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CCI Welcomes 12 New Faculty Members in Fall 2022

The College of Communication and Information is welcoming 12 new faculty members to its ranks this fall to support its growing student body. These faculty members bring a wealth of expertise and experience to CCI’s four schools and will help CCI to continue achieving its mission and fulfill the goals in its five-year strategic plan. Here’s a little bit more about each of CCI’s new faculty members:

Tombras School of Advertising and Public Relations

Assistant Professor Minjie Li

Minjie Li

Li brings a passion for social justice issues in advertising to his work, and his research is in the areas of multicultural advertising, prosocial strategic communication, brand activism, implicit bias, emerging technologies, and critical media psychology in relation to social change. In addition to those research interests, Li has a background in strategy, design, creativity, and visual communication/production. 

He looks forward to bringing his expertise to Tombras, as well as to utilizing the collaborative spirit at CCI and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville to push his research.

“With the cutting-edge infrastructures housed in the Tombras School and CCI, I am excited for future research collaborations, initiatives, and projects whose outcomes will benefit diverse local and global communities. Most importantly, I am thrilled to work alongside the educators and practitioners in the Tombras School and CCI to prepare new generations of communicators for more inclusive, equitable, and transferable professional career paths in the ever-changing realities of the industry and technological evolution,” he said. 

He earned his doctoral degree from Louisiana State University, and his studies have won six top paper awards from national and international associations. Recently, the American Academy of Advertising awarded him the AAA Research Fellowship grant. He was selected as an NCA Doctoral Honors fellow and a USC Annenberg Diversity in Media and Culture fellow and AEJMC’s Mass Communication and Society Division named him the first-place winner of the Promising Professor Award. He is the head of the LGBTQ Interest Group at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC), and a member of the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity & Access (I.D.E.A.) Standing Committee at the International Communication Association.


“Dr. Li does important, innovative research at the intersection of media diversity and psychology with an emphasis on LGBTQ communities. Dr. Li is an award-winning teacher with a specialty in visual communication and digital advertising as well as an exciting creative background. He will make very exciting and unique contributions to the Tombras School, and we are thrilled for him to join us this fall!” – Foster


Assistant Professor of Practice William Nowling

Bill Nowling

Nowling has been a professional communicator for nearly 25 years, and brings research experience in public relations, organizational messages in response to risk and crisis, and application of Discourse of Renewal Theory as strategic communication practice. He is one of three faculty hired to support CCI’s online master’s program, and said he is looking forward to joining faculty where professional experience is on par with academic experience.

“I want to teach and research in a program committed to expanding access to higher education through new modalities, especially online and distance learning. Most importantly, however, I came to know several faculty members over the last few years. In addition to being excellent scholars and teachers, they are wonderful and welcoming human beings,” he said, adding that “They made Rocky Top feel like home to me.”

He’s also excited about working in the online master’s program and having an opportunity to teach and mentor the mid-career communication professionals who are in it. 

Nowling earned his master’s and doctorate degrees from Wayne State University in Detroit, and he has advised governors, mayors, chief executives, and corporations on how to effectively communicate and manage change. More recently, Nowling led communications for the Detroit municipal bankruptcy, and consulted with the state of Michigan on the Flint water crisis and COVID-19 pandemic.

School of Communication Studies

Director and Professor Jon Hess

Jon Hess

Hess comes to the School of Communication Studies from the University of Missouri and the University of Dayton. He has always served in leadership roles including course director, director of graduate studies, department chair, associate dean, and academic senate president, so stepping into this director position was a natural fit.

His research spans interpersonal and instructional communication; he investigates how people use communication to maintain relationships, as well as how instructors can use communication to help students achieve the best outcomes in class. He’s been at CCI since July, and has already had an opportunity to experience just how much the college exemplifies the Volunteer spirit and supports its student, faculty, and staff.

“There is so much to love about CCI! I am excited about the focus a College of Communication and Information can offer, and the scope of what areas of study are included in the college. I am excited to get back to a state flagship public university, and while I have never had any connections with UT, I have always liked the school. The full range of undergraduate through doctoral education is appealing, and I am impressed with the work that many of our faculty are doing,” he said. “Tennessee’s interest in doing innovative work rather than just following others provides a setting for thoughtful approaches that can make a transformative impact on our students, the state, and higher education more broadly.”

He is also a past editor of Communication Education, and has recently completed a textbook, Because You Asked: Questions Shaping Interpersonal Communication. 


“It’s my first academic year at UT and I am looking forward to seeing what our new faculty will bring to our students and our school. The School of Communication Studies already has a great program, so it is an exciting time to grow the breadth of expertise and support that we can offer our students.” – Communication Studies Professor and Director Jon Hess


Assistant Professor Roth Smith

Roth Smith

Smith specializes in organizational communication and now that he’s come to UT, plans to continue his research on how communication facilitates or constrains organizing processes among loosely structured collectives.

“I wanted to join the College of Communication and Information because of the college’s outstanding reputation and the excellent support for both research and teaching. I also like that the School of Communication partners with the college to offer a master of science program and a doctoral program,” he said. 

He earned his doctorate from the University of Texas, Austin; his master’s in communication, technology, and society from Clemson University; and his bachelor’s in electronic media from the University of South Carolina Upstate. Prior to pursuing a career in higher education, he spent five years working in local television news in Charleston and Greenville, South Carolina. In his free time, Roth enjoys mountain biking, dirt jumping, enduro motocross, and hiking.

“I have always enjoyed visiting Knoxville and the Eastern Tennessee region to ride mountain bikes, motocross bikes, and hike. I am excited to join such a strong academic program and also be close to the outdoor recreation that I love!” Smith said

Assistant Professor Jessica Frampton 

Jessica Frampton

Frampton comes to the School of Communication Studies with a background in interpersonal communication. Her research entails looking at communication in various roles, such as a source of knowledge structures or expectations regarding people’s close relationships, as an event that threatens our expectations and causes stress, and as a response to stressors.

“Under this broad umbrella, I developed two lines of research pertaining to specific relationship stressors: jealousy and life transitions. In my studies examining these stressors, I focus on both face-to-face and computer-mediated communication, and I use several methods such as surveys, experiments, content analyses, and in-depth interviews. I look forward to bringing my knowledge of this research area and my collaborative spirit to CCI,” she said. 

Frampton is excited to work with the Research and Innovation Center at CCI and also to have an opportunity to mentor graduate students. She grew up traveling often to East Tennessee to hike the Smoky Mountains with her family, and is excited to get to live so close to some of her favorite hiking spots. 

She earned her doctorate in communication from The Ohio State University, a master’s in communication technology from Clemson University, and an undergraduate degree in public and professional writing from Indiana University, Bloomington. In her free time she enjoys hiking, painting, making jewelry, and learning fun facts about animals.

Lecturer Tayler Wahl

Wahl’s experience and research is in interpersonal communication and she loves teaching students and helping them to develop their personal and professional goals. 

“I love the mission statement of the University! It is a message that definitely speaks to me and is one I am thrilled to share in and be a part of. The College of Communication and Information stood out to me based on how active it is, particularly in research and programs and services it offers to students, so the opportunity to see it all firsthand and be a part of that is very exciting,” she said. “The vibe, energy, and school spirit is so unique here and I am excited to be a part of it!”

Wahl is a Florida native but spent her high school and college years in California. She has a little maltipoo named Kiko who is a constant sidekick and Wahl loves traveling, amusement parks, video games, Harry Potter, and Game of Thrones

“I’m pretty much brand new to the Knoxville area, so please send over any recommendations on what to do and where to go!” Wahl said.

Assistant Professor of Practice Joe Lybarger

Lybarger earned his doctorate degree from UT and is looking forward to working at his alma mater. His expertise is in organizational communication and leadership and he’s thrilled  to share his passion for teaching and research with his colleagues and students. 

“I am most excited about the people I will be working with. I have met some of the best co-workers while here at UT, and I’m excited about continuing to work with these great people and meet others… the weather in the South isn’t bad either!” he said.

Lybarger’s research program specializes in investigating leaders’ usage of symbolic aggression and nonverbal immediacy behaviors and how, together, these behaviors influence various affective and behavioral outcomes in employees.


“We are excited to be adding instructors to the amazing faculty that have developed courses and have been teaching in the strategic and digital communication concentration for the first two years. Each brings strong research and teaching credentials, but also rich experience in communication careers as practitioners, which is so valuable for our working professional students. We look forward to being able to serve more students pursuing a UT online communication master’s degree with the addition of Dr. Jordan, Dr. Nowling, and Dr. Lybarger.” – Alexis Anderson, program manager Online Master’s Program: Strategic & Digital Communication


Lecturer Marieke Keller

Marieke Keller

Keller said she has long had a goal of teaching communication at the university level, so she is pleased to come on and be part of such a strong school as Communication Studies. She will be teaching public speaking, but has taught courses over the years such as leadership communication, communication research, and communication ethics. 

“I have a passion for teaching and am always looking for ways to be better. I’m looking forward to this next adventure in my career and life! I have so much to learn about UT and Knoxville, and I’m looking forward to experiencing it all,” Keller said. 

Keller has an undergraduate degree in business administration from Villanova University, a masters in communication studies from the University of Wyoming, and is a doctoral candidate at the University of Alabama. 

In addition to her academic pursuits, Keller has experience in the hospitality, banking, human resources, and retail industries. She’s lived in the Netherlands, and Japan, and has also lived across the United States in New Jersey, Maryland, Wyoming, Colorado, Alabama, and now Tennessee. 

Lecturer Leslie Deatrick

Leslie Deatrick

Deatrick said she first fell in love with UT when she was a visiting scholar in 2009, so she is grateful to have an opportunity to return. Her work is in social influence, looking at emotion within the context of Inoculation Theory, and interpersonal communication—including pick-up lines and the relationship between personality metrics and relationship outcomes.

“I have had opportunities to teach and work elsewhere, but I have wanted to return to UT since it is the flagship university in this area. I admire and respect the faculty and am honored to rejoin them after a decade of gathering experience elsewhere,” she said. 

She’s ready to refresh her Tennessee orange wardrobe and said she is excited to be back in the mix of energy and wonderful people on campus.

“I am excited to return to academia after working in the corporate world for so long. I love being in a learning environment. I enjoy the energy of a university and all the wonderful people I get to meet and collaborate with,” she said.

She has an undergraduate and master’s degree in Communication Studies from Michigan State University and earned all but dissertation status in social influence/interpersonal communication from the University of Oklahoma. She has taught courses at seven universities and was an editorial assistant for the Journal of Communication and Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication

She has also worked for three communication research companies studying customer experience, communication effectiveness, and youth violence prevention. For almost the past five years, she worked as a corporate trainer and communication analyst for a large financial services company. Since 2018, she has been a volunteer mediator at the Knoxville Family Court. 

Lecturer Kelly Phillips

Kelly Phillips

Phillips is no stranger to UT, as she has served in Student Life leadership roles here for more than a decade. She said that helping students learn, grow, and develop has always been at the core of her work, so joining Communication Studies as a lecturer is yet another extension of that passion. 

“A mentor once told me, you will never find a group of people as motivated about their future as you will on a college campus. Having worked both in the private sector and higher education, I have found that to be true,” she said. “Making that transition from Student Life and to academic learning is a significant way to contribute to the whole Vol experience.”

Phillips will be teaching public speaking and is excited to serve full-time as faculty.  She has been an instructor for most of her career, teaching classes in leadership in three different universities. She has also created, presented and facilitated countless programs, workshops, and formal keynote speeches on a host of topics throughout her career.

“I hope my background working with a variety of students and professionals will bring fresh insights to my classes. I hope that each student will find knowledge, skill and confidence in the courses I lead,” she said.

As both a Vol For Life (VFL) and a Knoxville native, Phillips earned her undergraduate degree in speech communication and political science. She earned her master’s degree at Bowling Green State University (BGSU) in college student personnel with a cognate in interpersonal communication.

Away from campus, Phillips likes to enjoy time with her four adult children as well as writing and cheering on the Vols!

The School of Journalism and Electronic Media

Assistant Professor of Practice Tatia Jacobson Jordan

Tatia Jacobson Jordan

Jordan is one of three faculty added to support CCI’s online master’s program, which features a concentration in strategic and digital communication. She earned her doctoral degree in English from Florida State University, and also holds master’s degrees in marketing and communication, and English. In the 20 years she has been in academics, Jordan has taught business writing and communication, and digital and social media marketing and analytics, in both undergraduate and graduate programs across the country.

The University of Tennessee has a stellar reputation in higher education, and is the number one reason why I applied for this position. It seemed like a great fit with my experience and education in marketing, advertising, and communications,” Jordan said. 

She said she is excited about working with both CCI students and faculty and teaching students how to navigate an ever-changing industry.  

Jordan’s experience extends beyond teaching, as she was employed at the Florida Center for Reading Research and the Florida Department of Education. By 2015, she managed marketing communication projects for 25 offices in 14 states as an assistant vice president for First Southwest in Dallas. 


“I’m so pleased to welcome Tatia Jacobson Jordan into our school and college. Tatia has a remarkable background in the areas of social media marketing and mobile communications, and will contribute a wealth of cutting-edge knowledge to our instructional programs.” – JEM Professor and Director Catherine Luther


School of Information Sciences

Assistant Professor Rebecca D. Frank

Rebecca Frank

Frank is bringing her expertise in archives and data to the School of Information Sciences, and is ready to collaborate with other faculty at the school, college, and university. Her research focuses on the social and ethical barriers that limit or prevent efforts to make data open, specifically focusing on the preservation, curation, sharing, and reuse of digital information.

“I wanted to join the faculty at the School of Information Sciences in the College of Communication & Information because of the school’s history of academic and research excellence, as well as exciting new programs such as the Research Data Management Certificate. The faculty at SIS are doing amazing work, and I am looking forward to joining them this fall,” she said. “I am excited to be returning to a university with a strong and vibrant campus community.”

She has a PhD from the University of Michigan School of Information, a master’s in information science from the University of Michigan School of Information with a specialization in preservation of information, and an undergraduate degree in organizational Studies from the University of Michigan. Her work has been supported by the Einstein Centre Digital Future, the InfraLab Berlin, the National Science Foundation (United States), and the Australian Academy of Science. She is affiliated with the Einstein Center Digital Future as an associated member.


“We are honored and excited to welcome Rebecca Frank to the SIS faculty. She will extend the school’s areas of expertise because she brings a wealth of national and international experience in unique and cutting-edge research and teaching areas such as the social construction of risk in digital preservation and curation, issues of data ethics and privacy, data sharing and reuse, and open data and public service infrastructures – all of which should enhance the educational experiences of our students and benefit communities of practice that SIS serves.” – SIS Professor and Director Abebe Rorissa