In a vastly changing world, NAU’s School of Communication is experiencing changes as well. On July 1, Laura Umphrey assumed the role of director of the School of Communication from the former director, Brant Short. Umphrey’s team of lady leaders includes Janice Sweeter, the associate director of academic and student affairs of NAU's School of Communication, and Paulina Swiatkowski, the school's assistant director of operations and scheduling. Together, Umphrey, Sweeter and Swiatkowski said they are committed to making progress within the school to support faculty and students the best way they can, even through a pandemic.
Sweeter said Umphrey is an excellent fit for her new position as she takes the success of the School of Communication very personally. Umphrey explained that because of this, she will work hard and collaboratively with faculty and students to make the school the best it can be.
Umphrey emphasized one thing that she said will lead to success within the School of Communication: teamwork.
While Umphrey, Sweeter and Swiatkowski view the entire School of Communication as a big team working toward success, these three have forged a team of their own. Swiatkowski said she is honored to have been added to a group of passionate and inspiring leaders.
“With the various experiences and perspectives that Laura and Janice bring to the table, I know that the school is in good, compassionate, motivated hands,” Swiatkowski said. “I will rely on their knowledge and experience in Flagstaff, NAU and the School of Communication communities to better incorporate my own knowledge and experience.”
With a strong focus on progress and improvement, Swiatkowski said the trio is well-equipped to develop, support and revitalize the School of Communication. She said she hopes to be a fresh pair of eyes, bringing new ideas and skills to support the powerhouses that are Umphrey and Sweeter.
Swiatkowski explained that bringing more voices to the table helps more people learn. She said with diverse perspectives included, important discussions occur. Sweeter agreed with the sentiment that it is important to listen to what others have to say. So, she encouraged students and faculty to look for her in the halls of the building, to stop by her office in Room 301F or even email her at Janice.Sweeter@nau.edu. Sweeter said she looks forward to connecting with students and hearing what perspectives they have to offer.
Coming from a different background than Sweeter and Umphrey, as an immigrant and someone who has only been at NAU for a year, Swiatkowski said keeping many diverse voices in the discussion is something she wants to encourage.
“I am well aware of how important it is to promote insightful, inclusive discussion that will lead to important decisions for the productivity of our school,” Swiatkowski said. “More importantly, I know that none of the progress we want to see for the school will be possible without collaboration and critical reevaluation as we take steps forward.”
Swiatkowski said as a team, she, Sweeter and Umphrey hope to push the School of Communication toward success by supporting its community while still being mindful, flexible and resilient within a changing world full of uncertainty.
“Our goals include fostering a productive, supportive community and ensuring that the tactics we take to move our school forward balance ambition and empathy,” Swiatkowski said.
Sweeter described Umphrey’s vision as a plan to build “comm-unity” in order to achieve what she describes as the school’s purpose: Providing premier education in communication studies, strategic communication, visual communication, creative media and film and photography as well as journalism and photojournalism fields. Umphrey said she wants to bring energy, diversity and connection to the school by celebrating the work of students and faculty and by encouraging communication and collaboration between everyone within the school.
Because of Umphrey’s commitment to communication and collaboration, Sweeter said the goals they have for the school are within reach. Sweeter said Umphrey keeps faculty in the loop and also provides them a listening ear to voice their own opinions and concerns. Umphrey provides comprehensive weekly updates of continuously evolving plans for the upcoming semester, as well as ongoing budget discussions.
Umphrey said a decline in enrollment due to coronavirus concerns caused major budget cuts and reductions in staff and resources. Because of this, faculty and staff within the School of Communication may be overwhelmed with uncertainty. However, she said if those within the School of Communication can come together and share the burden of the current times, they can come out the other end not only surviving, but thriving.
Swiatkowski said within the School of Communication’s community there are strategists, storytellers, debaters, reporters, advocates and humanitarians. With collaboration among everyone, they can make sure that each person feels safe, valued and heard — including students.
“When students share their views, everyone grows,” Swiatkowski said.
Above all, Umphrey said that the goal of the School of Communication is to prepare students for their professional careers and advanced degrees with advising, course progression and learning through experience.
In order to be successful in achieving their goal, especially in a time of chaos, Sweeter said Umphrey is focused on supporting all students and promoting resources that will promote specific needs for students.
Swiatkowski said within the School of Communication, the students are the first priority.
“We have the privilege to work with students from various backgrounds,” Swiatkowski said. “The tie between the school and the First Amendment Plaza is no mistake — it is through thoughtful, respectful and open-hearted discussion that we, the faculty, can help the students not only learn more about the world around them, but also learn more about themselves and how they might be a part of that world.”
Sweeter said that faculty support of students is critical to the students success, especially now, when it can be hard to know exactly what they need. She said she is working with two students in an independent study this fall to shape the NAU Student Affairs program, which will develop communication, events and activities to enhance student success and well-being.
Sweeter said that promoting the well-being of students is more important now than ever due to COVID-19 concerns. According to a study by Kathryn Mayer of Human Resource Executive, 88% of employees reported moderate to extreme COVID-19-related stress in April.
“We want to help students facing the same kind of anxiety and stress in these troubling times,” Sweeter said.
The program Sweeter and her students are designing will encourage students to feel welcomed, supported and heard. Sweeter also said the NAU Student Affairs program will educate students about clubs and activities, encourage participation and enhance communication between students when everyone might feel distanced.
While Sweeter is working with students to promote social and extracurricular programs, there also exists great academic uncertainty. NAU is gearing up for a successful fall semester, but flexibility is a key factor for everyone, Umphrey said. NAUFlex will keep students, faculty and staff safe at home, but when the university reintroduces in-person instruction, it will look different than ever before.
Umphrey said she and Swiatkowski examined each classroom within the School of Communication building to confirm the installation of cameras and examine the space’s “COVID capacity” to help instructors plan their curriculums accordingly. These are just a few of the steps the School of Communication is taking in order to remain prepared, regardless of what happens this upcoming semester.
All in all, Umphrey said it is natural for morale to be shaky, but it is important to keep working toward goals.
“We have just been through a lot recently as a school, university and nation,”
While no one is certain what will happen this fall semester, Umphrey, Sweeter and Swiatkowski are confident that their plan of preparedness, communication and flexibility will set up the School of Communication for success.