Department Spotlight for April: Casi Bird

Casi Bird

Our April spotlight is on PhD student, Cassandra (Casi) Bird. Casi comes to KU after completing her M.A. in Communication Studies at Central Michigan University. Casi is a third year PhD student in the department, currently finishing her comprehensive exams. She is also the only person in the department to have a top paper at the upcoming CSCA conference. Read more about her below!

Tell us a little about your research interests and plans:

My research generally concerns issues of violence. I am interested in investigating how people come to understand and cope with traumatic events. In relationship to these violent episodes I have looked at negotiations of citizenship, geography, and legal precedent. I have done a lot of work with the Department of Justice White Paper that authorized the use of drones against U.S. citizens suspected of terrorist affiliation, but I have also continued my work into presidential responses to mass shooting event such as Columbine in 1999 and Aurora in 2012. These moments are clearly unpleasant for the American community but they are also ripe for significant change and influence by our political and media elite. I expect that my dissertation will continue along the line of reception studies of violence and crisis.

In addition to doing research, you also serve as an assistant basic course director for the department. Can you tell us a little bit about what that’s like, and your experience teaching at KU? 

This role has been pretty awesome. In fact I think it’s the best decision I have made, and one I am so thankful Dr. Russo and company made, letting me work as an assistant basic course director. I love being able to talk about pedagogy and help design courses that will help undergraduates become more comfortable public speakers. Dr. Quenette has given me so many opportunities to be involved in every level of administration from working on assessment to building our COMS 132 class to being the Linkugel Speech Festival Director for the THIRD time (April 29 and May 4 from 5-7pm…a little shameless promotion here!) I think the best part is orientation and being able to help our new graduate students transition to life here at Kansas.

You currently teach the honors section of public speaking for professional schools (COMS 133). What will you be teaching next semester (Fall) that students can sign up for? 

I am fortunate enough to be able to teach that same class again! It is a class I was heavily involved in designing and working with the honors students has been a real blessing. I only have 11 students this semester (which, obviously, has been incredible) but I am hoping to have a full class again next semester!

You have been awarded the top student paper in the Political Communication division for the upcoming CSCA conference AND are a part of a top panel for the Basic Course division- CONGRATS! Can you tell us a little more about what you will be presenting about?

Thanks so much! I was actually pretty shocked! I heard a few other people had received acceptances from the Political Communication division, and I hadn’t heard a thing so I had assumed it would be bad news, but man, it was the best news ever! My paper for political communication is about how three different reading communities came to understand President Clinton’s call in his memorial speech following Columbine to “protect our children.” I analyzed how school administrators, President Clinton’s own task force on school safety, and the parents and classmates of Columbine came to understand this call. It situates the event in this historical time period to see how traumatic events lead to rash decision making and do not necessarily lead to long term success. My top panel came out of a conference Dr. Quenette, Lindsay Harroff, and I attended in September. It will be a discussion of speech festivals in communication departments; from how to get one going in departments to the successes and failures we have all had along the way.

Last question—what do you like most about Lawrence so far?

The weather. Hands down. Coming from West Michigan makes the non-snowy winters a blessing. Meeting Mike was pretty cool too. But I might still say the weather!


Department Spotlight for March: Dr. Scott Harris

Scott Harris
Our March spotlight is on Director of Debate (DOD), Dr. Scott Harris. Dr. Harris has been the DOD for KU debate for 24 years, and came to KU after a short stint coaching at Louisville, and completing his PhD at Northwestern University. At the start of next season, Dr. Harris will officially be the longest running debate coach at KU, having surpassed Dr. Donn Parson by one year. Read more about him below!

It is great to sit down with you! Not everyone is familiar with what college debate is, and what you do. Could you tell us a little bit more about what it means to be the Director of Debate at KU? 

Well there are a lot of different ways to answer that, and there are sort of two different questions there. What does it mean to be the DOD at KU, and what do I do. The first part of the question, my initial reaction, was I think it means the same kind of thing as being the head basketball coach at KU, given the tradition of success that KU has. When I came here, there was a lot of pressure, Dr. Parson built a legacy of success, but that began even before him. KU is one of the historic programs in debate. So being able to be a part of that tradition and history, it is overwhelming and humbling.

What do you DO as debate coach? You wear so many hats as a debate coach. You are a teacher, you are a strategist, you are a researcher, you are a counselor, you are a budget planner, you are a receipt-taper downer, you are a travel agent. There are so many many different things you do. Yesterday it was requesting money from the student senate, there are so many parts, and it changes each day.

As you mentioned before, KU debate has had, and continues to have a lot of success. Do you have any major team goals going into nationals this month with CEDA and the NDT?

The goal for CEDA is always to make it to debate the final day, and hopefully win. The goal for the NDT is to make it to the elimination rounds and to go from there.

In addition to coaching debate, you also teach classes for the department (e.g., Rhetoric of War, Rhetoric of Sports, Argumentation). What are some of your favoriteclasses that you have taught at KU? 

I don’t know that I have a favorite subject that I teach, but my favorite classes are the one’s where students are interactive, motivated, and want to learn and–sometimes that happens in one class and sometimes it doesn’t. For me, what makes teaching fun is when you have students that want to learn, and that can happen in any subject.

Last question–we’ve asked everyone! Living in Lawrence, what is your favorite thing? 

The people. It is a friendly, communal place. Growing up in Detroit, then living in Chicago, and then Louisville- this was the first smallish town that I lived in. You definitely get that sense of community.

Thanks to Dr. Harris for sitting down with us this month! We will be cheering on the Jayhawks at they travel to Wichita, KS for CEDA Nationals and Iowa City, IA for the NDT in the next few weeks. 


Department Spotlight for February: Ben Compton

Ben Compton

Our February spotlight is on new graduate student, Ben Compton. Ben comes to KU after completing his B.A. in Communication Studies at the University of San Diego. Ben received the Graduate Studies Fellowship first year student award, awarded to the Communication Studies department for the first time this last year. Read more about him below!


Tell us a little about your research interests and plans for while you are at KU: I have always described my research interests as what you and all your closest friends talk about in private: sex, attraction, and all that jazz. But maybe that’s just what my friends talked about! Since being here at KU, I’ve have been working primarily with Dr. Hall on research focused around attraction. I am also working on some projects of my own with professors at the University of San Diego about various topics like cheating and homophobia. As a new KU masters student, I am just trying to soak up as much knowledge as I can from the established professors here!

You were awarded a fellowship for the department through the Graduate School for studying at KU, congrats! Can you tell us a little about what that means for you and your time here? I was very appreciativeof being given this opportunity. Generally speaking, this opportunity has allowed me to shadow various professors and more experienced graduate students to better understand and get a feel for how to create and conduct research, whether that be by running research labs, coding, transcribing, or creating surveys. As for my time here, it allows me to focus primarily on research and hopefully will result in publications for the department. When I see how hard my cohort is working when it comes to their teaching, I try to keep up with the amount of effort they are putting in.

So starting next year you will teach, what kind of classes do you hope to get the chance to teach while at KU? As of right now, I would be thrilled just teaching Public Speaking. I have never had the opportunity to teach, but am really excited to do so. In the long term, as an interpersonal scholar, I would love to teach or assist any class within that focus. While an undergraduate, I loved all my rhetoric courses, and think they would be so much fun to teach. However, I can think of about 20 students who are way more qualified to teach than me, but that doesn’t mean I can’t dream!

Will you be attending and/or presenting at any conferences this semester? Yes, I will be traveling to Spokane, Washington and San Juan, Puerto Rico to present some work I have been doing this past semester. Guess which one I am more excited for?! In a few weeks I will be at the Western States Communication Conference presenting a paper and then this May I will goto Puerto Rico to present at the International Communication Association conference. Both presentations are on heterosexual individuals’ perceptions of same-sex cheating in exclusive relationships. For example, if I have a girlfriend, and she has a gay male best friend, what behaviors between them (such as cuddling or kissing) do I believe to be cheating behavior?

Last question—what do you like most about Lawrence so far? I would say the basketball culture. As a lifetime lover of the sport, I have grown up watching the game, memorizing the box scores, and arguing with friends over which conferences are superior. At first I put up a wall to jumping on the Rock Chalk bandwagon, but after about eight months of living in Lawrence, I finally feel like I am growing my wings and evolving into a true Jayhawk. Also, I may be the only one, but as an Arizonan, I love this cold and snow.