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Investing in faculty: Professor emerita supports first Honors professorship

| Julie Poquette

Dr. Sally Webb, a University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire professor emerita, knows firsthand the challenges faced by university faculty members. As faculty focus on teaching and advising while also helping with academic department and campus initiatives, they are hard-pressed to find the time for innovation and professional development that can propel them in their careers and benefit students.

Encouraging innovative teaching

Webb, a former recipient of UW-Eau Claire’s Excellence in Teaching Award, taught communication courses at the university for 37 years. Now she’s supporting a new UW-Eau Claire Foundation professorship that will (1) provide professional growth and development for a current communication and journalism faculty member and (2) positively impact current and future students.

 “I continue to be impressed that our faculty consistently go above and beyond the expected,” Webb said. “When faculty are stretched and stressed with numerous responsibilities, it is a challenge to be innovative and to consider different ways of teaching and new courses.”

Dr. Kristine Knutson, assistant professor in the department of communication and journalism, is the recipient of the first Dr. Sally A. Webb Honors Professorship in Communication and Journalism.

Benefiting Honors Program and beyond

Webb sought a way to honor outstanding faculty, and she learned about a new Foundation initiative to establish Honors professorships across multiple academic areas.

“The first Webb Honors Professorship is designed to honor outstanding faculty in communication and journalism and encourage them to develop innovative courses in the Honors Program,” Webb said. “Ideally the Webb Honors Professorship will honor the faculty and the students in the Honors Program. In addition, I expect that the Webb Honors Professor will encourage more excellent, innovative teaching of the students in the communication and journalism department and will enrich the department for all students.”

UW-Eau Claire’s University Honors Program provides an innovative learning community for more than 800 high-potential, highly motivated undergraduates.

“The Webb Honors Professorship is a wonderful gift to our thriving Honors Program and its 830 current students,” said Dr. David Jones, interim director of the program. “We are very thankful for Dr. Webb’s generous contribution to our ongoing efforts to make every Honors course an engaging and fulfilling opportunity for student learning. We are excited to initiate this professorship with Dr. Knutson’s course on women, work, and family, an important topic that will provide a great avenue for learning and research among the enrolled students.”

New course content with broad impact

The three-year Honors Professorship will fund the cost for another instructor to teach a communication studies course in Knutson’s place, thus allowing her time to develop and then teach two new University Honors Program courses.

Knutson will teach “Finding Balance: An Investigation of Women, Work, and Family” during the spring 2018 semester. Her second course, which will explore her research interest in positive organizational communication scholarship, will be titled “The Meanings of Work and Finding Meaningful Work. ”The professorship also provides funding to Knutson for professional development and/or to enhance her new Honors courses. She will teach one of the courses during one semester in each of the years of the professorship.

For Knutson, the Honors professorship is an opportunity to develop courses that align with research interests she has not been able to pursue further since leaving graduate school. The new courses will then benefit not only University Honors Program students, but also the students and faculty in her academic department and across campus, Knutson said.

"These classes will help people across the university come to better understand what we do in communication studies," Knutson said. "A lot of people think that communication studies is either an easy major or solely public speaking. Introducing our Honors students to nuanced topics in communication might lead those students to decide to major or minor in a communication and journalism program, take electives in communication and journalism, or even introduce class concepts in their major (or minor) courses and attribute it to communication and journalism. All of these outcomes help to build our department's reputation at the university."

Part of a broader initiative

Kimera Way, UW-Eau Claire Foundation president, said the Webb Honors Professorship is one way the Foundation is working to increase support for university faculty.

"A major initiative for the UW-Eau Claire Foundation is seeking private support for faculty who are the backbone of the university," Way said. "Dr. Webb was one of our longest serving faculty when she retired. Working with her to create the first Honors Professorship was the perfect link between the excellence she exemplified during her career and an investment in outstanding faculty who will have an impact on future students. Her investment in the Honors Program is going to have ripple effects on the entire university."

Photo cutline: Dr. Kristine Knutson, assistant professor in the department of communication and journalism, poses with Dr. Sally Webb, a UW-Eau Claire professor emerita. Knutson is the recipient of the first Dr. Sally A. Webb Honors Professorship in Communication and Journalism.