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Honoring Braithwaite

Distinguished Scholar Award Speech: 2014

Our awardee's scholarly achievements are both substantial and numerous. She has been a pioneer in scholarship in the field of family communication, and specifically, in contributing to an understanding of the communicative dimensions of step-families. Her research has been published in all of the major journals in her field, including many articles in the WSCA journals, and she has garnered numerous previous awards for her work. As both the quality and the span of her scholarship attests, she has indeed made a sustained and significant contribution to Communication Studies.

In preparing for this presentation, I solicited input from some of our awardee's colleagues and former students, hoping to gain a perspective on what kind of a person a Distinguished Scholar is. I couldn't have predicted the overwhelming response I received, and I can only share a small bit of it here. Many of the accolades come from her former students, all of whom are now successful scholars in their own right. For example, Chad McBride states that our awardee taught him "the importance of theory in research design and analysis as well as how to work within a research team and the benefits of doing so." Paul Schrodt offers that our awardee "represents an exemplar of how to balance research productivity with pedagogical acumen, administrative skill, and a commitment to service."

A theme running throughout the praise for our awardee is her commitment to her students and her field. Loreen Olson, another of her former students, aptly expresses this commitment, stating that "Her promotion of family communication and dedication to its scholarship has created several generations of scholars who are following in her footsteps… the area of family communication will benefit for years as a result of her scholarship and the legacy of scholars she has mentored (and continues to mentor)."

Then there are the stories. I'll share just two. The first is from her friend and collaborator, Leslie Baxter, who recalls our awardee in her living room in her pajamas. As Baxter remembers, "she arrived for a week-end blitzkrieg of data analysis of approximately a hundred interviews. Neither of us got dressed, we just read transcripts, hour after hour, after hour. You can imagine how surprised the grad student was who worked with us to be met at my door by two rather scruffy looking middle-aged women in their PJs! Ah, to be a committed scholar…"

And the final story I'll share comes from former WSCA and NCA President Betsy Bach, who recalls an experience when she and our awardee were travelling to Washington DC from Minneapolis together. As Bach muses, "She would fly from Lincoln and I would fly from Missoula, and then we would meet and head to DC for NCA meetings. When we met at MSP airport, I kiddingly bet her $100 that my newly-elected senator, Jon Tester, would be on the flight. We boarded the plane, and there he was, sitting in first class. I walked up to him and said that he just won me a bet for $100 and that I would donate it to his re-election campaign. He laughed and said thanks.

"When we got off the plane, I introduced him to [our awardee], and she proceeded to kid him about the fact that he had cost her $100. Much to her delight (and embarrassment) he pulled out his money clip and started peeling off twenties to give her $100 bucks. She was speechless—I think for the only time in her life. The three of us had a wonderful laugh and his "people" whisked him away. She didn't take the money!"

Sandra Petronio beautifully sums up our awardee's qualities by insisting that "if you have not had the pleasure of spending time with her, or reading her work, or talking to her students and listening to them tell you how important she is to them, then you have missed an opportunity you should quickly rectify." With that, I'm delighted to present the 2014 Distinguished Scholar Award to the Willa Cather Professor and Chair of Communication Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Dr. Dawn O. Braithwaite.
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