Beth Olson at the University of Houston Teaches About Media and Communications

By Megan Driscoll

university of houston jack j valenti school of communications Please describe your educational and professional background and how you came to teach at the University of Houston.

Dr. Beth Olson: My educational background includes a B.S. in Mass Communication from Bemidji State University in Minnesota, an M.A. in Telecommunications from Texas Tech University and a Ph.D. in Telecommunications from Indiana University.

My professional background began with college radio and television as an undergraduate, which led to six years in both radio and television news as a reporter and producer.

When I was ABD (all but dissertation) from Indiana University, I saw that the Valenti School of Communication at the University of Houston was looking for a candidate who had broadcast news skills as well as a research interest in media effects. It fit my background and teaching broadcast news in a major media market was also appealing to me. How did you become interested in the field of communications?

BO: I'm one of those fortunate people who knew what I wanted to do while I was still in high school, which was to work in radio. Everything else just fell into place, with one work experience leading to the next. The radio work led to television reporting, and from there I had experience in both to take to the classroom. I never thought about research and publishing as an undergraduate, but looking back all the papers I wrote were related to media effects. Please describe your major research areas for our readers.

BO: My areas of research include media, gender issues, news, pop culture and media effects. I've published articles about soap operas, family situation comedies and news coverage, and also contributed to two textbooks on broadcast news. Basically, I'm interested in the sociological and psychological effects of consuming media. Are you currently working on any research or book projects, and if so, can you tell us about them?

BO: The administrative work I currently do leaves little time for research. However, a textbook I wrote on performance was released in a new edition last year. What courses are you currently teaching, and what courses do you typically teach each year?

BO: Again, because of the administrative work, I don't teach as many courses as I have in the past. Those classes include undergraduate courses in gender and media and media effects, a course on media and society delivered via distance education, and graduate courses on media effects and mass communication theory and research.

Currently I'm just teaching Gender & Media and Media & Society. What is your favorite course you've ever taught at the Valenti School of Communication, and why?

BO: That's a tough one. I probably enjoy the gender and media class the most because it allows us to examine a lot of different media while drawing conclusions about the similarities in the pervasive messages about men and women in our culture. It's rewarding to encourage students to look at media with a more critical eye and perhaps see things they hadn't thought of prior to taking the course.

But I also take a long-standing joy in teaching the media and society course because it really opened my eyes to the field when I was an undergrad. Does your teaching frequently influence your research, and vice versa? In what ways?

BO: It does. Most often it feeds from research into the class as I weave methodology, results and implications into the course content and become more knowledgeable about the topic. Having performed the research also gives you credibility with the students. And preparing new material for lectures and class discussions can also trigger research ideas or questions. What advice would you give to a student who is considering pursuing a career in communications research and teaching?

BO: Go to the best schools that you can. Make some sacrifices. Learn all you are able to learn. Start a publishing career as soon as possible and find a niche in which you can grow. But if you don't enjoy both teaching and research, academia is not for you. Find something that makes you happy, but remember that teaching can also be exciting. Communications is a vital field; there are always new developments to bring to class. The students obviously are immersed in a media-rich environment from the time they are born, and therefore are often easy to engage. What is the most important thing a prospective student should know about the Valenti School of Communication?

BO: We're successful in preparing our students for the communication industry, if they are willing to work hard. Finally, I'd like to offer you the opportunity to share anything you'd like about your research and your instructional work at the University of Houston.

BO: The Valenti School of Communication provides so many opportunities for students to engage with the community, while also providing some meaningful connections for applied research. The students here are a bit older than traditional college students. Most are working full- or part-time to pay for their education, and, as a result, are more motivated to take something meaningful and tangible from the classroom. That makes my job much more enjoyable.

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