Lasting impact

Editor’s note: This video profile is part of a series about UGA faculty who were named Josiah Meigs Teaching Professors in 2017.

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 powerhouse 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.

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, the Jim Kennedy New Media Professor and associate professor of public relations in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, not only inspires her students, but she also 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’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 doctorate in 1993, said the ever-changing field and classroom conversations keep her motivated. While she hopes to prepare her students professionally, she also hopes some of her classroom lessons become life lessons.

“It’s about collaboration and teamwork — that’s how it actually works in the real world,” Russell said. “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.”