Deans and administrators from each college suggested two faculty members who deserve special “kudos” during Faculty Appreciation Week.
Suzie Allard considers all of those roles as part of her job as associate professor and assistant director of the college’s School of Information Sciences.
“I see myself as a coach in the classroom, helping people discover their interests and their vision for the future and then helping them to build the knowledge base and acquire the skill set they need in order to achieve it, whether it’s in academia or in public libraries,” she said.
Imparting knowledge to her students is, of course, a vital part of what she does, Allard said, but it’s not a one-way street.
“I think teaching is a collaborative process. While I instruct students in areas related to my subject knowledge, the students also bring important things to the table so that, if we’re open to listening, we learn from them as well.”
Beyond the classroom, Allard does student academic advising and assists students with their research.
Before coming to UT Knoxville, Allard taught undergraduates at the University of Kentucky while earning her doctorate. Now she works with graduate students, some of whom are working toward their doctorates and other master’s candidates who are working toward professional careers. Many of the school’s graduates go on to work in the nation’s top public and academic libraries, as well as in a variety of information-intensive environments such as Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
“One of the first media calls that I took as an entry-level practitioner was from a major-market, news-talk radio station,” said Michael Palenchar, an associate professor in the college’s School of Advertising and Public Relations and managing director of the Risk, Health and Crisis Communication Research Unit at UT.
Palenchar was working for a national nonprofit organization, and one of its prominent board members had just been shot during an on-air interview. Within minutes of the shooting, a reporter from the station where the shooting occurred was calling, wanting a response from Palenchar’s organization.
“I had no idea what to say. I was thinking, ‘Are we on the record? What did my journalism professors tell me to do in this situation? Did we ever talk about this kind of situation?’ But I gathered my composure, called my boss and legal, quickly constructed a response for the media, and hurried down to the station to assess the situation. At the end of the day I just had to solve the problem.” It all worked out, according to Palenchar. “The board member recovered, the media coverage was accurate, and no harm was done to the reputation of the organization.”
Palenchar said he now works to help public relations students do a better job of communicating in this challenging, complex and risky world.
Palenchar said it is critically important for his students to understand and be able to react to new and existing threats and potential crises.
“The work we do in public relations — and specifically in risk and crisis communication — has a daily impact on our society, so it’s my job to help students understand how important this work is to their local communities,” he said.
Palenchar worked in public relations for the oil and natural gas industry while earning his master’s and doctoral degrees and continues to consult with private industry and government agencies on risk communication, issues management and social media during a crisis.
The classroom, Palenchar said, is a place where learning and the mistakes that go along with learning are OK.
“I challenge my students to think beyond themselves and their experiences. This is about facilitating student learning, which includes learning to think critically, opening up to issues of diversity and to different ways of solving problems,” he said.
“At the end of the day, public relations is about helping organizations solve problems, so I try to get my students ready to be well-rounded, critically-thinking problem solvers.”