For thirty-three years, I was a professor of communication at Wheaton College, a Christian liberal arts college in the western suburbs of Chicago. I taught courses in interpersonal communication, persuasion, public speaking, group dynamics, intercultural communication, ethics of communication, conflict, intimate communication, communication research, and, of course, communication theory.
I retired from full-time teaching in 2003, was named Professor Emeritus, and continued to teach communication theory and conflict mediation through 2008. I am now President of Communication First, which encompasses a conflict mediation practice and my continuing work on the First Look text.
Although most of the extended examples in the text are fictitious, the ones I created were often stimulated by my own life experience. Hopefully this brief bio will help the examples come alive for you and encourage you to use your own story to understand and illustrate theory.
I was born and raised on the south side of Chicago into a family deeply rooted in the newspaper business. Politics, circulation figures, reporters’ ethics, and labor-management negotiations were dinner table conversation. Alcoholism and eating disorders were never discussed, but were below-the-surface realities.
I majored in Political Science at the University of Michigan with the intention of going to law school, but, half way through college, decided I wanted to do youth work with teenagers. I also began to take communication courses as my electives. After graduation I earned a Masters degree at Fuller Theological Seminary and trained to join the staff of Young Life, a youth organization that had a major effect on my life during high school. I married my wife, Jeanie, and we had two children, Jim and Sharon.
After six years of marriage, I realized that I was spending more time with other people’s kids than I was with my own, so I began to prepare for a second career as a college professor, which would allow me to spend more time with my family. At Northwestern University, I earned a Master’s and Ph.D. in communication. My dissertation was an experimental public address study on the persuasive effects of crowding large audiences into small meeting rooms. After a year of teaching at Northern Illinois University, I came to Wheaton.
I’ve enjoyed teaching at a school where professors are encouraged and rewarded for spending time with students. For example, for twenty years I taught a two-week group dynamics seminar with eight students on an island in northern Lake Michigan. As a pilot, I flew students on and off the island. The intensive time together in this isolated setting resulted in deep friendships with many of the students that have continued past graduation. Co-author and friend Glenn Sparks was a student in the first island course.
As a scholar, my focus is on translating complex ideas into terms the newcomer to the field can understand and apply. As shown in my curriculum vitae, prior to The First Look project I authored three applied communication books: The Mind Changers analyzes practical techniques of persuasion; Getting Together offers research-based suggestions for effective group leadership; and Making Friends describes the way that quality interpersonal communication can build close relationships. My research interests center on communication in close friendships. Articles published in Personal Relationships and Journal of Social and Personal Relationships describe what I and co-authors Andrew Ledbetter and Glenn Sparks discovered.
I have a strong desire to apply my communication knowledge and skills to further of social justice. I spend a few days a month as a mediator and coach with the Chicago Center for Conflict Resolution, and have worked for over 30 years as a volunteer with Opportunity International, a microfinance organization that creates job opportunities for the poor in impoverished countries. My activities with Opportunity include service on the U.S. and Global Network Boards, fundraising, and a stint as acting President during a sabbatical. For even longer, I’ve served a variety of roles in our local Presbyterian church.
Jeanie and I have been married for 54 years. She is an artist, featuring pastel portraits of children. Our children are grown. Jim is an airline pilot for American Airlines and is married to a doctor. They have three childrenâ€”Alison, Kyle, and Amy. Sharon is an English and Journalism teacher in an inner city Chicago high school and her husband publishes Substance, a monthly investigative newspaper that reports on the state of public education in Chicago. They have three sonsâ€”Dan, Sam, and Josh.
My recreation is varied. I’m a movie buff who sees about fifty films a year. For aerobic exercise, I swim laps. To satisfy my competitive impulses I play bridge. For adventure, I fly a small airplane. For relaxation, I read novels.
I hope this sketch gives you an idea of the person behind the pages. If you wish to communicate directly with me, I'd be happy to meet you via e-mail.
Also available: Em's CV and the syllabus from Em's offering of Communication Theory.
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updated May 5, 2014
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