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Gatepost Interview: Niall Stephens, Communication, Media, and Performance Department Chair

A photo of Niall Stephens.
Courtesy of Framingham State

By Ashlyn Kelly

What is your educational and professional background?

I have a Ph.D. in communication from UMass Amherst. I also got a master’s degree from Harvard Extension School in government. I got a B.A. in economics from the National University of Ireland. Before I got my Ph.D., I worked as a teacher as well, in various places – South America. I taught English in South America – Chile. I taught English as a second language here in the United States as well. I worked for a labor union for a while in Boston as a teacher.

What is your role at FSU?

I’m the chair of the Communication, Media, and Performance Department. I just took on this role this year for the first time. So I don’t really know what the job entails yet. I’m still learning. But I know some things about what it entails – sort of managing the department and how it works. Sometimes, that’s fun and interesting – meeting different people, different faculty. Talking to different faculty about their classes and about their philosophies – that’s kind of fun and interesting. Talking to students about their aspirations and their classes and their majors – that’s always interesting as well. But I also get complaints from faculty and students – that’s not pleasant. I got to give a speech at an awards ceremony or an induction ceremony for our Honors Society – the National Communication Association Honor Society – last semester. It was nice and very cool to celebrate students. So that’s a really good thing. The administrative stuff is, you know, it’s administrative stuff. So I’m learning as I go.

What would you say are your goals as the department chair in the Communication, Media, and

Performance Department?

That’s a tricky question. Our department is changing very fast and one goal for me is to hold this department together and make sure it survives. I want to, you could say, bring it into the 21st century. We need a more robust social media presence. We’re hiring somebody who’s going to be a specialist in social media, and we hope to have that person next fall. I’m very excited about that. And I also am hoping to engage students in publicizing our work, which means their work – the work that we do together. So I’d like to have sort of greater public visibility, and get students involved with faculty and also faculty involved with other faculty and producing kinds of performances, different kinds of media content, different kinds of communication.

What do you enjoy most about Framingham State?

The students. One of the things I’ve learned as department chair is that I like teaching, because – it’s not that it’s all bad being chair, but I found that it gives me perspective on what administrators do. That can be really interesting for sure, and I do enjoy some of the administrative stuff, but I really like getting to know students and working with students and when I feel like I’ve really helped a student, that’s really awesome. ... I can see students progress and learn and become more sophisticated thinkers and communicators. That’s really cool.

What are some of your hobbies?

I play music. I’m not very good. ... I have a family – young kids – that doesn’t give me much time. I have a piano in the house and I – like between the time when I get all the kids home and the dinner is going to be ready after I put some spaghetti on to boil, I’ll go and sit at the piano and play like one tune for five minutes and then I go back and take the spaghetti off.

What might students be surprised to learn about you?

I have a daughter who’s older than they are. That might be surprising. I think some students know that, but it’s surprising to me when I think about it. My daughter is 24.

Do you have any advice for students?

Follow your interests while you’re here. Take the classes that you want to take. A very concrete piece of advice is that employers don’t really care that much about what you majored in whether chemistry or communication. They value flexibility and communication skills and those are things that you develop at least at an intellectual level by studying anything. So you can study – doesn’t matter what you study. At some level, the fact is that studying and thinking is preparing you to be a successful professional in the workplace. So if you want to be an engineer, you need to know engineering, but what I’m saying is still good advice.


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