Dr. Deirdre Johnston Retiring After 27 Years at Hope College

The Communication Department is celebrating Dr. Deirdre Johnston’s retirement! We are bereft and yet excited for Dr. Johnston as she moves into a new phase of her career. Dr. Johnston has taught countless courses at Hope College and continues to publish research articles and scholarly books in communication. Her teaching, service, research and mentorship have provided incredible leadership to the Communication Department at Hope College, to Hope students, and to the broader communication discipline. We have so much to celebrate!

The Communication Department is honoring Dr. Johnston through our Day of Giving (Feb 25-26) through the Communication Legacy May Term Scholarship: all donations directly fund this scholarship! Communication majors who are enrolled in an off-campus May Term led by a Communication faculty member are eligible for this award and the purpose of this scholarship is to enable students without the financial means to benefit from an off-campus experience.

Given Dr. Johnston’s longstanding leadership of off-campus learning and intercultural communication, we are delighted to honor Dr. Johnston through this legacy award.

Students meeting Archbishop Desmond Tutu in South Africa
Photo credit: Dr. Johnston

Dr. Johnston kindly agreed to answer the following interview questions, reflecting on her career and communication.

1. Who inspired you to pursue a career in Communication? and whose work has kept you inspired throughout your career?

There are a list of people who inspired my interest in how the brain works to process information and set communication goals, including communication scholars and friends, Donovan Ochs (classical rhetoric), Barnett Pearce (Coordinated Management of Meaning Theory), Jesse Delia,  Barbara O’Keefe and Howard Sypher (interpersonal cognitive complexity theory), and Leslie Baxter (relational dialectical theory), and psychologist John Cacioppo (persuasion).  In my early career, I was really into BRAINS, and spent part of my graduate school training slicing up brains at the University of Iowa anatomy lab, and doing brain processing research on neurology and cardiology patients to make connections between the brain and communication efficacy.  But alas, I am not a monogamous communication scholar; I have pursued a lot of different interests within communication during my career, and, as a result, the scholars that inspire me have similarly evolved. During my work/motherhood research decade I enmeshed myself in the work of sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild, and during my peace with justice decade I developed a scholar-crush on Jean Paul Lederach.  The focus on identities, equity, and inclusion central to intergroup dialogue has most recently led me to read everything I can find by Ibram X. Kendi and Isabel Wilkerson, and my global communication passion has me stalking the wisdom of Eric Hartman.  With a strong foundation in communication theory it is great fun to read scholarship outside of the communication discipline and make connections to how this work informs our understanding of communication!

2. Thinking about the courses you’ve taught at Hope, what are your favorite courses to teach and why?

How can there be a favorite? I love teaching Intercultural Communication and helping students develop their global competencies, and I love growing with students as we navigate the process of Intergroup Dialogue and diversity education, especially as I get to see these students utilize their dialogue skills in campus organizations and in teaching modules for courses in other departments (the Intergroup Dialogue Practicum).  In addition, special topics courses in Cross-cultural Happiness, Communication & Trauma, Narratives of Peace and Conflict, and Compassion fuel my passions for global learning, peace and conflict studies, and teaching for social justice. And, my ALL-TIME favorite? Teaching peace and conflict communication in the context of travel seminars to Northern Ireland, Scotland, and South Africa.  Engaging with students through travel learning is transformative (for me as well as for them) and presents such a rich opportunity to get to know students very well and to have those wonderful conversations that reflect deep learning and exploration of ideas.  

Photos (clockwise): Students live the monks’ life with the Iona Christian Community in Scotland; Students hearing stories of former prisoners (Ulster Paramilitaries) in Norther Ireland; Intergroup Dialogue class celebrating the completion of their Human Book Project; and Intergroup Dialogue class learning about communication while roasting marshmallows blindfolded.

3. Your research spans (at least) applied settings, research articles, and scholarly books–and you’ve faithfully championed Hope’s mission of bringing undergraduate students into the research process. What brings you joy in the research process?

Research is discovery! I have mentored over 40 students on research projects at Hope and I love seeing their passion and excitement when they discover new knowledge — it’s like digging for treasure!  I have a new book coming out this year, Wiley Handbook for Online Collaborative Learning and Global Engagement, and through the research for this book we developed new models for global learning that we hope are useful to higher education institutions seeking to cultivate students’ abilities to seek understanding and engage global challenges in ethical ways.  I am looking forward to working on the South Africa oral history project next year (in my quasi-retirement), which includes 76 oral history interviews conducted by students as part of a travel seminar course.  My hope is that this project reveals some insights into racial conciliation that is applicable to both South Africa and the USA.  I spent a decade researching work and motherhood, and it is gratifying to hear that these studies have helped women navigate these roles.  In sum, research involves the joy of discovery, the excitement of mentoring students in the creation of new knowledge, and hopefully, the impact of research to promote human flourishing.  

4. Do you have a sending word (an advice or reflection) for students? 

Channel your passion to the pursuit of knowledge in an area in which you can make a difference to improve the lives and of others. Whew — got that into ONE sentence!  The bumper sticker version might be Passion-Knowledge-Compassion. Imagine the problems we get ourselves into when we don’t have all 3 of these working together! Knowledge without passion? We’ll burn out.  Passion without knowledge? We may do more harm than good.  Passion and knowledge without compassion? We are working only for our own self-aggrandizement. But all three? Passion with a knowledge foundation and a calling to promote the well-being of others is key to our educational mission at Hope College and to a life well-lived. 

Join us in celebrating Dr. Johnston’s work and service and in honoring her through the Communication Legacy May Term Scholarship in Hope’s 2021 Day of Giving.

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Welcoming Dr. Stephanie Pangborn

Dr. Stephanie Pangborn

Given the realities of COVID-19, Hope College’s Communication Department hasn’t been able to welcome our new colleague, Dr. Stephanie Pangborn, with our usual fanfare. We are beyond delighted that Dr. Pangborn joined us in Fall 2020, and we are excited to support and showcase her teaching and research at Hope College.

As a way to introduce Dr. Pangborn and her upcoming courses, Dr. Kornfield interviewed Dr. Pangborn for this blog! We hope you enjoy getting to know Dr. Pangborn and we look forward to pandemic-free semesters when we can gather and collaborate together more closely.

1. Can you tell us why you study communication? What got you interested in this area and what keeps you interested?

Studying communication captured my heart and mind because of the ways in which it revealed both responsibility and possibility. Our communication is consequential – from the messages to which we attend to those we put out in this world – our well-being, our relationships, our communities, and our society are made and changed through our communicative acts. My interest only intensifies as I experience this as real in every facet of my daily life. 

2. How do you describe your teaching style?

I love teaching! I’d describe my style as relational and experiential – with healthy doses of love and challenge. The design of my courses reflect my belief that life is a continual process of becoming and education is a huge opportunity for growth that should not be taken for granted.

You have a new course opportunity for Hope’s communication students: COMM 295 Health Communication! Who should take a course in Health Communication? What will students focus on in this course?

Health Comm is a course for everyone. Students should sign up for the course if they want to think deeply about how communication shapes our understandings of health, guides our pursuits for living well, and affects our ability to support and care for people whose lives are affected by illness. We will discuss topics ranging from definitions of well-being and interpersonal communication dynamics in healthcare contexts to celebrity health narratives and health advocacy/activism. 

4. Tell us about a research project you’re working on that you find energizing.

I dedicated much of my research focus in the past several years to the integration of art and music in a memory care facility. This project hits home hard for me because of my family’s journey following my paternal grandfather’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis. What energizes me most about this area of my research is the possibility of re-painting the picture of Alzheimer’s and related dementias in our society so that people are inspired to see a person and invest in relationship, rather than be fixated on the problems presented by an incurable, progressive illness.

Bonus Question: What’s something you like students to know about you?

Simply, I feel incredibly blessed to be a faculty member at Hope College. My husband (Nic), two sons (Palmer and Hudson), and I are looking forward to spending a long time investing in this community. We love sports, art, outdoor activities, good food, and being social, so be prepared to see a lot of us. 

Celebrating 2020 Students!

Congratulations to Hope’s 2020 Class of Communication Majors!

Two months ago, the Communication Department celebrated the graduation of our senior class! As we continue to celebrate our students’ graduations—albeit digitally and from afar—we are encouraged by their steadfast hope, especially in difficult times.

Each spring semester, Communication Department faculty award several department and campus-wide honors to outstanding students. This is a particularly meaningful part of our academic rhythm as we celebrate students’ learning, research, initiative, and accomplishments–within our community and beyond.

While we anticipate celebrating with all students in the future, we wanted to take this two-month graduation anniversary to digitally recognize these award-winning students for their achievements.

J. Ackerman Coles Award in Communication: Awarded to the student who has demonstrated continuing interest and excellence in communication studies. The Communication Department celebrates Cy M. Balk and Kayla Lang as the 2020 recipients of the J. Ackerman Coles Award in Communication!

Theodore Nielsen Award: An award given in honor of retired communication professor, Ted Nielsen, to the student who represents the best news and feature practice and judgment. The Communication Department celebrates Ben Douma as the 2020 recipient of the Theodore Nielsen Award!

A.A. Raven Prize in Communication: Awarded to the student who best demonstrates excellence in communication through leadership and/or the effective presentation of issues of public significance. The Communication Department celebrates Emily Wolfe as the 2020 recipient of the A.A. Raven Prize in Communication.

M. Harold Mikle Prize for Communication: Awarded annually to the graduating senior whose record reflects academic excellence, superior skills as a presentational speaker, and extensive all-college leadership accomplishment. The Communication Department celebrates Cassidy Merten as the 2020 recipient of the campus-wide M. Harold Mikle Prize for Communication.

Lambda Pi Eta Book Award: Awarded to the senior communication major who has the highest grade point average in the discipline. The Communication Department celebrates Cassidy Merten as the 2020 recipient of the Lambda Pi Eta Book Award.

NCA Junior Award: Awarded to a junior communication major who has demonstrated excellence in communication studies and an interest in continuing communication research and/or graduate study. The Communication Department celebrates Kaleigh McKee as the 2020 recipient of the NCA Junior Award.

The Classics’ Advice!

On February 19th, the Lambda Pi Eta honor society at Hope College hosted a party celebrating Dr. Isolde Anderson and Dr. James Herrick and the legacy of retired faculty in the Communication Department.

During the celebration, Dr. Anderson and Dr. Herrick were asked what words of advice they have for students and faculty in Communication.

Dr. Anderson offered the following advice:

1. Prioritize your education.  Put in your best effort, not just in class but through extra reading, attending outside lectures, etc. Manage your time so you can do that.

2. Read books – novels, biographies, histories. They will develop your attention span and ability for sustained thinking, spark your imagination, and connect ideas for you between your life experiences and course work.

3. Some books that have shaped me:
Parker Palmer – The Company of Strangers, A Hidden Wholeness
Paul Hawken – Drawdown
William Powers – 12 x 12, New Slow City
Mary Pipher – The Shelter of Each Other
Most anything by Wendell Berry and Bill Mckibben

4. Spend more time outdoors – Mother Earth Living, aim for 1000 hours per year. 

5. Untether yourself from your phone – Learn the apps you need for work, and stay connected with family/friends who live at a distance, but then get off. 

6. Be present in the moment, savor it – don’t think about all the work you have to do, etc. The current moment will never come again. It’s your chance to be human, be aware of your body, of the beautiful world around you that keeps giving to you.

7. Build community wherever you are. Up till now your parents have done that for you; chosen your neighborhood, schools, and church. Tiospaye – Lakota word for the community you build that is larger than your family of origin. It’s the people you are accountable to, who love you and do for you, as you do for them. 

Drs. Anderson and Herrick with members of the Lambda Pi Eta executive board.

Dr. Herrick’s advise was: “Don’t get bogged down by the trivial stuff. Think widely and deeply. Get a big idea and go after it. Read widely and deeply.”

Reflecting on the role and legacy Dr. Anderson and Dr. Herrick have in Hope College’s Communication Department, I (Dr. Kornfield) resonated most deeply with their advice to “be intellectually curious.” Their lives, teaching, and scholarship model this intellectual curiosity as they explore ideas in their classrooms, research, and mentoring.

The Communication Department will deeply miss Dr. Anderson’s and Dr. Herrick’s collegial leadership–even as we celebrate their upcoming retirements.

10 Under 10: Comm Grad Alison Garza ’10

Ms. Alison Garza

Alison Garza graduated with a Communication Major from Hope College in 2010 and is being honored this weekend with the Distinguished Alumni Award! Ms. Garza is currently based in Amman, Jordan, where she helps humanitarian organizations in Iraq, Syria, and Jordan resettle refugees and internally displaced persons affected by war.

Reflecting on the Communication courses she found most influential, Ms. Garza writes that Comm 330: Organizational Communication “introduced me to the nuanced world of internal communications. Each classmate took a personality test and learned their leadership type, further opening up classroom discussions on how a thorough understanding of the makeup of individuals in an organization can impact an organization’s overall health.”

Ms. Garza specifically recalls the importance of understanding “the power of words” and an influential meeting with Dr. Herrick during office hours. Ms. Garza states, “I remember visiting Dr. Herrick’s office to discuss my final research paper on cartography. He encouraged my thinking with probing questions as I wrestled through the historical, social, and political influence that maps have had on our society. The time Dr. Herrick took to listen to, and to validate my thoughts encouraged my research and writing abilities; both of which I rely on to this day to create well-informed reports.”

Ultimately, Ms. Garza reflects on her Hope College experience and her Communication Major, stating, “Hope College provided me with the analytical tools necessary to engage in cross-cultural, fragile context settings by encouraging me to ask questions and think critically about the world around us.”

Don’t miss! Communication Dept. Co-Sponsors Dr. Lindsey Fitzharris to Speak about Victorian-Era Surgery

Dr. Lindsey Fitzharris

The Department of Communication is co-sponsoring, on Thursday, October 24, a presentation by Dr. Lindsey Fitzharris. Dr. Fitzharris (PhD, Oxford University) is a medical historian who authored the book, The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine. Lister—for whom Listerine was later named—persisted against a medical establishment wherein washing one’s hands and instruments was not only ignored but openly ridiculed. His research led to the antiseptic standards we take for granted today. A rising star, Dr. Fitzharris has appeared on the History Channel, the Smithsonian Channel, the Joe Rogan Experience Podcast, and she produces her own YouTube series called Under the Knife.

What’s in it for communication majors? Fitzharris is an expert storyteller. The wide—reaching strands of her reading and research are woven carefully into a coherent narrative that not only paints vivid pictures—sometimes really vivid–of what mid-1800s medicine was like, but also shows liberal arts students how Lister embraced his curiosity about the world, championed research and data as his sources of truth, and found the courage to persist in testing his ideas even when the larger medical culture dismissed him.

Dr. Fitzharris also has a Holland connection: her father owns Hops on 8th Street. Her talk begins at 7 p.m., in the Jack Miller Center for the Musical Arts. Admission is free and open to the public, but all are encouraged to register.

Undergraduate Summer Research: Sarah Bessey and the Evangelical Pulpit

Research is the process of generating knowledge: asking a question that has no answer, and then discovering the answer. Throughout the year, and especially in the summer, Hope’s Communication students engage in research—studying how, why, through what media, and with what effects humans communicate. This summer, Ms. Lindsay Hayes and Dr. Sarah Kornfield collaborated to study how Sarah Bessey preaches Jesus Feminism to the evangelical church in America.

Ms. Lindsay Hayes presenting at Hope’s Arts & Humanities and Social Sciences Summer Research Showcase.

This research began in the Comm 260: Rhetoric & Public Culture classroom where Lindsay Hayes learned the methods of rhetorical criticism and applied them to study Sarah Bessey’s featured sermon, “Bearing the Image: Jesus Feminist.” Then Hayes and Kornfield decided to collaborate over the summer, developing this project further and preparing it for publication. Hope College is ranked 4th in the nation for undergraduate research by US News and World Report. We prize our research collaborations between students and faculty and take delight in preparing graduates to generate new knowledge and make that knowledge accessible to our local and global communities.

Analyzing Bessey’s sermon, Hayes and Kornfield demonstrate how Bessey weaves together historic modes of speaking, creating a tapestry that draws upon and reinvents the styles and strategies women have long employed when preaching in the church. Ultimately, we argue that Bessey is an evangelist to the church: rather than preaching a message of salvation to those lost in sin, Bessey preaches a message of Jesus feminism to Christians lost in patriarchy.

Unpacking the Complexity of Communication

Humans often communicate multiple meanings or messages in a single communicative act. Adding to this complexity, when humans communicate, we do so through various media, symbols, materials, and designs.

The faculty in the Communication Department are wholly committed to helping students understand the complexity of communication and thus enabling students to better analyze the communication they receive and better create communication for their intended audiences. Moreover, Hope’s Communication Department is committed to the seamless integration of theory and hands-on experience as students explore the complexity of communication.

For example, every semester the students in Dr. Anderson’s Comm 101 course take a walking tour of some of the public memorials in Holland, MI. Pictured above is the “Tribute to the People” mural, designed by artist Jose Narezo in the late 1980s and painted by Hope’s Upward Bound participants. It is located off of River and 9th St. in downtown Holland. The mural shows the heritage of the Latino community in Holland, with the flag representing the unity of the nation, the indigenous face of mother earth, a stylized sun as the source of all life, and maize – the food staple of many in Central and South America. Students research the monuments, explain how they can be interpreted as “texts”, how they are multivocal, and how the material and design contribute to their meaning.

Collaborating with Trans-Matic for Student Learning

February 14, 2019

Students in Prof. Anderson’s Organizational Communication (COMM 330) have been taking annual field trips to Trans-Matic, a deep draw and metal stamping company on the south side of Holland, since 2006. The company gives us a tour of the shop floor, tool room, CAD design room, calibration lab, and office spaces, to show us how production tasks are planned and coordinated across work units.

Students not only learn about this industry (which supplies metal parts for auto manufacture, boating manufacture, and home-building) but also practice doing field research. We observe how space is organized, how workers interact face-to-face and virtually, what management systems are currently used, how work is evaluated, and how the company’s culture has developed over time. Students then use these observational skills to research a different organization of their choice for their term project in the course. We so appreciate Trans-Matic’s hospitality and long-term relationship with the Communication Department.

Communicating to End Sexual Harassment

This post describes the second in a trilogy of events regarding sexual harassment awareness sponsored by the Department of Communication in partnership with the Women’s and Gender Studies and S.T.E.P programs. This week’s event was a panel discussion about the movie Confirmation, which was screened last week.


Dr. Isolde Anderson

Isolde Anderson, an organizational communication scholar, discussed the nuanced and varied ways in which workplace harassment is defined, the role of power differentials in harassment, and contemporary research regarding sexual harassment.

Dr. Kristen Gray, Psy.D, LP


Kristen Gray drew on her expertise as a therapist to discuss trauma as well as effective scripts for refusing consent.


Dr. Kendra Parker

Kendra Parker, who specializes in African American literature and gender studies, used an intersectional feminist lens to explain how racism and sexism were simultaneously deployed against Dr. Anita Hill and to demonstrate how Black women continue to be erased in contemporary social justice movements

Am engaged audience meant that a wide -ranging discussion ensued. Topics discussed included

  • connections between toxic masculinity, rape culture, and the silencing of male victims of sexual assault
  • issues of ableism in conceptualizing harassment and assault
  • tangible advice for expressing or refusing consent
  • contemporary events such as the Larry Nassar trial, Terry Crews testimony about sexual assault before the Senate judiciary, #SayHerName, and Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings
  • Hope College’s policies regarding harassment and assault

Many thanks to our panelists for sharing their time and expertise. We’d also like to thank our wonderful audience for their thoughtful participation. Our final event is a small-group discussion and storytelling even, which will occur next Wednesday (January 30) at 6: 30 pm in MMC 239. We hope you will join us!