida Association of Broadcast Journalists awards communication alumni
Former UNF students Tyler Wailes and Ryan Gulick won first place for continuing coverage from the Florida Association of Broadcast Journalists College Contest.
Congratulations are in order for five of our UNF students who placed in the Florida Association of Broadcast Journalists 2019 College Contest. Our Ospreys placed in three categories at the Excellence in Broadcast News Professional & College Contest: Breaking News, Continuing Coverage, and Investigative.
Tyler Wailes and Ryan Gulick placed first in Continuing Coverage for "Inside Swoop In 90 Hurricane Dorian." The multi-part series of reports were done during fall 2019 as the Category 2 storm passed Jacksonville just 90 miles off the coast.
For Gulick, now a producer at WJXT TV-4 in Jacksonville, the sense of accomplishment has an extra special meaning. "I'm very proud to have won the award alongside Tyler, especially seeing as it was for our work on a show that was still in its first semester," Gulick said.
Over 12 Florida-based university and college broadcasting programs submitted more than 50 entries to the competition. This was the first year UNF submitted student work into this competition.
Wailes, a producer on the "Action News Jax Morning Show," said that taking first place really shows that hard work can pay off. "It is an honor to have won this award. Ryan and I spent many hours working remotely during Hurricane Dorian to create an innovative and informative broadcast. It feels wonderful to be recognized for our hard work," Wailes said.
Other awards were also handed out. UNF students Cameron Visconti and Heydi Ortiz won first place for Breaking News with their story "JSO Responds to Alleged Threat in the Arena Garage." And Cameron Visconti and Hannah Lee were finalists for the Investigative Award with their story "Spinnaker Investigates: Crisis Management System Failure."
UNF alumna Hannah Lee
While Lee, now a reporter for WOKV 104.5 Jacksonville and a psychology graduate with a mass communication minor, said her time working at UNF's Spinnaker Media is where she fell in love with journalism.
"Everything I learned about journalism was through Spinnaker and my internship at The Florida Times-Union. Putting in so much work and effort into the student newspaper, investigating real issues that affect the university's students and staff, and being awarded for that, validates the important work we did," Lee said.
These students and UNF alumni believe the opportunity to compete on the state level with other universities added to their Osprey experience.
"The opportunity to submit work to a competition brings education to the next level," Wailes said. "It allows for both students and professors to be recognized for their work throughout a semester. To compete against other major universities and win shows that UNF has the talent to take the world of journalism by storm."
Lee said that the City of Jacksonville gives students a chance to look at bigger stories and see how a city and a university work with each other and influence one another.
Read more about the Florida News Awards.
Ashley Washington wins outstanding advisor award
Ashley Washington has been an advisor at UNF since 2016.
The UNF Outstanding Undergraduate Advisor Award is given annually to a member of the Academic Advising Council (AAC), and Ashley Washington, a communication advisor, is the current recipient.
Washington is a double UNF alumna. Her first degree was a Bachelor in Communication with a public relations concentration. She later completed her Master of Education in educational leadership.
"I am thankful for the opportunity to be an academic advisor in the School of Communication, where I earned my undergraduate degree. I love seeing the transformation of students from their sophomore to senior year," Washington said.
Before becoming an advisor, Washington worked for the YMCA of Florida's First Coast as member relations director and later for the UNF Office of Admissions where she recruited high school students to make UNF their college home.
"One of my favorite aspects of being an advisor is watching my students walk across the stage at commencement. It is also fun working alongside the faculty and calling them colleagues instead of professors. The communication faculty have truly become some of my dear friends," Washington said.
This prestigious award recognizes Washington for her outstanding contributions to the field of academic advising, her genuine concern for students, as well as her excellent communication skills, professionalism and philosophical beliefs which coincide with the mission of UNF.
School of Communication recognizes its outstanding students
Even though UNF went to remote status after spring break and had to hold a virtual graduation, the School of Communication still recognized its outstanding graduates for the 2019-2020 year. The students were asked what they felt was their greatest achievement at UNF, and what they'll always remember most of their experience. Here are their responses:
Imari Brown, Outstanding Graduate Student in Communication Management: "The UNF School of Communication has ignited my passion for new areas of deep interest such as data and privacy, lying and deception detection, and quantitative data analytics. I am sincerely grateful for all of my professors, especially Dr. Lee, Dr. Roman and Dr. Arnold. Joining organizations such as PRSA and NCA have added enrichment to the experience significantly, and I attribute my success to impeccable work ethic and time management skills. The greatest takeaway I have from the master's program is that regardless of the challenge, remain persistent and do your research, and you can be successful in anything you set your mind to."
Kathryn Clark, Outstanding Student in Advertising: "My most memorable and proud moment during my time in the UNF School of Communication was my senior Ad Campaigns class. I was on the creative team and we got to design an entire ad campaign for a local non-profit. We put so much hard work, creativity, and heart into the campaign that when the non-profit chose us as the winning class it was such an incredible moment!"
Carly Kramer, Outstanding Student in Multimedia Journalism and Production: "I was lucky enough to travel to Atlanta for the Terminus Film Festival after winning Campus Movie Fest. My team also won first place in the Broadcast Education Association's 48 Hour Film Festival, which brought recognition to UNF."
Sarah McPherson, Outstanding Student in Public Relations: "I will be forever grateful to the faculty, classmates and advisors in the School of Communication. They shaped my education experience and helped me grow into the PR professional I am today. Thanks to the opportunities given to me by the School of Communication, I can confidently say I am entering the workforce with the necessary skills and knowledge to be successful. My proudest achievement was serving on the PRSSA executive board throughout my college career and finishing my last semester as president of the UNF Chapter. The advanced education and the hands-on opportunities made a tremendous impact on my college experience and will benefit me as I transition into the professional field."
Vitaliy Bondarenko, Outstanding Student in Communication Studies: "I enjoyed my time as a communication studies major because it was easy to apply the course material in real life. Ever since I started communication studies, my relationships with people have improved. The activities that I remember the most as a communication studies major are the fun discussions during class time."
Dr. Christa Arnold, Dr. Margaret Stewart, and Dr. Tina Holland published "Emerging Themes in Physician Patient Communication from the Physicians Perspective" in Carolinas Communication Annual.
Dr. Christa Arnold and Dr. Margaret Stewart presented "Social Listening and Deception: The Dark Side of Building Mediated Communication Relationships" at the International Listening Association's annual conference. They also presented "Socially Mediated Deception Detection" at the UNF Digital Humanities Initiative Conference.
Traci Mathies published a book chapter, titled "Facilitating Significant Learning: Community-Based Pedagogy in a Public Speaking Course," in Community-Based Transformational Learning: An Interdisciplinary Inquiry into its Benefits and Challenges (Bloomsbury Press).
Dr. Siho Nam presented "A Race to Amazon HQ2: The Discourse of Economic Growth, Neoliberal Public Policy, and the Reign of Amazonopoly" to the International Communication Association conference. He also presented "Korean Wave under Park in the Dark: How the Discourse of Creativity Became an Enemy of Cultural Diversity and Democracy" at ICA.
Dr. Jae Park presented "Mediating Effects of Media Richness and Playfulness on VR Presence" to the International Academy of Business Disciplines conference.
Dr. John Parmelee and Dr. Nataliya Roman published "Insta-Echoes: Selective Exposure and Selective Avoidance on Instagram" in Telematics and Informatics.
Dr. Nataliya Roman, Dr. Berrin Beasley and Dr. John Parmelee presented "Blurring the Lines Between Fiction and Reality: Framing the Ukrainian Presidency in the Political Situation Comedy Servant of the People" to the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication conference.
Dr. Margaret Stewart published a book chapter, titled "Exploring the Role of Emerging Communication Technology in 21st Century Veteran Education: Theories, Concepts, and Practices to Foster the Military Culture of Learning" in Supporting the Military-Affiliated Learner: Communication Approaches to Military Pedagogy & Education (Lexington Books).
There are eight great ways to stay connected with the School of Communication:
- Join the School's Professional Advisory Board.
The board helps us make sure we are getting students prepared for the current media environment. If you have risen to a position of leadership at a news organization, PR firm, advertising agency or other media outlet, please contact the school's director, John Parmelee. Even if you don't want to be on the board, feel free to email the director with any advice on making the curriculum better.
- Join the School's Alumni Association.
This is a great chance to interact with fellow communication alumni and current students. To join, please contact the School's Alumni Association, mention your interest in joining, and please include your name, contact information, year of graduation and track. Also, all communication alumni are invited to be a part of the conversation on Facebook. This is the "go to" spot for UNF communication alumni. The Facebook group includes information about alumni social events, recently posted communication jobs, tech tips, departmental news, and pictures/video from school events such as Media Week. In addition, communication faculty members have joined the group, so you can connect with your old professors. Here's how to join the alumni Facebook group: Search for UNF communication alumni and ask to join.
- Let faculty know how you're doing.
Below is a link that lists faculty and their email addresses. Faculty love to hear what their former students are up to and are always happy to offer advice.
- Participate in the Internship + Job Fair.
Every spring, representatives from companies such as WJXT, The Florida Times-Union, United Way and Mayo Clinic meet with communication students to discuss upcoming internships and jobs. If you are a leader at a company that is looking for interns to do advertising, public relations, journalism or production, please contact professor Bobbi Doggett to participate.
- Be a guest speaker or mentor to our students.
Your expertise in advertising, public relations, journalism or production could be a real benefit to current students. We are always looking for guest speakers to come to communication classes. A good time to do this is during the fall semester when the school hosts Media Week, an opportunity for media professionals to speak with students and faculty about the media landscape. Contact John Parmelee for more information. If you want to mentor our students, please fill out a profile on our mentoring website.
- Contribute to Alumni Notes.
This is your chance to let faculty and fellow alumni know of any big career or personal changes in your life. Also, consider contributing a 300- to 500-word piece on which professors made the biggest impact on your career. Submissions will be published in the alumni newsletter. Contact John Parmelee to submit.
- Donate to the School.
Even a small gift can help us enhance our facilities, academics and recruiting of top-quality students and faculty. To contribute, please go to our website.
- Join us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.