Q&A with past Outstanding Alumni Award recipient, Cassandra Book 

Cassandra Book is a 1970 communication graduate and 1978 Outstanding Alumni Award recipient. She served as a professor of teacher education, an associate dean for external relations and student affairs, as well as an adjunct professor of communication before retiring in March 2012.

Why did you decide to pursue a career in academia?

I loved teaching, sharing new knowledge with students and teachers, conducting research that contributed to the knowledge base, working in a stimulating environment with colleagues who were interested in learning, and taking pride in the accomplishments of students I had influenced, even unwittingly.

When I attended college as an undergraduate in the mid 1960’s, by and large, women who went to college generally were expected to become teachers, nurses or office managers. I entered MSU and was passionate about teaching speech in high school. During my junior year, the Department of Speech became the Department of Communication and the curriculum changed from a focus on rhetoric and public speaking to research about various areas of communication— including, for example, interpersonal communication, organizational communication, media effects, nonverbal communication, interracial communication and intercultural communication.

MSU had assembled the top researchers in these and other areas of communication as well as promising doctoral students who were committed to conducting research. The faculty had a lot of funding from various federal agencies to conduct research. As an undergraduate, I was fascinated by this research and believed that the formal study of communication, its hypotheses and research findings, should be the underlying basis for learning how to effectively implement communication — whether it be in small groups, public speaking, interpersonal communication or even debate. In my senior level communication education class (taught by Dr. Larry Sarbaugh), I developed a communication curriculum for high school students and set a goal to write a communication high school textbook. That goal turned into a reality when I received a fellowship to attend Northwestern University’s Department of Speech and earned a master’s degree. At NU, my advisor, Dr. Kathleen Galvin, and I collaborated and wrote the first communication high school textbook, Person to Person: An Introduction to Speech Communication, as well as a book for speech communication teachers, Speech Communication: An Interpersonal Approach for Teachers. Those books launched my career in academia.

Although I sought high school teaching positions, none were to be found. So, with my master’s degree, I applied and was hired to teach communication at Whitewater State University (that became the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.) The chair of the department, who had earned his Ph.D. at MSU, was excited to have someone add this research approach to communication in the curriculum and assigned me (a first-year instructor) a graduate assistant so he could learn from me.

Teaching at the college level convinced me that this was a career I would love to pursue. When I interviewed at Purdue University, I was surprised to learn that their graduate teaching assistants were required to read the book Kathy and I had written for communication teachers. The head of the graduate program at PU, Dr. Ralph Webb, challenged me about how I could be tested on my knowledge of communication education when I had authored the textbook! As a graduate assistant at Purdue, I taught several sections of the basic communication course. The graduate students were supervised in their teaching, given feedback on their instructional methods, taught about assessments, how to give feedback to students on their performances; and evaluated each semester. At the same time, our classes included research methods, statistics, and communication research in our specific areas of study. We were prepared to be both teachers and researchers while fulfilling requirements for the Ph.D.

As I was finishing my dissertation, I applied and was selected to be the coordinator of the basic communication course at MSU, my alma mater. It was thrilling to return to this highly regarded faculty and to be entrusted to teach the graduate teaching assistants how to teach. Beyond that, I was fulfilling my goal of teaching pre-service teachers how to teach communication at the secondary level and gave lectures across the country to in-service teachers. Also, I was able to conduct research on effective methods of teaching communication.

How has earning a degree from ComArtSci made an impact on your pursuit of an academic career?

By being on the cutting-edge of making communication a recognized field in the academy, I was stimulated to expand the reach of the new knowledge that the faculty and graduate students in the Department of Communication were generating. Then as a faculty member, I was encouraged to achieve and even to become an academic administrator.

Upon completing my Ph.D., I was elevated from instructor to assistant professor, and after writing several books and publications, receiving high praise (and awards) for teaching; and serving on several University level committees, professional associations at state, region and national levels; I earned promotion from assistant to associate professor with tenure.

Through my work on university curriculum committees, an associate provost noticed my commitment to academe and nominated me to be an American Council on Education fellow. With the endorsement of the department, I applied and was selected for this year-long intensive program. The goal of the ACE Fellows program was to prepare academic administrators for the highest levels, especially presidents. The Fellows met several times during the year and had lectures from presidents and other university administrators. Each of us were selected to serve as an intern either in our own institution or a host institution. I elected to stay at MSU which, at the time, was considering moving from the quarter system to the semester system.  Learning about budgets and the interaction of funding humanities (that often do not have external funding) and science, engineering, and medical programs (that often have much higher costs for laboratories, but also generally have more external funding) was eye opening.

As a result of serving as an ACE Fellow, I was hired as one of the assistant deans of the College of Education and remained as an adjunct faculty member of the Department of Communication. While serving as an administrator in education and faculty of Teacher Education, I continued to teach and research, eventually gaining promotion to full professor. For nearly 30 years I served as assistant and then associate dean of education — with various assignments and responsibilities that spanned curriculum development, budgeting for summer school, alumni relations, student affairs, fund raising, liaison with state agencies and professional associations, and other tasks as assigned.

What advice do you have for students currently in ComArtSci looking to pursue academia after graduation?

Be a lifelong learner. To be in higher education, you must be a researcher. You should strive to add new knowledge in your selected area. You should prepare as a teacher. Do not assume anyone can teach or that anyone with expertise can impart that knowledge effectively to others. Learn about instructional methods, seek feedback on your teaching, study how to teach using various modes including virtual instruction. Be involved in your professional associations to enrich your knowledge and as a venue for testing out your research findings. Be of service to your university, profession, and other entities that can benefit from your knowledge. And if you choose to become an administrator, first earn promotion to full professor. It is practically impossible to be credible in judging your faculty colleagues on the quality of their research and teaching if you have not demonstrated your own competency in both teaching and research. You must understand budgeting to be an effective administrator, and that is more than balancing a checkbook. You must be able to motivate faculty to obtain outside funding for their research. You must be an effective communicator who listens, and who engages faculty and students to share their ideas and to effectively conduct meetings. You must be a fundraiser. You must be able to reach out to alumni and friends of the university to enlist their support financially, politically or in other ways.

In closing, I have lived a wonderful life by being a faculty member and administrator in academia. In academia there are at least two communities: one consists of the colleagues at your university, both within your academic area and other content areas; the other consists of the colleagues at other universities who are in your academic area. I have enjoyed deep friendships around the country through our shared engagement in our profession. Being a faculty member is not an 8-to-5 job; it is who you are 24/7. Although the demands are great, the rewards are even greater. Our society needs committed educators and academics with the heart, soul, passion and civility to contribute to our knowledge base, and to share that knowledge with new and old learners.