A mission statement provides a place of work with a purpose. It gives an identity to a workplace and helps employees remember why they are there doing what they are doing. In the Applied Communication Department at UA Little Rock, that mission is “fostering the co-creation of better social worlds through positive communication.” This mission is more than just ten words strung together for the sake of having a mission. It’s integrated and interwoven into the classroom and in everything the department does.
The current mission statement is relatively new, according to graduate coordinator, Dr. Gerald Driskill. Recalling how the mission came together, Driskill describes it as a meaningful turning point in the department. “About 5 years ago, the idea of fostering the co-creation of better social worlds through positive communication became our mission,” he explains. “I don’t know of very many departments that actually have a mission that is talked about in every class and talked about when faculty connect with people out in the public.”
It all came together on a faculty retreat, and both Dr. Driskill and Interim Dean of the College of Social Sciences and Communication at UA Little Rock, Dr. Julien Mirivel, agreed it took about ten minutes to come up with the current department mission. “You imagine things like this requiring days of deliberation. This wasn’t the case. Somebody said co-creation, somebody said better social worlds, somebody said positive communication and then it kind of came together,” says Dr. Mirivel. “We knew right then and there that this was it, this is what we stood for. It’s done a lot of good for us. One, because it captured who we were and the work that we did. And two, it advanced a mission that continues to unite the department, and give direction. You can always come back to it and say what are we trying to do? It was so easy, that then people decided, ‘hey, let’s put this on our core syllabi, let’s share with our students.'”
Dr. Driskill explains that it didn’t take long to come up with the mission because “we had begun to have so many conversations about what we valued and were doing in our classes. We thought about our students and interactions and what they were getting from our program and what they were doing in the community. They had already been having positive social impact with their projects. So that has galvanized us to have more conversations on what are we doing in every course and everything we’re about, to make sure we’re staying on track with our mission.”
Dr. Mirivel noted that the mission reflected the relationships in the department, explaining: “The department is a very special place, and for many many years, people were creating an environment, a department, that I think was very highly collegial, where people really believed in teaching principles of human communication but also trying to live up to them. If you interviewed people who had been there for 20 years or 30 years, they would tell you the department was always kind of like that. The seed of it was a really positive energy, people were always encouraging one another, supporting one another, finding ways to create synergy instead of dividing people.”
The Applied Communication mission has attracted students and professors alike to the department over time. Dr. Mirivel stated, “Most of the time people who joined the department were always very interested in making a difference in their own communication and the communication of other people.” Our own department chair, Dr. April-Chatham Carpenter, came to UA Little Rock partly because of the mission.
“I saw a job posting come through for a department chair position here, but had never been in a department where they lived their mission out on a daily basis. So when I saw this job come up, I started to do some research on the department. It was very obvious from the webpage that they had a mission that was driving their work. I saw Dr. Mirivel’s work on the art of positive communication, purchased his textbook and started reading it, and began to understand the power of that as a framework that could be used to drive the curriculum and relationships in that particular department. But it wasn’t until I started working here that I saw how much the mission was lived out on a daily basis. The fact that it was and continues to be is quite impressive. It drew me here and now makes me want to stay!”
As for students, graduate intern in the Communication Skill Center, Karen Willson, did not originally want to attend graduate school, but she made a deal with herself. She was going to apply to only one program, and if she got in, she would go. “I remember reading the mission statement and thinking I wanted to be a positive change,” she says. “It’s definitely continued to challenge me because I don’t consider myself to be an overly positive person. But the mission is brought up in classes as to why students are here learning, and it has helped me recognize the purpose of why I do what I do.”
Another student Percy Gilbert originally thought the mission being taught was hypocritical, since he didn’t realize it was being lived out in the department and in students’ lives. Then he had an epiphany. “When I took Dr. Driskill’s human communication concepts course this past semester, as he was giving the mission statement, I thought, to have a statement like that as a department, you should be making a difference with all this knowledge you have,” he says. “Three-quarters of the way through the semester I realized they are changing the world through positive communication by teaching me how to be a better communicator and how to fix bad communication practices so I can be spread positive communication.” Percy, who has been in the military, says he now sees it as “the professors are the drill sergeants, and we are the trainees.”
Dr. Carey Adams, Vice President of Academic Affairs at Fontbonne University, who conducted an external review of the department, was surprised that so many students knew what our mission statement was when he talked to them about the department on his visit to campus in 2016. It was clear they had heard about it in their classes and in their co-curricular work within the department.
“I believe it is unusual for a department to ground its mission and learning goals so explicitly in a theoretical perspective, i.e., social constructionism and the Coordinated Management of Meaning,” he said. “While it’s not uncommon for a department to be identified with/known for a particular orientation, such as empiricism vs. critical studies, I think the department at UA Little Rock takes this a significant step forward. The mission statement embeds an ethical imperative, as well as a commitment to knowledge and practice. While the Department’s mission is clearly embedded throughout the program, the core emphases on applied communication, ethical considerations, and interdisciplinary linkages are particularly noteworthy.”
Over time, it is clear that the faculty of UA Little Rock’s Applied Communication Department have fully embraced their department’s mission, working intentionally to weave the mission of the department throughout their teaching, service, and research, as well as their relationships. In so doing, they work to model for students, alumni, and community members the power of “fostering the co-creation of better social worlds through positive communication.” For the department, it is truly a mission that makes a difference.