Professor Profile: Good times keep rolling for alumna, professor
Public relations guru returns to alma mater, brings real-world experience to next generation
For Pallavi Damani Kumar, an assistant professor in the School of Communication, some things never change. Like the food in the Terrace Dining Room.
The 1994 AU alumna came back to teach here in 2002 as an adjunct Public Communication professor. But only last year did she venture down those cafeteria steps for the first time since her undergraduate days.
“I was scarred,” she said.
Many things at AU still seen the same for Kumar, who teaches in the very program from which she got her Communications, Law, Economics and Government and Public Communication degree 16 years ago.
“Some of the classes that I’m teaching, I’m teaching them in the same classrooms that I took them in,” she said.
She also teaches with the same books she once took notes from – the only textbooks in college she read front to back. Kumar read the “Public Relations Strategies and Tactics” book by Dennis Wilcox for her Public Relations class with Professor Diggs-Brown.
Kumar is also now working alongside faculty whose lectures she once attended – she took two of SOC Professor Rodger Streitmatter’s classes as a student here.
“I’d always wanted to teach at American,” she said. “Even while I was a student.”
But between her graduation in 1994 and returning to AU as a professor in 2002, Kumar worked as a public relations professional in D.C., New York and Philadelphia.
She worked on projects that involved the environment, travel, health care, social marketing and international relations.
“I love the 24/7, fast-paced, traveling around the world, having huge budgets, doing amazing things, seeing your work in the New York Times or Reader’s Digest aspects of PR,” she said. “But then you get married and have children and things change.”
Teaching PR here allows her to be completely updated in her field while having a family, she said. But her time in the field lets her bring real-life experience to the classroom, where she incorporates current events activities, crisis simulations, guest speakers and media training into her syllabus.
“I think that someone listening to me lecturing for two and a half hours would be the most boring thing,” she said laughing.
She lived on the third floor of Hughes Hall for three years. Her best friend to this day lived across the hall. “She and I have been friends for a very long time,” Kumar said.
She was the Publicity Director for AU’s Centennial Celebration in 1993, where she had a front-row seat to former President Bill Clinton’s speech here. She also met Clinton, and he put his hand on her shoulder – “pre-Monica Lewinsky,” she added.
She worked on an independent study with Dr. Neil Kerwin when she was a student and he was still dean of the School of Public Affairs, because she couldn’t fit a special seminar into her schedule. “He’s the best person that could ever do this job [of University president],” she said.
Her least favorite class was “The Case for Evolution,” a second-level Biology general education class. “I would literally sit in the Hughes Hall dorm until 2 a.m. just re-copying my notes,” she said.
She knew she wanted to attend AU as soon as she walked onto the quad, which remains her favorite place on campus. “When you teach where you went to school, you’re constantly confronted with memories,” she said.