Karen Russell, a Jim Kennedy New Media Professor and associate professor of public relations, was recognized by the University of Georgia community in April 2017, as a Meigs Professor, the highest teaching honor at UGA. Following is a profile that was published in the April 17, 2017, Columns newspaper.
Karen Russell begins each new session of her Online Reputation Management course discussing the difference between reputation and character. She is well qualified to lead this conversation considering that she has a power-house online reputation that frequently lands her on lists of top Tweeters. More importantly, her character as a professor makes lasting impacts on her students who stay in touch years after their studies and influences public relations educators and professionals, alike.
“Dr. Russell is an inspiration to her students,” Charles N. Davis, dean of Grady College, said. “As a role model, she has planned and executed a number of innovative classes and programs that extend the classroom and prepare students for exciting careers.”
In addition to teaching students about the power and pitfalls of social media, Russell also teaches public relations campaigns courses, as well as graduate level courses in media history, public relations management and the department’s 4+1 master’s degree program.
Russell not only inspires her students, but she has had a major impact on the field of public relations education, too. She authored one of the first blogs in the industry, “Teaching PR,” and recently wrapped up six years editing “The Journal of PR Research,” a journal for PR theory development. Russell was recognized with the Pathfinder Award by the Institute for Public Relations for outstanding research in 2001 and was one of two educators recognized in 2010 by “PR Week” as a Top 30 Tweeter.
“There’s a whole generation of public relations teachers influenced by Dr. Russell’s work, and each one is, in turn, influencing the future of the field in their teaching,” Tom Kelleher, chair of the Department of Advertising at the University of Florida, said.
Russell’s teaching also influenced Marie Hardin during her doctoral studies at Grady College. Hardin serves as dean of the College of Communications at Penn State.
“Dr. Russell is a deeply caring and engaging teacher who seeks to connect her material to students,” Hardin said. “She focuses on learning and on making knowledge relevant and accessible. She asks students to participate in the learning process, and she holds them accountable for doing so.”
Cory McCollum, a 2011 graduate, echoes those themes of engagement and self-learning.
“There was a feeling that you were walking into a living room more than a classroom,” McCollum said. “Learning from Dr. Russell throughout the entire semester felt like a conversation. It was like she had tricked me into learning. How wonderful is that?”
Russell, who has taught at Grady College since earning her Ph.D. in 1993, says the ever-changing field and classroom conversations keep her motivated.
“It’s not just me teaching but me learning,” Russell explains. “The students always bring things to the class that I didn’t know, whether it’s something small like a new platform or bigger like a new way of looking at things.”
While she hopes to prepare her students professionally, she hopes some of her classroom lessons become life lessons, as well.
“It’s about collaboration and teamwork — that’s how it actually works in the real world,” Russell concludes. “Invariably a student will complain that so-and-so didn’t pull their weight. My standard response is ‘life is a group project.’ There aren’t very many things that they are going to do where they aren’t going to depend on other people doing their part, as well.”