Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Instantly Newsworthy

When the presidential search began just months ago, I thought a lot about how Union’s communications office might approach publicity and secure earned news coverage. I’d never been through this type of transition before, so the situation posed a unique challenge that was accompanied by a good bit of stress. Developing a PR strategy for a nameless, faceless person basically yields a stock list of options, none of them inspiring. Let’s face it: colleges hire new leaders every day. There’s nothing special about that except to those connected to the institution. So I imagined scenarios that worked into an ideal plan that equaled instant newsworthiness across the state.

Then Dr. Marcia Hawkins was named, and my daydreaming game was no longer necessary. She instantly won my confidence, both as a president and a newsmaker. She has a story that people will want to hear, and I can’t wait to work with her to tell it. Her passion for the liberal arts is paralleled only by her belief in the American dream, and she masterfully streams both into a common thread of pure…well, newsworthiness. This woman proudly defends the liberal arts in a day when, sadly, it needs a bold spokesperson.

No one outside Union’s circle of friends has heard much about this. They will. But for now, people in neighboring cities and states are intrigued with Dr. Hawkins because of her gender. I sent several releases out announcing her appointment and was met with many replies of “Wow!” and one “Woo hoo!” I cannot wait until our Facebook Insights are updated so I can measure the virility of our status when we announced to fans: “Union's 19th president has been announced. HER name is Dr. Marcia Hawkins, and she is looking forward to meeting all of you!” But that won’t scratch the surface of the enthusiasm. I know personally of several people who included the same information in their own status updates. And when you sprinkle on top of that a boatload of tweets and retweets, we might find that accurately measuring reach will be difficult.

As it turns out, being a female president, while it isn’t all that unusual, still gives many people a reason to cheer. There’s a popular goal that says the percentage of female presidents should match the percentage of female students. Currently, according to the American Council on Education, 26.4% of all college presidents are female, up from 23% just a few years ago. But with the female student population at 57%, there’s much work yet to be done. Among Methodist related four-year institutions, female presidents represent 23%. Once Dr. Hawkins is inaugurated, Union College will increase that number by one percent. Wow and woo hoo!

A reporter asked me if Dr. Hawkins’s gender had been a deciding factor in naming her as Union’s 19th president. I explained that no, her qualifications and proven record put her over the top and distinguished her as the best candidate from a pool of about 130 nationwide. She just happens to be a woman. But what a bonus!

That’s what I call instant newsworthiness. And it’s not a dream.

Missy Reid, '91

Thursday, April 5, 2012

She Embraces Fear

Fear. It is an emotion most graduates experience, whether it’s associated with leaving a comfort zone or facing the unknown. It’s also the emotion that will motivate valedictorian Heidi Marsh as she addresses the 2012 Union College graduating class.

Marsh plans to embrace her fears while telling fellow graduates that it is OK to be afraid, because sometimes that fear can help you.

The senior from Benham, Ky., who will receive a Bachelor of Arts in English with a 3.88 GPA, said that the fear of not knowing is something she has experienced her whole life. Now, as she faces yet another milestone in earning her college degree, she sees that fear again. This time, however, she sees it in a different light.

“Fear is a powerful thing, and we only have two choices: succumb to our fears and give up, or take them in stride and use them as fuel in life’s journey,” Marsh said.

This lesson is one she wants to communicate to fellow graduates, as well as the Union community.

“I’ve been thinking about my graduation speech,” Marsh said. “I’ve been thinking a lot about fear, because I’m really afraid, and I think everyone else is a little bit afraid too. Union as a whole may even be a little bit afraid, with all the different changes that are going on right now.”

After graduation, Marsh has big plans in mind. She will attend graduate school at either the University of Louisville or East Tennessee State University. While there, she will earn a master’s degree in English literature before pursuing a Ph.D. so she can one day teach at the college level.

As she looks forward to those plans, Marsh knows that while she may be scared to start a new chapter in her life, she has to take heed of her own message and use that fear to her advantage.

“At the end of the day, you only have yourself to answer to,” Marsh said. “I don’t know that I would feel satisfied knowing that I held myself back from doing something great because I was scared of what might happen as a result.”

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Union students will be "Up 'til Dawn"

College students know about sleepless nights. They pull all-nighters to cram for finals, followed by more all-nighters to celebrate passing those finals. Rarely does the 18-22 crowd stay up around the clock due to worries associated with childhood cancer.

While it’s true that most college students aren’t burdened with this type of struggle, it’s also true that they are not oblivious to it. Many of them feel a responsibility to help alleviate anxiety for families affected by cancer. Kristina Kirk is one such student. She has organized a St. Jude’s fundraising event called “Up ‘til Dawn,” named in honor and recognition of the children and families who have been plagued with cancer-related sleepless nights. “Cancer doesn’t sleep, so neither should we,” Kirk says.

That’s what this episode of UQueue—our podcast for students—is all about. You’ll hear from Kirk, along with Chelsea Root, whose family has lived the horrors associated with childhood cancer and has benefitted from the generosity of St. Jude’s and those who support its mission.

After the initial fundraising goal of $1,000 was quickly surpassed, the new number is $10,000. Funds will be collected from now through April 27, the date of the “Up ‘til Dawn” celebration. To donate, contact Kristina Kirk at

Here's the link to the podcast for you to copy and paste in your browser. Enjoy!

Missy Reid, ’91
Director of College Communications

Monday, April 2, 2012

Movies matter

Have you ever been super excited to go see a movie, get there, watch it and then leave the theater with a feeling of disappointment because it wasn’t all it was hyped up to be? There could be a way to fix this.

According to Michael Benton, the speaker at this year’s Willson-Gross lecture, you could have that feeling of disappointment not from the movie itself, but from the reactions you had to the movie based on when and where you viewed it.

It sounds complicated, but it really isn’t. According to Benton, instructor of humanities at Bluegrass Community and Technical College in Lexington, Ky., the way you view a movie (where you are, who you’re with and what your mind-set may be) will affect the reaction you have to that movie.

Benton demonstrated this idea by comparing three different experiences he had, all while viewing the movie “Schindler’s List.” He said that through each viewing, his perception of the film changed, and he was able to draw three different experiences from one movie, all very unique in how they affected Benton and his conceptualization of what the film meant. But why did that conceptualization change?

Benton said that with each viewing of the movie, he was watching it in completely different settings, with completely different reasons for watching it. The first time was for entertainment in a crowded theater, the second time was for discussion and learning purposes at a friend’s house, and the third time was to demonstrate a concept he was teaching in a classroom.

Benton said that while all three of these experiences left him with completely different feelings, they were all important in forming one single conceptualization of the film.

“I find that watching a movie at home is much more voyeuristic in that one can simply watch without thoughts of others impeding on your experience,” Benton said. “On the other hand, a public theater involves one in a communal experience in which you interact with the narrative on the screen while experiencing the reactions of your fellow filmgoers.”

So the next time you watch a movie and say to yourself, “I was hoping for more,” maybe you should take Benton’s word, and watch the movie in a different setting. You could see the movie in a completely different light.