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UA Little Rock Department of Applied Communication Honors Students, Alumni, and Community Partner Making a Difference

Susie Reece receives the Distinguished Student Scholar Award.
Susie Reece receives the Distinguished Student Scholar Award.

The University of Arkansas at Little Rock Department of Applied Communication recently recognized its students, alumni, and community partners who are following the department’s mission of “co-creating better social worlds through positive communication.”

Each student award recipient received a special heart paper weight designed by UA Little Rock artist and alumni Linda Pledger, a certificate, and medallion.

Susie Reece received the undergraduate Distinguished Student Scholar Award, which honors a graduating senior. Reece is a staunch mental health activist who strives to raise awareness of suicide, interpersonal violence, mental health, substance use disorder, diversity/inclusion, and interpersonal communication.

“Having worked with Susie, I can tell you that she is one in a million,” Professor Julien Mirivel said. “I have been so impressed by her work, her professionalism, and her passion.”

Chantel Moore is the graduate winner of the Distinguished Student Scholar Award. Moore worked with Dr. Gerald Driskill on a grant-funded project to study foster care collaborative networks in Arkansas, which resulted in her own award-winning student expo presentation, “Mothers’ relationships with their adopted teens through the lens of positive communication.”

“Chantel is hard-working and has shown her work ethic through class discussions, research, and her community,” Driskill said. “Her goal in researching mothers and their adopted teens is to show the importance of positive communication in these relationships, spread awareness of the positive communication model, and learn about these interpersonal intricacies for adoptions/fosters in the future.”

Next, the Students Making a Difference Award honors students who have made a difference in their community in the area of applied communication. The undergraduate winner is James Phillips, a public affairs specialist with the Air National Guard and sergeant with the Little Rock Police Department.

When James completed a Crisis Negotiations course back in 2015, he discovered he knew very little about communication or the processes that went into connecting with others. “It gave me the desire to learn more about crisis negotiating, communication, and building relationships with others,” Phillips said. “Once I took this course, I was hooked and began my educational journey of learning and developing my communication skills.”

As a father of five and a nontraditional student with a full-time career, Phillips has shown academic success by making the Dean’s List every semester. Using the communication skills he has learned through previous training and experience, he quickly found comfort in instructing his peers.

“I still continuously work on improving my skills as an instructor,” Phillips said. “Being an effective instructor demonstrates numerous skills to include leadership, adaptability, and communication. You have to have the trust and confidence of your students for them to ‘buy-in’ to what you are teaching them. You have to be able to adapt in order to be effective.”

Ebené Givan received the Students Making a Difference Award as a graduate student for her work in starting a non-profit to fight teen suicide. She founded Mike’s Mission in 2021 after the loss of her 15-year-old nephew to suicide. As the president of the Board of Directors, she has tapped into her purpose by embracing her creative passion for communication to help prevent another precious life from being lost to suicide. Mike’s Mission was formed to prevent teen suicide by promoting family, social, and community connectedness and by increasing positive communication in the family dynamics.

Ebené Givan receives the Students Making a Difference Award.
Ebené Givan receives the Students Making a Difference Award.

“She is making strides in the field of suicide prevention raising awareness and teaching positive communication to teens and families to increase connectedness and decrease suicide ideation,” Dr. Kristen McIntyre said. “She has spoken at women’s conferences, luncheons, and currently mentors several young adults and teens. Led by the passion of a servant’s heart, it is Ebené’s hope and prayer to continue to help families strengthen communication and help teens develop essential coping skills to successfully articulate their feelings through communication.”

The Applied Communication department also honored Sajni Kumpuris, director of education at Arkansas PBS, as the winner of the Alumni Making a Difference Award. Winners are selected for who best represents transformative work within their communities. They also provide one of the department’s annual Leadership Lecture Series.

At Arkansas PBS, Sajni led her team to win multiple Community Service Emmy Awards for their work in education, civic engagement, public affairs, race relations, and early childhood programming.

“Her team has already received the overall excellence in education and content awards, as well as public media awards in teacher professional development, Covid-19 vaccine awareness, marketing communication, and educational resources for the community,” Dr. Avinash Thombre said. “Sajni is truly a proven leader and strategic ideation person who builds successful initiatives and strategic programs that strengthen the community.”

Finally, the department honored Heifer International with the Community Partner Award, which recognizes active partnerships between community organizations and the department’s faculty and students.

In May, the American Journal of Qualitative Research published a study on communication competency changes among women in Bihar, India, co-authored by Heifer and UA Little Rock professors Julien Mirivel, Avinash Thombre, Tusty ten Bensel, and Kirk Leach.

Additionally, a group of university students and alumni underwent Heifer International’s cornerstones training — a values-based development training that forms the foundation of Heifer’s work in farming communities around the globe in November 2022.

“We are honored to receive this award from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock,” said Mahendra Lohani, senior vice president of Asia programs at Heifer International. “At Heifer, we believe that sustainable development is simply not possible without a foundation of strong partnerships, and we are proud to collaborate with institutions like the University of Arkansas at Little Rock to build a more just and equitable world.”