UND Today

University of North Dakota’s Official News Source

Department of Communication at 100: Here’s looking at (and talking with) you

Centennial event recognizes Department’s rich history, current students, scholarship recipients and more

event attendees
Attendees celebrate A Century of Communication, on Thursday, April, 25. Photo by Adam Kurtz/UND Today.

You’d think becoming a centenarian would cause one to take a slower pace in life; but for the UND Department of Communication, just the opposite is the case.

On Thursday, April 25, the Department turned 100 years old, and it celebrated the occasion in grand style with a history lesson, keynote address and presentations of the academic work in which current students are engaged.

And that was just in the afternoon. The event continued later that evening with a networking reception, student scholarship ceremony and dinner event for distinguished guests, alumni, faculty members and friends of the department. There was much to celebrate on Thursday, and much to look forward to, as the department is again set to offer a new Journalism major – a development that takes the department back to the roots of its history.

“Let me offer my thanks and my congratulations for this important milestone,” said UND President Andy Armacost, via video message. “All I can say is the impact that you’ve had on so many students, so many faculty members and the entire fabric of the University has been absolutely extraordinary. I know that you will continue to make an impact through your Communication Degree but also with the return of our Journalism program. You should all be extraordinarily proud, and I’m certainly thankful for everything that you’ve done for UND.”

Department of Communication Chair Soojung Kim, who conducted the Communication Appreciation Day: A Century of Communication event in the Memorial Union Ballroom, then introduced Provost Eric Link, who used an old text to describe the study of Communication.

Eric Link
Provost Eric Link speaks at the Communication Appreciation Day: A Century of Communication event. Photo by Adam Kurtz/UND Today.

Quoting American sociologist Charles Horton Cooley’s seminal 1909 text, “Social Organization: A Study of the Larger Mind,” Link said: “The more closely we consider this mechanism (of Communication), the more intimate will appear its relationship to the inner life of mankind, and nothing will more help us to understand the latter than such consideration.”

Returning to the present, Link summed up the value of studying Communication.

“When we study communication in all its aspects, we are studying what it means to be human, and what it means for humans to make themselves known and understood to other humans,” he said. “This is a profound and noble enterprise.”

Dean of the College Arts & Sciences Brad Rundquist then took the stage, and said that Journalism and Communication make excellent majors, as the skills acquired through such study open a wide path to professional success. Rundquist, himself a former journalist who covered many moments of “truth that were stranger than fiction,” said that proof of that success can be found in the ballroom by simply looking around at the distinguished alumni in attendance.

Such people included Laura McCallum, class of ’89 and the Politics and Government Editor at the Star Tribune, as well as 35-year-journalism-veteran Tracy Briggs, with Forum Communication Company.

pair speaking at podium
Sophomore Taylor Hess, and UND alum John Bernstrom, communication specialist for the city of Grand Forks, pressent a history of the Department of Communcation. Photo by Adam Kurtz/UND Today.

Following Rundquist’s remarks was a departmental history lesson given by Sophomore Taylor Hess and UND alum John Bernstrom, communication specialist for the city of Grand Forks.

The pair quickly jumped into their presentation, with slides aplenty of historic photos of what has now come to be called the Department of Communication. Below is an abbreviated summary of that history:

  • 1920-1921: Transfer students Frank Webb and Glen Bruce pushed for the hire of the University’s first journalism instructor, which led to a minor in Journalism at UND.
  • 1943-1944: Dakota Student editor Sally Oppegard held a fund drive for the Student Memorial Union.
  • Skipping ahead some 50 years, the Dakota Student covered the devastating flood of 1997. The student paper was determined to keep the campus community up to date on the situation.
  • July 1, 1985, saw the formal establishment of the School of Communication, which merged the departments of Speech and Journalism plus UND Radio and UND Television. This led to the development of Studio One in 1987, an event that gave the School of Communication visibility that would serve the entire campus.
  • 2008-2009 saw declining doctoral admissions, and the School of Communication transitioned to the Communication Program. The program achieved full department status in December 2016, and welcomed its own first cohort of doctoral students.
  • In the fall of 2024, UND will again offer a Bachelor of Journalism degree. The Department will also host a summer workshop for high school students referred to as the Digital Storytelling Summit.

Mike Nowatzki, communications director for the Office of North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, followed that presentation with his installment of the Hagerty Lecture, which he titled, “Just the Facts: Observations from the ‘dark side’ on the demise of objectivity in journalism.” Nowatzki earned a bachelor’s degree in Journalism with a minor in Psychology from UND.

The Jack Hagerty Lecture/Grand Forks Herald Endowment was established in 1984 by the Hagerty family and the Grand Forks community to honor Jack Hagerty upon his retirement after 25 years with the Grand Forks Herald. Editor’s note: a separate article on Nowatzki’s lecture is forthcoming.

Throughout the day, guests, friends and alumni spoke with Communication students, who were on hand to present their academic work.

That meant Tara Baang, Lauren Huso, Kiera Musil and Danae Sauve had plenty of opportunities to speak about “Breaking News in the Digital Age: Social Media and Journalism,” and Kal Wachi discussed his market research into UND students’ rideshare preferences (hint: students here appear to prefer Uber).

The evening dinner and reception ushered in the chance for attendees to reconnect with old friends and faculty members, plus speak with current students. It was also the forum to announce scholarships to Communication majors. In total, The Department of Communication awarded more than $43,000 from 28 scholarships to 38 UND students.

All in day’s work for an unusually sprightly department that’s now all of 100 years old.

group standing at a poster
From left, Danae Sauve, Kiera Musil, Tara Baang and Lauren Huso stand ready to discuss their Communication research. Photo by Adam Kurtz/UND Today.