A great affection towards journalism at ISU
By Wayne Davis, MS 1988

Iowa State University’s Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, now the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication, has been a valuable asset for me for more than a quarter of a century. Iowa State’s journalism program came into my life in 1977, when I moved from Seymour to Ames to become the first public relations coordinator for the Iowa State Center.

My first wife, Jeanne, and I had gone to Seymour in 1947 after I was separated from active duty in the Army after World War II. We bought The Seymour Herald and operated it as co-publishers of a “man-and-wife weekly” until her passing in 1975. After a year and a half in which I discovered that running a man-and-wife weekly without a wife wasn’t as much fun, I took the job in Ames, expecting to continue as an absentee publisher.

But when I’d returned to Seymour on weekends to sort out the odds and ends of the business there, I soon discovered I was encountering only the headaches and none of the joys of producing a community newspaper. So after a few months, I sold the paper to two longtime employees and turned my full attention to my new career.

At the outset, I thought the Iowa State Center wouldn’t keep me as busy as I was accustomed to being, so I decided to enroll in graduate school to learn some of the basics of my new profession. I had earned a bachelor of arts degree from The Principia College in Elsah, Ill., in 1939, and a bachelor of journalism degree from the University of Missouri at Columbia in 1941, so I was not a traditional student.

Nevertheless, I was warmly received, and although I soon discovered my position at the Iowa State Center was, indeed, a full-time job, I was able to continue with my coursework at my own pace. The beauty of the arrangement was I could tailor my curriculum to my own needs and found classes or special projects for credit that related directly to what I needed to know to handle the public relations responsibilities at the performing arts complex. It was not unusual for me to return to my office after a class and immediately put into practice some of the things I had learned the hour before. Some of the audience surveys I conducted as the basis for my master’s thesis are still in use in modified form to this day.

Speaking of the thesis, it had to wait until after I left the center in 1987, but the things I had learned in Hamilton Hall helped me to earn promotions on the job. They made it possible for me to retire after a decade on the fringes of show business as an assistant director responsible for marketing, public relations and sales.

But retirement was not an easy adjustment for me. So I was fortunate to receive encouragement from my graduate committee to complete the thesis and earn my degree—a master of science in journalism. Commencement came 49 years after I had received my first bachelor’s degree. But with that milestone behind me, what next?

It was at about this point, in spring 1988, that Tom Emmerson, then chair of the Journalism Department, asked me to substitute a few weeks for a professor who had become ill toward the end of the term. My father had been a college professor, and my son had followed in his footsteps, but I thought involvement with academia had skipped a generation in my case. Not so! I continued as a part-timer in Hamilton Hall for another 10 years, serving under three chairs.

On many occasions, I have credited Tom Emmerson with saving my life—or at least prolonging it. He gave me an opportunity to serve on the journalism staff as an instructor, besides working with the internship coordinator, helping produce the annual Newsletter and generally acting as a utility infielder for him. Emmerson’s two immediate successors, Jane Peterson and John Eighmey, allowed me to continue those duties until I finally turned in my keys in December 1998. Imagine—having meaningful work to do at age 78!

But the story doesn’t end there. Just the summer before last, I was asked to produce a content analysis of survey results from candidates who had taken a beta examination for accreditation in public relations. I was able to tap Eric Abbott’s expertise once again for a short course on that process. Thanks to his tips, my analysis was well-received by the Universal Accreditation Board.

During my more-than-20-year contact with journalism education at Iowa State—both as a student and as a staff member—I have seen a technological evolution from labs filled with manual typewriters to workstations equipped with the latest computer developments. I’ve seen the abandonment of hot-metal Linotype composition in favor of the last word in electronic typesetting and pagination. I’ve witnessed the transition from chemical darkroom pictures to instant digital photography. And to think—in my letterpress days at The Seymour Herald, I was still performing some printing functions the same way Gutenberg had more than 500 years before!

In view of all the journalism program at Iowa State has done for me, is it any wonder I have a great affection for what has become the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication? And I know my positive experience could be echoed by hundreds of my fellow alumni. Impressed as I am with all the positive developments at the School, how could I not have high expectations for its continued growth through its second century and beyond!

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