The impact of one alumna’s gift will be felt for generations at St. Cloud State University.
The announcement and dedication of The Judy C. Pearson Department of Communication Studies took place Sept. 22 in the lobby of Riverview on the University campus. Dr. Judy Pearson has endowed the University’s communication studies department with a $1 million gift, resulting in the first named department on campus.
Pearson’s gift will provide resources to support the advancement of the communication studies department. It has already provided four scholarships to first-year and transfer students, and will provide for the department’s first diversity scholarships. It will also provide funding for conference grants so students can travel to academic conferences. Additional goals for the endowment are to encourage undergraduate research, bring scholars to campus, and encourage global thinking and understanding by providing more study abroad opportunities for students.
“It’s geared directly toward student development,” said Dr. Marla Kanengieter-Wildeson, chair of the communication studies department. “Dr. Pearson is a prolific researcher in communication studies, her legacy is one of leadership within the discipline … she’s contributed much to the life and wellbeing of students throughout her tenure as a faculty member.”
Pearson earned her bachelor’s in communication studies from St. Cloud State before earning her master’s in rhetoric and public address and a doctorate in speech communication from Indiana University. She then began an esteemed career in higher education, working as a professor in communication studies at Bradley University, Iowa State, Ohio University, Virginia Tech and North Dakota State. Pearson said she chose the field because she wanted to teach the complexity and development of communication.
“‘A communication problem’ is too much of a catchall phrase,” she said. “Communication is complicated, that’s why there’s so many disputes and conflicts.”
Pearson’s body of professional research and publication has earned her international recognition as a leading voice in the field of communication studies. She was a sought after keynote speaker, delivering addresses at over 30 universities during the course of her career. Her work in the field is used widely in university coursework through textbooks she wrote and has also been featured on national and local television and radio programming as well as newspapers and magazines.
Dr. Jeffrey Ringer, a professor with the University department and former department chair, said Pearson has always been a mentor — to himself as well. Ringer was a student of Pearson’s in the graduate program at Ohio University, and he also worked with Pearson on two teacher’s manuals that accompanied a few of her textbooks.
“She’s always a mentor, always teaching and always supportive and very professional,” Ringer said. “She believes in philanthropy. St. Cloud State made a difference in her life, so now she’s making a difference in the lives of St. Cloud State students.” Listen to Pearson and Ringer in a National Communication Association podcast.
Pearson said that, while having a department at her alma mater named after her is “the cherry on top of the sundae,” it’s important that higher education continues to be supported, and that it takes a village to do so.
“If we can help students, I think it’s an obligation that we do that,” she said. “It’s like being an older child in a family; you help the younger ones behind you.”
Dr. Robbyn Wacker, President of St. Cloud State, said Pearson’s gift supports the pillars of the University’s It’s Time framework, moving the institution forward as a university of choice.
“You are supporting our goal of advancing SCSU’s academic distinction and excellence and our focus on faculty as teachers and scholars,” Wacker said. “As a result, our department and its amazing faculty will continue to incorporate new strategies and new methods of mentoring and providing a unique hands-on learning environment for our students.”
Pearson said giving such a gift to her alma mater just made sense, as St. Cloud State was a “catalyst” for so many milestones throughout her life.
“St. Cloud State was not my third choice, it was my best choice,” she said.
The gift to the University arrives during St. Cloud State’s “Unleash the Future” campaign, which to date has raised $38 million — 19 percent more than its initial goal. For more about the campaign, visit unleashthefuture.stcloudstate.edu.