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Research Shows Universities and Students Benefit when Faculty Put their Knowledge to Work

By Jessica Sinn

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A paper titled “Engagement: Rhetoric’s Tale from the Field,” published in the Journal of Applied Communication Research, shows how universities can become transformative and improve conditions for learning when academics take to heart and apply their own research.

The authors of the paper, Dr. E. Johanna Hartelius, of the University of Pittsburgh and former director of the Intellectual Entrepreneurship (IE) Pre Grad Mentorship program, and Dr. Richard Cherwitz, of The University of Texas at Austin, found that when scholars pay attention to and apply their academic research, they are better equipped to create innovative and effective educational programs.

“Scholars in a discipline, in this case rhetoric, need to take what they learn from their academic research and put it to use in their own lives,” says Cherwitz, who is the founder and director of the Intellectual Entrepreneurship Consortium (IE) at UT Austin. As rhetoricians, our argument is that we should become effective communicators when it comes to helping our institutions become more engaged in the community.

Hartelius and Cherwitz illustrate this through two distinct case studies. Cherwitz reflects on his interactions with faculty and administrators back when he served as an associate dean of the Graduate School at UT Austin in 1995 and created IE. Hartelius evaluates her experiences with students in an honors laboratory she oversaw at the University of Pittsburgh.

Both accounts demonstrate that students responded positively when administrators and professors were sensitive to their interests. Students more readily participated in class and applied classroom instruction to their personal lives.

Hartelius and Cherwitz conclude that using audience-specific communication can help universities devise and implement better programs for students and strategies for community engagement.