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Speech Communication

Department Fosters Students’ Intercultural Growth


In December 2011, Dr. Julien C. Mirivel and Mrs. Karen Frost led a group of 15 FYE students to experience Costa Rica and its culture. The grant, offered in collaboration with the Office of International Services and the Office of Academic Advising, funded 15 freshmen to travel abroad and encourage long-term academic success. The students visited several areas of Costa Rica, including San Jose, Tortuguero National Park, La Fortuna, and the beaches of the Pacific Ocean. During 9 days, students and faculty experienced the depth of the rain forest, visited a local school, kayaked on the edge of an active volcano, and zip-lined amidst monkeys and across rivers. At night, Dr. Mirivel held class to focus students on how to be successful in college, communicate well, and lead a meaningful life. This project is thus the Department’s latest contribution in helping UALR students become intercultural citizens. Since 2010, the Department has helped 36 students travel abroad. In the next program, students will visit Paris, France in May 2012.


Updated 1.27.2012

Dr. Mirivel Receives Teaching Award


Dr. Julien Mirivel was recently recognized for receiving the College of Professional Studies Teaching Excellence Award.

At the college wide brunch, Dr. Tim Edwards, a Professor in the Department of Mass Communication and last years recipient, captured some of the reasons for Dr. Mirivel’s recognition.

When reviewing the nomination packet of Dr. Julien Mirivel, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Speech Communication, several expressions or characteristics were used that summarize who he is as a teacher and why he was nominated for and received the Faculty Excellence Award for the College of Professional Studies.

Whether it was a student or colleague, words such as inspiring or inspirational, encouraging, open, relaxed and easy going would be used to describe his classroom atmosphere and personal demeanor.

Comments from his letters of support included:

• He gave us some information that will enhance our lives on this educational journey and for the rest of our lives.
• He taught concepts that I can apply and utilize within my personal and professional life….
• Students were encouraged to speak freely on a broad range of topics. It was a safe environment to express thoughts and opinions without judgment.
• I have never been in a class that allowed me to grow so much personally. I will take away lifelong lessons.
• Dr. Mirivel provided an educational experience that was unique, enriching, and inspiring.

A 6-year member of the UALR faculty, Dr.Mirivel has been described as an outstanding teacher and his teaching evaluations reflect that. His evaluations average 1.4 or better across questions, sections, graduate, and undergraduate courses.

He shares a piece of himself with every class as he provides perspectives from his own life to help students better understand the learning approaches, norms and benchmarks.

As a teacher-scholar, seven of his research studies have been published in peer-reviewed journals such as Communication Monographs and Health Communication. In addition, he has published 2 book chapters. For this work, he has been recognized with awards from the National Communication Association and received high praise from leading scholars in the field. One scholar characterizes Dr. Mirivel as a solid communication researcher whose publications and papers have contributed successfully and significantly to the communication research literatures. Another suggests Dr. Mirivel has the record of someone with a bright future as a leader in the communication discipline.

We are proud of Dr. Mirivel and this well deserved recognition!

Updated 5.24.2012

Students Shine at 2011 Spring Celebration

Students, families and faculty recognized the achievements of our graduate and undergraduate students at our annual Spring Celebration on March 16, 2011.

About 40 graduate and undergraduate students were honored by family members, faculty, alumni, and the Dean of the College of Professional Studies, Dr. Angela Brenton. Faculty Emeritus, Dr. Alan Ward, was also present to honor and celebrate our students. Mary Cantrell, a Speech Communication Development Board member, was present to welcome students to our alumni group.

The evening was filled with excitement and energy as earlier in the day our capstone students had presented their speeches. These presentations grew from a case study developed in Dr. Thombre’s Capstone class. Students then worked with a faculty mentor to develop a presentation that was given to faculty, other students, and a group of external stakeholders.

Drs. Mirivel and Thombre provided an update on successful study abroad trips to Paris, France and New Delhi, India. The students who went on the study abroad were named “Cultural Ambassadors.” A total of 14 students have now traveled abroad with another trip planned in May of 2011!

Dr. Gerald Driskill recognized the seminal work by our graduate students. In particular, several students were recognized for their efforts to engage in work beyond the classroom: Amanda Wells, Andrew Pyle, Katie West Halford, Rhonda Troilett, and Derek Wingfield all took initiative to share their research at the Southern Communication Association.

The Director of Communication Skill Center (CSC), Dr. McIntyre, reported that over 3500 students were served this past semester. Furthermore, the 1300 Basic Course program initiated a service learning focus that resulted in about $100,000.00 in volunteer hours to the community.

CSC graduate interns, Andrew Pyle and Rhonda Troillet were recognized for two years of service to the campus and community. Derenda Alexander, an undergraduate intern, was recognized for her two-semesters of service.

Spring Celebration continues to be a highlight of the year as we gain a glimpse of the varied and excellent work of our students. If you missed the event this year, we hope to see you next year.

Updated 4.25.2011

Study Abroad India - Students and faculty share experiences

In January 2011, four students took a study abroad to India with Dr. Thombre and came back with fascinating stories. Lets read more…

The notion of studying and learning is the hallmark of any academic campus and UALR is no different. However, in the winter break of 2010 four students from the Speech Communication Department had a unique experience in a different kind of learning when they left the confines of a traditional classroom and embarked on a weeklong study abroad experience to New Delhi, India. One main focus of the class was to understand intercultural communication from an experiential standpoint and other aim was particularly to make sense of a hard to understand complex social and individual transformation concept. And what better way to teach or understand intercultural communication and transformation than by immersing into another culture different from ours - the Indian culture. As a teacher who happens to be from India, this teaching and mentoring experience was personally a fulfilling high moment in my teaching career. In the following paragraphs, along with my students I provide a glimpse of the multiple experiences of this study abroad journey.

Our first day in Delhi - picture with a Tibetan Monk we met on the airplane  Our first day in Delhi - picture with a Tibetan Monk we met on the airplane

Travelling to experience an unknown culture demands a lot of courage in terms of learning and even importantly unlearning of what we already know and let go some of the control that we would like to have our own situations. From the moment the class was announced in conjunction with the Office of Study Abroad Programs in the beginning of fall, students experienced first hand the notion of letting go. Originally the trip was planned to leave on 9 Dec 2010; however visas for India for three students did not arrive in time, resulting in a lot of anxiety and frustration. Not only this meant cancelling all the scheduled activities but also it put a big question mark on the trip itself. One of the students, Michael Perkins Jr, experienced a total loss of control. Being from an individualistic culture, he was very open minded and wanted to go on the trip without any preconceived notions. Michael said, “I was very excited and looking forward to it but when I heard that visas did not arrive in time, oh I just could not comprehend that these things could happen when we travel and lost control.’’ After a lot of frustration the students learned that it is best to ‘let go’ our control of the situation and so to speak ‘go with the flow’. Eventually, the visas did come and the trip with the help of Aimee Jones was quickly rearranged for the new dates. “Even before we left on the trip, the first learning goal was achieved. I learned to be flexible. This in itself was transformative for me personally,’’ exclaimed Michael. There were many such moments of letting go through out the trip.

The group in front of Qutb Minar, New Delhi

The group in front of Qutb Minar, New Delhi

Soon we were on the 21 hour-long flight to New Delhi. The informal conversations with students as we waited to get on the plane, the observations during flight and sharing of things as we landed and boarded different flights is something that as a teacher I had never experienced teaching a traditional class. In each of these instances, the close interpersonal relationships we built that allowed us to share many our passions and life philosophies is what I cherish a lot. For instance, I could understand Jennifer Lewis was passionate about the cause of Tibetan people and wants to dedicate all her efforts to undertake ethnography of the people who live without a nation.

Students riding the cycle rickshaw in New Delhi

Students riding the cycle rickshaw in New Delhi

We landed in New Delhi on January 6 and the students were thrown into a fast paced city with an entirely different way of doing things culturally. The first thing they learned as we settled down in our cozy bread and breakfast (BnB) was that guests are considered as gods in the Indian culture. The staff at the BnB treated us like gods serving morning hot breakfast and freshly made orange juice. We took the Delhi metro (sub-way) and visited the Qutb Minar, the Indian Parliament, and historic ruins and learned that during the long course of history with many invasions New Delhi was destroyed and rebuilt seven times over. “No wonder there are forts and ruins every were,’’ remarked Rhonda Troillet. Of course there was a lot of shopping and meeting with local people that was facilitated with the help of our local hosts Bipin and Krishma Kalappa. “They were so gracious with their time and hospitality that we truly experienced the taste of local culture and felt at home,” said Jennifer Wyse.

Even though it was usually cold, we visited the Mahatma Gandhi museum that allowed us to understand transformation in its true sense. “The life and work of Gandhi is remarkable and I had an idea about it; however, when we visited the museum we could really understand how Gandhi was individually transformed himself by a series of events and then managed to transform the entire nation. His message is universal and personally I got a lot out of that visit,’’ remarked Michael Perkins Jr. On a beautiful Sunday morning we travelled five hours to another city to get to see the Taj Mahal, a symbol of love for your beloved. It’s moving story and exquisite artistry moved the students and some of them got interested in history like never before. We also visited the Agra Fort and Akbar the great’s tomb. Towards the end we paid a visit to a local educational institution Center for Media Studies and interacted with the students and faculty to exchange views on their notions of American culture and shared our views about Indian culture.

    Our friendly BnB staff
Group picture at the famous Taj Mahal

During the trip, the students experienced health issues from upset stomach, diarrhea (we called it Delhi belly), a panic attack and also déjà vu. Personally for me, I was very happy to share my culture and provide insights with students; however, in those communicative moments of interaction I learned something new – the students taught me something that I was not aware before. For instance, they were surprised to find Swastika everywhere in New Delhi, on the front door of houses, in the shops and even on the construction site on the bricks. I always knew the different meanings ascribed culturally to Swastika in the West and in the East; however, in the long discussions into the night about the importance of Swastika as a symbol of peace in India, I could see my own culture that I was born into from a completely different viewpoint. I could see anew some of the remarkable things about my culture that I took for granted and other differences that I could have never imagined as differences till I travelled with individuals from a different culture than mine. In short, when we were back on January 13, personally the study abroad was very transformative for the students and for the teacher.

Michael Perkins, Undergraduate Student

I believe that this trip transformed me in several ways. Not only has my worldview been altered but I also have developed a new understanding on how individuals within my own culture communicate.

My experience in India has forced me reevaluate how I view material possessions. While there I came face to face with stark differences in my “idea” of poverty and how fortunate I am. The poverty we faced was everywhere and almost inescapable. In the morning we would stand on our balcony and watch as women dug through our trash. At night men would huddle around metal kitchen bowls which they had filled with trash and lit on fire to stay warm. During the day we drove by countless tent cities bustling with people. There were several times that while stopped at a red light; beggars swarmed our car. It was difficult to enjoy the shopping knowing that the money we used to by trinkets could change someone’s life.

I had a mind-blowing experience with the simplest of things. On the way to the Qutub Minar we walked through a park full of ruins. Everywhere I looked there was what used to be an ancient Hindu temple. I got caught up taking pictures and noticed that the group was leaving me behind. The tour was moving right along and as I ran down the path to catch up I saw it.

Michael Perkins with the swastika imprinted on the brick
Michael Perkins with the swastika imprinted on the brick

What I saw was a brick. A simple clay brick with chipped edges, and it was piled up on top of other bricks that looked just like it. I had seen a lot of bricks before but this one was different and it turned into the focal point of our conversations for the rest of the trip. I walked right up to the pile and yelled at the rest of the group to come over. At first they weren’t impressed because they didn’t see it. I had to point out what made this brick so special. Though its outsides were weathered the center of the brick was clearly and deeply imprinted with a swastika.

All I saw was hate. The swastika means Nazi and when I see it and think of Adolf Hitler and the National Socialist party that destroyed Europe. My first thought was that during WWII the Nazi’s must have built something in India…?

The Americans in our group were stunned. Our tour guide laughed and said that the swastika was everywhere in India. He told us that it was an ancient Hindu religious symbol that was stolen by Hitler. Now, we had just gotten to New Delhi and this was our first day out in the city. As the group moved down the path to another ruin, we all at one point made a remark about the Nazi Brick.

The week went on and I learned that the tour guide was right. Everywhere we went we saw swastikas. Other students on the trip and I began to make a game of pointing them out. We saw swastikas them on top of churches and painted randomly on walls, buildings and signs. I noticed that Indians paint the swastika over their doorway, so all who enter will be blessed. I learned that the swastikas real meaning is good or God. They imprint bricks with that symbol because they want their buildings to be strong. In their culture they wanted and building built with God.

Even though we spent a great deal of time touring monuments and cites as well as markets and bazaars, all I could think about was that Nazi Brick. It was so different of a world than what I was used to. Back home if that symbol were present anywhere near your home, you would be labeled a racist, anti-Semitic or a neo-Nazi. But yet I was in a world where you could come face to face to a swastika and it was a welcome sign. I somehow felt that I had unlocked the key to the universe because that symbol no longer meant anything and words or symbols no longer had value.

I think it was after being almost run over by a Tata truck with a swastika painted on it that I knew I was going to find a Nazi Brick and take it back home. I wanted to show off that chunk of rock on my coffee table and explain to friends and family a world that was so different from mine they made this. I knew that everyone has a story about being in another country and how horrible the bathrooms were, or scary traffic can be. I needed something a little more concrete than that. What I got was a brick.

I found my Nazi Brick (and that is the name the group gave the brick) in a pile of rubble outside Haus Khas village. It was redder clay than the original Nazi Brick but imprinted deep inside the center was the same spider-like symbol that a few days earlier had made me stop and stare. I didn’t stare this time because I knew what it meant. This time I dusted it off threw it in my backpack and ran to tell the co study abroad friends that I got the greatest souvenir of all Indian Time.

Jennifer Lewis, Graduate Student

I think, very oddly, the only “transformation” I had was how close our group became in such a short time. We are five very different people - different age-groups, different backgrounds, experiences, college majors, intentions of what we want to be when we grow up - world-views, marital statuses and situations, looks (as in actually how we look), geographical areas we are from, political leanings, ideals, EVERYTHING! Yet, we became quite close and I have been really looking forward to seeing them again! This may not seem very significant; we all know groups bond when places in the same situation, but it had been many years since I had felt such strong attachments to people I barely knew. I have come to realize that prior to this trip, I had let myself get stuck in a rut of only using my off time to associate with certain peer groups. I thought going to India would broaden my worldly horizons, and it did, but it also broadened my local ones, too!

I’m seriously thinking about teaching. Yeah, me. That is another way this experience transformed me. They (the rest of the group) all kept referring to me as their leader. Each morning, Michael and I would be on the veranda and he would fill me in on what the rest of the group was talking about/thinking about/griping about/planning and I would sit and patiently listen and nod my head and then consider everything!! It is too comical upon reflection - but at the time it was so serious! I would make my pronouncements after hearing from my people!! Ha!! Anyway, it reminded me how much I love learning and helping others learn.

Updated 4.7.2011

MA Projects: From Twitter and Pakistan to BP

Three graduate students recently defended their final projects. Please join us in recognizing these students as they join other alumnus in our thirty year tradition of applied communication research project.

Tonya Oaks Smith: A Little Birdie Told Me: H1N1 Information and Misinformation Exchange on Twitter

Derek Wingfield:“We Are More Similar than Different”: An Assessment of the Impact of Communication Training on Pakistani Students’ Cultural Mindsets

Andrew Pyle: Effective Crisis Communication: Lessons Learned from the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

Updated 12.17.2010

Crisis and Renewal in the Gulf

Dr. Ulmer and graduate student, Andrew Pyle, were recently featured in a UALR news release. Dr. Ulmer was called in by the Unified Command about 20 days after the sinking of the Deep Water Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico. This event was the largest and longest lasting environmental disaster in the history of the United States.

Dr. Ulmer was able to draw on his research on crisis and renewal with over 40 published articles and five books. His research shows how organizations that respond ethically, openly, and with transparency to a crisis eventually can grow and prosper.

Following the event, Andrew Pyle, a UALR graduate student from Mountain Home, who was able to fly to Houma to see the Unified Command in operation and collect data, assisted Ulmer. Since then, Pyle has interviewed the public information officers from the joint information center involved in the crisis, and completed his MA project based upon the “lessons learned” from the disaster and the response to it.

For the complete story go to

Updated 12.17.2010

Bringing the World to UALR

International Celebration Day


Graduate and undergraduate students from the CSC and from Dr. Driskill’s Intercultural Communication class were part of the campus wide International Celebration Day on November 16, 2010. This event is part of a week of activity designed to improve international awareness and understanding on campus. Check out the following link to hear from a couple of our students, Andrew Pyle and Derenda Alexander who are featured in a video recorded for university television.

Updated 12.17.2010

BA & MA Alumni Updates: 1977 to 2008!

We are proud of and amazed by the wonderful accomplishments of our alumni! This update include a wide range of undergraduate and graduate alumni. Please pass on this link to other alumni and ask them to send their updates to Gerald Driskill ( We want to do more to enrich this wonderful network. Stories from you also help students gain ideas about what they might do with their degree.

Heidi Charton (BA Class of 2006) is a Research Assistant for the Center for Addictions Research at the Psychiatric Research Institute, College of Medicine University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

Tim Crane (MA Class of 1978) is the executive director of JTV, a function of the Jones Trust, broadcasts arts and entertainment programming.

Jill Dabbs (BA Class of 2001) is manager of her family-owned business, Back and Body Chiropractic in Bryant, AR and is a founding member of People for Parks Committee, which was instrumental in the development of Bishop Park in Bryant. She is currently running for mayor of the city of Bryant–

Youmna El-Sabaa (MA class of 2001) is the Director of Volunteer Services of Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana where she oversees training for over 24,000 volunteers.

Kevin Gao (MA class of 1990) is Director and Legal Counsel at Credit Suisse, covering Asset Management Division in Ridgewood, NJ.

Heide Harrell (MA Class of 2006) received a position as an Account Executive at Mangan Holcomb Partners.

Dr. Mike Hemphill (BA Class of 1977) is taking on a new role as provost of Centenary College in Shreveport, Louisiana.

Fan Ku (MA class of 2006) received a role with a Taiwanese manufacturing company where he will serve as in an intern role as an international sales representative.

Jacob Jenkins (MA Class of 2006) a PhD student at the University of S. Florida, received the award for “Top Student Paper in the Applied Division” for the 2011 National Communication Association Conference.

Dr. Robert C. Mock (MA Class of 1996) has been appointed vice president for Student Affairs at the University of Kentucky.

Penelope Sur Pagniez (BA Class of 2007) is Director of Training for Operations for L’Oreal USA based in Clark, New Jersey.

Tifany Schneider (BA class of 2005) is now Manager, of Corporate Integration for Curves International, Inc. headquartered in Woodway, TX.

Renee Shapiro (BA -1993) is now a Senior Account Executive for KATV where she also serves as a Film Critic and Entertainment Editor, and Saturday Daybreak Co Host

Pat Sweeden (MA class of 1998) was appointed by Governor Beebe to serve on the Arkansas Workforce Investment Board.

Jordan Wright (Class of 2008) recently received a position as a Client Delivery Specialist for Acxiom Corporation in Conway, Arkansas.

Updated 10.25.2010

First Study Abroad-Paris France

Students huddle up to prepare for the day

The Indian thinker Jiddu Krishanmurti once wrote: “Our thinking is the outcome of our own very limited experience.” One way to strengthen a person’s thinking, and to cultivate in them a new lens through which to appreciate their world, is to create new experiences for them. In May, with the support of the Office of International Services, the Department of Speech Communication enabled 10 Speech Communication students to experience French culture in Paris, France for one week. The participants (unofficially named “the Little Frenchies”) included undergraduate students Ashley Byrd, Jill Gray, Nathan Jeffers, Alex Long, LaDawn Moore, Katie Rowden, Nyvelyn Shaw, and Amanda Wells, as well as two graduate students in the applied communication program, Tracy Guilbeau and Andrew Pyle. This inaugural study abroad program was led by Dr. Julien Mirivel, who is from France. Consider some of the the details.


The course, which was titled “Researching Lived Experience,” was designed to enable students to investigate the nature of human experience. Prior to departure, the students and the faculty spent five 2-hour sessions preparing for the trip and deepened their understanding of phenomenology. They also learned a few French words and studied the nature of culture shock. During the trip, Dr. Mirivel and the students explored the city of Paris. They woke up early in the morning to have class in the local cafes; while sipping coffee and eating croissant, they reflected about their experiences, noticings, and observations. Together, the group also visited key sites such as the Eiffel Tower, Le Louvre, Versailles, and the Cathedral of Notre Dame. They also ate together. Upon their return, students wrote a report on what they experienced abroad and presented their findings in a public presentation. For the students and the faculty, this experience was a wonderful success story. During the week, students learned about how deeply culture influences their ways of thinking, talking, and behaving. They also discovered much about themselves. More importantly, they built memorable friendships, created memories for a lifetime, and often laughed together late into the night. In short, when learning builds on living real experiences, students can simply grow as persons.

Students Visit the Eiffel

The Department of Speech Communication is committed to preparing undergraduate and graduate students for a global society. This faculty-led study abroad program is just one example of how faculty in the Department of Speech Communication make a difference in the lives of students. Watch us do more.

Updated 10.21.2010

Michael Hemphill to become Provost at Centenary College

Mike Hemphill - BA Class of 1977

Hemphill Dr. Michael Hemphill is an undergraduate alumni of the Speech Communication Department at UALR. He completed his Ph.D. at the University of Iowa and then returned to his home department where he spent 24 years on the faculty. He also served as chair and, for a period, as dean of the College of Professional Studies. His passion for teaching excellence shaped and molded our department and campus where he impacted countless faculty and students. Dr. Hemphill is currently Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the Clinton School of Public Service.

On July 1, Mike will take on a new role as the next provost of Centenary College in Shreveport, Lousiana.

Hemphill’s work outside the Clinton School has focused on the development of community leadership, specifically in the area of judicial administration. In recent years he has worked with the National Association for State Judicial Education, Judicial Education/Adult Education Project, National Association of Chapter Thirteen Bankruptcy Trustees, Arkansas Chambers of Commerce, Arkansas Public Administration Consortium, and the administrative offices of state courts in Arkansas, Texas, Indiana, Missouri and California.

Hemphill received the 1990 Ross Foundation Excellence in Teaching Award, recognizing him as the outstanding classroom teacher in the University of Arkansas system. In 2000, Hemphill received the Jack Evans Regional Leadership Award, given by Metroplan to members of the UALR Water Study Task Force, and the UALR Department of Excellence Award for the Department of Speech Communication.

Congratulations Dr. Hemphill! We count on your return visits and continued connection to your primary department home.

Updated 3.17.2010
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