Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Monday, December 10, 2018

Prof. connects to students via in-dorm office

After his first semester with an office in McDowell Hall, School of Communication professor W. Joseph Campbell is still standing tall, literally. (His well-over-6-foot frame is hard for residents to miss.) But he's also looking forward to reaching out to more students this spring.

"I think fall semester 2004 went very well. ... It was a busy semester, during which I made the acquaintance of many McDowell residents, of most McDowell desk receptionists and of all the McDowell resident assistants," Campbell said.

Campbell, who can occasionally be spotted wearing a McDowell Hall T-shirt or working at the front desk, said his experiences have resulted in a special connection to the residence hall.

"The many casual, informal conversations with students were particularly gratifying," he said. "I was made to feel very welcome in McDowell, and I've developed an affinity, or sense of loyalty or attachment, to the residence hall."

Last semester, Campbell held various events in McDowell Hall, including informal conversations with School of Communication professors.

"These 'conversations' are in keeping with a central objective of my office-in-residence program - encouraging and facilitating informal contacts between students and faculty," Campbell said.

This semester he's planning a few more informal "conversations with faculty," as well as a "Meet the Dean" program.

"One of the most important initiatives of spring semester is the idea of inviting deans from the respective schools to an informal evening where they can meet with and answer questions from students in McDowell and other residence halls," Campbell said.

The first Meet the Dean event was held last month with SOC Dean Larry Kirkman.

"There is the reputation that deans are somewhat removed from students," Campbell said. "They are so high in demand that many students feel that they would like to learn more about them."

An experiment in immersion

The main purpose of Campbell's office experiment is to encourage informal interaction between faculty and students.

"I like to promote the fact that academic life continues beyond the classroom," Campbell said.

Also, there was a limited number of office space available when Campbell returned from a year-long absence.

"I was on sabbatical last year, and going on sabbatical means giving up your office space," said Campbell, whose office was originally located on the fourth floor of Mary Graydon Center.

Over the summer, Campbell met with Gail Hanson, vice president of Campus Life, and Julie Weber, executive director of Housing and Dining, to discuss potential office space on campus.

One of the options discussed was an office in McDowell Hall.

Professor John Richardson's four-year-long faculty-in-residence experience living in Anderson Hall intrigued Campbell and encouraged him to take baby steps back into the dorms he thought he left behind nearly three decades ago.

"My wife and myself attended one of John's Sunday dinners he holds for AU students and faculty," Campbell said. "I had a great time and it was really a neat experience."

Campbell and his wife discussed moving into the dorms, and agreed that having an office in a residence hall would be the best decision.

"We have an 8 1/2-year-old Bichon frise [dog] named Lil, and we just couldn't give her up. ... She basically runs the household," Campbell said, referring to the no pets rule for AU residence halls.

Once that decision was made, it was just a matter of narrowing down the residence hall.

"We realized that with Professor Richardson living on the South Side of campus, a North Side presence was the ticket to success," Campbell said. "Of the three places we looked at, we realized that McDowell Hall was the place it would happen."

Advice from a professor

Campbell, who has a doctorate in journalism and has worked as a journalist, has advice for students who aspire to enter the field: most importantly, "get it straight, right and accurate," he said.

Reading is also key to becoming a good writer, he said.

Campbell encourages students to make use of the Newspaper Readership Program, which makes USA Today, The New York Times and The Washington Post available for free in all six residence halls.

"To help direct or redirect attention to the program, [McDowell Hall Resident Director] Eric Ratner, the McDowell RAs and I distributed a copy of one of the newspapers in the Readership Program to each door of McDowell Hall one morning early this semester," Campbell said. "We attached to each paper a flier reminding everyone that they can pick up the free newspapers in the lobby every weekday during the semester."

Campbell also stressed the importance of General Education classes for all students.

"They encourage students to study across a board of disciplines," he said. "They are a valuable tool that help students to think critically and challenge assumptions."

Campbell is currently in his seventh academic year at AU. He became a faculty member in August 1997 and received tenure in 2003. Originally from Bucks County, Pa., he attended Ohio Wesleyan University and began working as a reporter at the Cleveland Plains-Dealer. He received his doctorate through a program created by the Freedom Forum, an organization that works to promote diversity in the newsroom and protect First Amendment rights. He was selected to be in the inaugural class at the University of North Carolina- Chapel Hill's journalism and mass communication program.

"I never thought I would get my Ph.D. I was always so busy with the demand of my reporting assignments, I couldn't do it," Campbell said. "After 20 years, I ended up being back in the classroom."

Campbell's office is located next to the McDowell Hall computing complex, and he encourages students to stop by and say hello.


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