CCI Recognizes 2023 Retirees, Students, and Award Winners
Every spring, the College of Communication and Information recognizes and honors those who have made significant achievements in their work, whether it be excellence in teaching, research, or volunteering, or the time that they have contributed before retiring. In 2023, CCI has had much to celebrate from its graduate students, faculty, and staff. The following are those who were recognized this spring.
Celebrating CCI Graduate Students
The CCI Graduate Student Research Award recognizes outstanding research and creative activity by a current graduate student in the college. This year’s recipient is Jessica Barfield, a doctoral candidate with the School of Information Sciences. Her cutting-edge research focuses on human interaction with robotic technologies that are gaining intelligence and social skills. It explores how robot gender, gender, ethnicity, and voice characteristics influence user perception of social robots and task performance with robots. She has published more than 10 refereed conference papers and two book chapters and has a forthcoming paper accepted in a peer-reviewed human-robot interaction journal. She has also presented her research at over fifteen national and international conferences and has given several invited talks. She received several honors this spring, including acceptance as an SEC Emerging Scholar for the 2023-24 academic year, recipient of the Jimmy and Ileen Cheek Graduate Student Medal of Excellence, and was selected by the chancellor as the student member of the Knoxville Campus Advisory Board starting July 2023.
The CCI Graduate Student Teaching Award recognizes outstanding classroom instruction by a current graduate student in the college. This year’s recipient is Tori Bertram with the School of Communication Studies. Bertram has a higher course load than most graduate students from our peer institutions, having taught four course preps in the School of Communication Studies. Engaging students is one of her top priorities and mirrors CCI priorities in student success. Her students have even created a fan club named after her!
The Graduate Student Dissertation Award recognizes outstanding scholarship as exemplified in the dissertation. Cassandra Huang, who successfully defended her dissertation in December 2022, is the recipient of this award for the work she did around information and communication technology and how bullying behaviors have gradually transferred to the online environment. The Committee was impressed with the research quality and rigor of the recipient’s dissertation, “University Students’ Perspectives of Visual-based Cyberbullying on Instagram.” Findings disclosed the nature of visual-based cyberbullying on Instagram as experienced by university students.
CCI is also celebrating eight graduated doctoral students and their dedicated advisors, who are:
- John Baker, PhD, and his advisor, Assistant Professor of Practice Mike Martinez, School of Journalism and Media. Baker’s dissertation examined how elite media outlets contributed to socially constructing free speech rights. Using thematic analysis, this study examined how those outlets described freedom of speech over the most recent decade spanning from 2011 through 2020. He is now an instructional assistant professor in Integrated Marketing Communication at The University of Mississippi.
- Alexander Carter, PhD, and his advisor Professor Mariea Hoy, Tombras School of Advertising and Public Relations. Carter’s dissertation examined advertising on the video game live streaming platform, Twitch. His study, the first quantitative examination of the theory of transparasocial interaction, offered a better understanding of community perceptions of influencers and advertising on the Twitch platform. Carter is now an assistant professor of strategic communication in the College of Communication at Butler University.
- Joseph Lybarger, PhD, and his advisor Associate Professor Michelle Violanti, School of Communication Studies.Lybarger’s dissertation extended findings from his master’s thesis by conducting an experiment that investigated how a leader’s use of verbal aggression and nonverbal immediacy behaviors interacts to influence affective and behavioral outcomes in employees. Lybarger currently serves as an assistant professor of practice in the School of Communication Studies.
- Kevin Mallary, PhD, and his advisor Associate Professor Devendra Potnis, School of Information Sciences. Mallary’s dissertation shared that students in higher education are expected to master everyday life, which involves receiving and processing copious information, completing assignments, communicating with professors and peers, planning for their careers, and building life skills. Mallary sought to understand – from autistic students’ perspectives – how people, information, norms, and tools belonging to higher education institutions enable these learners’ mastery of everyday life. Mallary is now an assistant professor in the Department of STEM Education and Professional Studies at Old Dominion University.
- Dennis McCarty, PhD, and his advisor Associate Professor Michael Kotowski, School of Communication Studies. McCarty’s dissertation examined the “bullshit” construct used within social influence. This involves presenting ambiguous message content as an artificial substitute for missing reasoning. This pseudo-reasoning combines with clearer source or affect cues that drive the target toward a desired conclusion. The results of his research suggested that the targets of influence attempts are generally motivated to make positive judgements about message agents when influence communication features constructions that appear to represent supportive reasoning –whether that reasoning adheres to classic standards of clarity or not. McCarty is now an assistant instructional professor in the Dial Center for Written and Oral Communication at the University of Florida.
- Cassandra Huang, PhD, and her advisor Professor Dania Bilal, School of Information Sciences. As mentioned earlier, Huang’s dissertation explored university students’ perspectives of visual-based cyberbullying, with a specific focus on Instagram. Huang has applied for a faculty position at Taiwan National University.
- Monica Ihli, PhD, and her advisor Professor Suzie Allard, School of Information Sciences. Ihli’s dissertation examined knowledge barriers to organizational compliance with data management and sharing policy, and proposed new methods by which research institutions could gauge their readiness to respond to the changing landscape of data policy. Her dissertation piloted two assessment approaches available to academic research institutions that wish to better understand their current alignment with data management and sharing principles featured in policies such as the U.S. National Institutes of Health. This understanding is helping institutions identify the most-needed services and training. Ihli now works as a data systems engineer for the Atmospheric Radiation Measurement user facility at ORNL which is funded by the Department of Energy Office of Science.
- Joseph Winberry, PhD, and his advisor Associate Professor Awa Zhu, School of Information Sciences. Winberry’s dissertation examined how LGBT plus individuals who are 50 years of age and older face aging-related information problems that other populations do not. Information Marginalization Theory posits that much of the information problems marginalized individuals face are not a personal failure but rather a systemic—and often intentional—one. The dissertation sought to understand how responsibility for combating information marginalization can be shifted from the populations experiencing it to the institutions who perpetuate it. This purpose was met by using a community-based participatory research design to create and implement a strategic plan with the Knox County Office on Aging to combat information marginalization experienced by LGBT plus older adults in East Tennessee. In the fall, Winberry will join the School of Information and Library Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as an assistant professor.
Celebrating UT Years of Service
Professor Eric Haley has served for 30 years at the Tombras School of Advertising and Public Relations, since joining the faculty in 1992. He has taught almost every course and has contributed greatly to graduate education where he has advised countless graduate students and impacted their careers extensively. His research record reflects his engagement and commitment to graduate student success. Most recently, he was honored with a lifetime achievement award from the American Academy of Advertising.
Celebrating Faculty and Staff Award Recipients
Every year, CCI honors the work and commitment of faculty and staff with awards. This year, those award recipients are:
The 2023 Tenured/Tenure-Track Faculty Teaching Award recognizes outstanding classroom instruction by a tenured or tenure-track faculty member in the college. Assistant Professor Brian Dobreski joined the School of Information Sciences in 2019, and since then he has received excellent student evaluations and glowing peer reviews of his teaching. He continuously uses students’ quantitative and qualitative evaluations of his classes to improve his teaching. He also revises content and readings for his courses, including incorporating DEI-related content, to enhance his teaching and student learning. He took the initiative to create a course that addressed a gap in the MSIS curriculum and enabled students to gain a competitive advantage in the job market. He also supports new faculty and adjuncts by generously offering his time and sharing his teaching materials.
The Tenured/Tenure-Track Faculty Research Award recognizes outstanding research by a tenured or tenure-track faculty member in the college. This year’s recipient, Assistant Professor Sifan Xu,Tombras School of Advertising and Public Relations, has demonstrated excellence in both research quantity and quality; he conducts research that impacts our daily lives on topics such as vaccine hesitancy – corporate social responsibility – and advocacy. In the review period, Xu published eight peer-reviewed articles in top journals, including Health Communication, Journal of Applied Communication Research, Public Relations Review, and Journal of Public Relations Research. He also presented five conference papers this past year at national and international conferences and published two book chapters. He received the second-place faculty research paper award in the Public Relations Division of the National Communication Association.
The Part-Time Faculty Teaching Award recognizes outstanding teaching by a part-time faculty member in the college.
Becky Huckaby has been an adjunct lecturer for the Tombras School of Advertising and Public Relations teaching faculty for 16 years and in that time has benefited students not only in the classroom but also in their careers. She has taught public relations writing, principles, campaigns, and the school’s professional seminar. Students rave about her and connect with the real-world experience she brings to the classroom. She has APR credentials and is a PRSA Fellow, a high honor for professionals in public relations. She has navigated the pandemic successfully as the vice president for public relations for the Metropolitan Knoxville Airport Authority, managing all PR for TYS. She’s also a master’s alumna of the Tombras School, graduating in 2003.
The Big Orange Award recognizes full-time CCI staff members for outstanding administrative, advising, technical, outreach, and/or research service to the College of Communication and Information. This year, two staff members are receiving this award.
- Dionne George, Tombras program manager in the Tombras School of Advertising and Public Relations, is passionate about outreach and works to address underrepresentation in the Tombras School as well as in the industries of advertising and public relations. She tirelessly engages with community groups and the Flagship high schools with a holistic focus not just on recruiting students but also on retaining them and providing them with opportunities to leverage their educational journeys. She serves the Tombras School, CCI, UT, and the entire community—and beyond — daily.
- The next recipient, Yana Truman, administrative specialist in the School of Journalism and Media, is described as dedicated, reliable, hard-working, and very efficient. Everyone in the School of Journalism and Media trusts her, and they know when they ask something of her, she will follow through. Former school director, Professor Catherine Luther, said, “2022 was an extremely busy year in JEM. We recognized the school’s 75th anniversary with a large celebration dinner—we had a number of guest speakers as part of the anniversary—and we had several assistant professor searches simultaneously taking place. In order to assist in making these events highly successful, this individual performed her duties superbly and often went beyond the call of duty to make sure these events took place seamlessly. Even when certain challenges presented themselves, she was able to approach them in a calm manner and helped us to overcome those challenges.”
The CCI Volunteer Spirit Award recognizes a full-time CCI staff member for outstanding customer service, positive attitude, strong work ethic, and/or work efficiency/productivity to CCI. This year’s recipient is Kendra Norman, executive assistant to the dean. Norman works tirelessly on behalf of CCI, and her commitment to the betterment of the college extends to all, as she utilizes her skills and abilities to make CCI the best it can be. She is consistently going above and beyond in all the roles of her position, and without her dedication and work ethic, the incredible events at CCI would not be possible. She is always planning, preparing, and executing these occasions in a way that makes these experiences flow not only efficiently, but truly produces spectacular success. She is typically the first to arrive and last to leave, and through this she keeps the attitude that is emblematic of this award.
Celebrating the Careers of Retiring Faculty and Staff
CCI is honoring three people who are retiring this year. They are:
- Annette Winston, distinguished lecturer in the School of Communication Studies, has served the School of Communication Studies as a distinguished lecturer for the past 18 years after leaving a 25-year career in the private sector. She taught business and professional communication courses and eventually took over the honors section.
- Lorna Keathley, lecturer in the School of Communication Studies, has worked at UT for 25 years, 10 of which were in the School of Communication Studies. Lorna taught speech anxious students in sections of business and professional communication, and had a special approach for those students who needed extra support. In her retirement, she will still be assisting Byron Keys with the Diversity Student Leaders Society student organization and working toward a PhD with research interests in cultural heritage and museums.
- John McNair, CCI director of technology, has been a UT Employee for 40 years. His tenure at UT began as a student working in the UT Computing Center, and he has since advanced through the ranks to become the director of technology at CCI, where he has served since 2002.