James Mignano—Last year, I had the very unique opportunity to join three professors in the Communication department on a search committee to fill a position for a new Public Relations professor. It was great to be able to represent the department’s students and have a voice in the process of selecting who would shape and mold future students at Brockport.
Ultimately, the college hired Dr. Justin Walden – a choice that I could not have been more happy with. This semester, I have had the pleasure of working with him directly as he is the adviser of my independent study.
I interviewed Dr. Walden on his transition to being a professor at our college.
1. This is your first semester teaching at Brockport. Can you tell us a little bit about that transition? What are the difficult parts?
I came to Brockport after receiving my PhD in Mass Communications this August from Penn State University. As a first year professor, the challenge is finding time for everything: teaching, research, learning the campus, mental breaks. Yes, I’ve been lost (twice) in the bowels of Tuttle and I picked up a ticket this summer because I didn’t know the parking rules in town. And yes, I’ve worked a few more weekends than I originally anticipated.
Otherwise, it’s been a good transition to Brockport. I’ve had a great time at several on-campus events, already have my usual sandwich over at Roots (the grilled portabella, no cheese), and have been embraced by my new peers in my department. It’s only been several months but I already feel established here.
2. What do you love about Brockport so far?
The last course I taught at Penn State as a graduate student instructor had more than 300 students and the campus I attended had 45,000 students. It was easy to get lost in the crowd there. Brockport is the ideal size for me. As a professor, I get the opportunity to really connect with my students. I love having students stop to chat as I walk over to the Seymour Union for lunch. A student of mine who usually catches me on my lunch trips calls me and another professor Batman and Robin, although we’re still not sure who is Batman and who is the sidekick.
Also, there is a hunger in some of my students that has really impressed me. Based on my job interviews, I knew that students here were capable and good in the classroom. However, I’ve been amazed by the sincerity of interest in my course material and the desire to grow as critical thinkers and future PR professionals.
3. How would you describe your field of academic study and teaching?
I am interested in the intersection of public relations and technology. At Brockport, I am (or will be) teaching courses in PR writing, campaigns, and PR methods and principles.
Part of my goal is to help students understand the many career paths that they can take in PR and to show them how technology is reshaping PR work. I want students to appreciate the breadth of our field and to realize that good, ethical PR is not about “spin,” “smoke and mirrors,” and just writing news releases. PR can be applied to multiple contexts, from social advocacy to big agency work.
It is expected that people in the U.S. will be consuming about 15 hours of media per day by 2015. This has tremendous implications for the PR practice. If you own a company that wants to sell a product or you want to improve your brand’s reputation, how can you stand out amid the clutter of our online world? What social media are companies adopting for sustainable PR and why? What role can research play in PR? These are some of the questions I explore in my classes.
Technology is also a common element in my research. I’ve investigated several areas, including the content of holistic/alternative medicine blogs, senior citizens’ use of Facebook, the effects of product reviews on Internet users and the use of social media at work. My future research will focus more closely on technology in the workplace and employee communication.
4. Outside of your professional work – what are your hobbies and interests?
I’m a die-hard sports fan. I’ll always support the teams at my academic institutions. I’ve attended field hockey, football, and soccer games here at Brockport and I am really excited about seeing our ice hockey team.
Even though I love our Brockport college teams, Buffalo is my least favorite pro sports city. I was incredulous when I accepted the job because I’ve long disliked the Sabres and Bills. I’m a Boston Bruins fan and I support a football team that shall remain nameless because they’ve been almost as bad as the Bills. I grew up in the Binghamton area rooting against Buffalo’s teams thus my students have already given me grief over this.
When not traveling to minor league hockey rinks and Brockport games, I am a homebody. I’m happiest curled up on my couch with a classic novel, playing board games with my fiancée and friends, and chasing my two cats around the house.
5. Do you remember deciding which college to attend as an undergraduate? Would you offer any advice to high school seniors today?
I’m proud to say that I’m a graduate of the SUNY system (Albany, ’01). My favorite professors at Albany did two things that I’ve tried to emulate as a professor here at Brockport: they got to know me as a person and they taught hands-on courses that gave me confidence in my professional skills.
High school students need to think about the feel of a school before deciding where to go. Professors are there in formal roles (advising and teaching) and informal roles as friends and mentors. Even though a senior might not know where they’ll go, they should be thinking about how they can get to know staff at prospective schools. Think about the fit of a school, regardless of whether the place is large like Penn State or more intimate like Brockport. That said, attending a smaller school like Brockport can facilitate an immersive and holistic education experience that extends well beyond the classroom.