I am fortunate to serve as the Chair of the Department of Communication Studies. Serving in this capacity gives me a wonderful vantage point to see all of the quality teaching, research and service activities of this excellent program.

The Department of Communication Studies, housed in the College of Arts and Sciences, offers courses of study leading to the bachelor, master, and doctoral degrees. The department is united around the mission of “Communication, Collaboration and Community” and features emphasis areas of interpersonal & family communication, organizational communication, and rhetoric and public culture. Our Speech & Debate Program is a wonderful opportunity for students and we have a Communication Club and Lambda Pi Eta Honorary Society for our undergraduate majors.

You may know that the University of Nebraska-Lincoln recently moved to the Big Ten! This move has important academic implications, as UNL has become part of one of the elite academic consortiums in the nation. The move to the Big Ten adds to the prestige of undergraduate and graduate student degrees from UNL and brings exciting academic opportunities to us all.

I hope the information included on this site will answer your questions about our department and community of talented students, faculty, and staff.

Dawn O. Braithwaite, Chair
Willa Cather Professor of Communication Studies


Do you want to support Communication Studies at UNL?

Make a general donation or donate to a specific fund below!

Department of Communication Studies Fund
A gift to the department will help enhance programming for students, recruit faculty and graduate students, providing special training programs, etc.

Phyllis Japp Student Development Fund
All funds donated to this fund will go directly to support students with their work, for example, to support student travel to professional meetings, attendance at a conference, or to help with research expenses.

Donald O. Olson Memorial Fund for Speech & Debate
All gifts directed toward this fund will be used to cover the expenses needed to travel, register students for competition, host tournaments, and purchase supplies.

Department of Communication Studies Newsletter

View the Fall 2013 Newsletter

Newsletter Archive


The history of communication at UNL is a story similar to the evolution of the discipline at many public research universities. It began with a focus on instruction in rhetoric and oratory. The oral traditions of rhetoric and drama grew together in the early years. Then, with the development of cognate disciplines in the mid-twentieth century, various communication programs were housed in a large umbrella department containing Speech, Theatre, Communication Disorders and Audiology, Radio and Television. In the latter half of the twentieth-century, specialization lead to the creation of departments with more defined intellectual missions. Theatre joined with disciplines in fine and performing arts. Audiology and Communication Disorders migrated to special education. Radio and Television became Broadcasting and found a home in the College of Journalism and Mass Communications. The speech portion of communication, broadened its purview beyond just orality and with its twin foci on communication research (social science) and rhetorical studies (humanities), found its intellectual home where it began in antiquity in the liberal arts.

The charge to provide academic instruction in communication goes back to the University’s founding. The original Charter of the University of Nebraska mandated the appointment of seven professors, including a professor of rhetoric. When the campus doors opened for the first time in the fall of 1871, speech and debate activities were carried out by the Palladian and Delian Literary Societies.

In 1901, Professor Miller Fogg was appointed the director of debate. Chancellor Andrews, a strong supporter of speech education, gave Fogg the mandate “to reform and reorganize” debate training. Fogg developed a strong interstate debate program with Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.

By the mid-1920s, Dr. Alice Howell, who had inherited the old “elocution” courses, changed to more modern approaches. She formed a Dramatic Club and expanded the curriculum. By the 1926-1927 academic year, there were twenty-eight courses offered in various aspects of dramatics. The University Theater is named in Howell’s honor.

In 1940, Chancellor Boucher hired Leroy Laase (PhD, University of Iowa). The Chancellor believed that various aspects of speech and drama training were badly organized and poorly staffed. He unified the scattered departments and under Laase’s leadership the various areas of communication were housed under one roof. By the end of Laase’s tenure, the department consisted of well-developed areas of Speech Communication (including Communication Education), Theatre Arts, Speech Pathology and Audiology (including a Speech Clinic), and Radio and Television.

During this period, the graduate program was created. In 1945 the Department submitted a request to offer a Masters degree and the first MA was conferred in 1947. In 1967, the PhD program was approved and the first doctorate was awarded in 1971.

The events that shaped the present configuration of Communication Studies began in 1990, when Bill Seiler became the department’s seventh chair. His tenure spanned twenty-one years and during this period he oversaw the hiring of all members of the current faculty. In the fall of 1991, Kathleen Krone and Ronald Lee arrived in Lincoln. Since 1991, four members of the faculty retired: John Petelle, Vince DiSalvo, Dennis Bormann and most recently Phyllis Japp at the end of 2009.

In July 1993, the department officially changed its name from Speech Communication to Communication Studies. Following a national trend, the department assumed a title that reflected a broader disciplinary concentration on the production and influence of messages not confined to orality and speech performance.

Dawn O. Braithwaite joined the faculty in 1998 and became a Willa Cather Professor in 2007. Jody Kellas and Jordan Soliz came to Lincoln in 2004 and Kristen Lucas in 2006. Damien Pfister joined the Nebraska faculty in 2009. In AY 2010-2011, the tenure-line faculty consists of Drs. Braithwaite, Lee, Lucas, Kellas, Krone, Pfister, Soliz, and Seiler. Karen Lee is a Professor of Practice working with undergraduate advising and Aaron Duncan directs the Speech & Debate program.

The department is home to 225 undergraduate majors, a Communication Club, and a chapter of Lambda Pi Eta, the honorary society of the National Communication Association. At present the Department’s graduate program is made up of 33 students, mostly at the doctoral level, with 22 on graduate teaching assistant lines. The department offers emphases in Interpersonal and Family Communication, Organizational Communication, and Rhetoric and Culture. The program also participates in the Masters in Marketing, Communication and Advertising.

The Speech and Debate program regained its national prominence by placing in the top fifteen at the National Forensics Association’s Tournament for the past five years, of late in the top ten. Infused with a significant alumni donation, the program is building competitive debate. The Speech & Debate program has had twelve national finalists in eight different events and a national champion in 2008.

Recent years have brought significant growth in the research productivity of the department. In July 2011 UNL moved to the Big Ten. This move has important academic implications, as UNL has become part of one of the elite academic consortiums in the nation, and this adds to the prestige of UNL degree. Our Faculty members and graduate students have received more recognition and awards from the University, College, and national and regional organizations than during any other period in the department's history. Faculty members regularly work on research with graduate and undergraduate students. The department is known for excellent teaching and as a close and caring community.