Karen Russell: 2017 Josiah Meigs Teaching Professor

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.”

Karen Russell named one of five 2017 Meigs Professors

Karen Russell, Jim Kennedy New Media Professor and associate professor of public relations at Grady College, is one of five University of Georgia professors named to the Josiah Meigs Distinguished Teaching Professorship, the university’s highest recognition for excellence in instruction.

“This continues an amazing three-year streak of Grady representation in the university’s highest teaching honor, and is a true testament to the quality of teaching and mentorship all over the college,” said Charles N. Davis, dean of Grady College. “Dr. Russell is a state-of-the-art teacher who works tirelessly to keep pace with the rapid change in social media campaigns and digital marketing—areas on the leading edge of public relations.”

Russell joins five other Grady College faculty who are Meigs Professors: Carolina Acosta-Alzuru, James Hamilton, David Hazinksi, Karen King and Lynne Sallot.

The Meigs Professorship underscores the university’s commitment to excellence in teaching, the value placed on the learning experiences of students and the centrality of instruction to the university’s mission. The award includes a permanent salary increase of $6,000 and a one-year discretionary fund of $1,000.

“This year’s Meigs Professors create experiences both inside and outside of the classroom that challenge students to apply their knowledge to real-world situations,” said Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Pamela Whitten, whose office sponsors the award. “Their commitment to students helps make the University of Georgia one of the nation’s very best public universities.”

The other 2017 Meigs Professors are:

  • James “Jeb” Byers, professor and associate dean of administrative affairs and research in the Odum School of Ecology.
  • Markus Crepaz, professor and head of the international affairs department in the School of Public and International Affairs.
  • John Maerz, professor in the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources,
  • Annette Poulsen, Augustus H. “Billy” Sterne Professor of Banking and Finance in the Terry College of Business.

Russell is an award-winning media historian who also uses 21st-century tools such as social media to prepare her public relations students for their careers. She developed a blog on teaching that became a resource for public relations students and faculty members around the globe. Russell has been hailed a “Top 40 Tweeter” by “PRWeek,” and her students have been commended by the Public Relations Student Society of America Bateman competition five times, winning a national championship in 2007. She created the popular campus-wide course “Online Reputation Management” and collaborated on the creation of an online continuing education social media certificate course. She is a recipient of top research awards in her field, including the Pathfinder Award from the Institute for Public Relations.

Meigs Professors are nominated by their school or college and chosen by a committee consisting of 12 faculty members, two undergraduate students and one graduate student.

More information about the Josiah Meigs Distinguished Teaching Professorships is online.