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2016 Milton Dickens Award

Wednesday, March 16, 2016   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Christina Yoshimura
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By Rodney Reynolds, Immediate Past Editor of Communication Reports

This award recognizes an outstanding article in Communication Reports. The award is given at the end of each editorial term. The committee members for the 2016 award were Rodney A. Reynolds, past-editor, California Lutheran University; Christopher Carpenter, Western Illinois University; Melissa Tafoya, La Sierra University.

The 2016 Milton Dickens Award for Exemplary Empirical Research went to Allison R. Thorson, University of San Francisco; Christine E. Rittenour, West Virginia University; Jody Koenig Kellas, University of Nebraska, Lincoln; and April R. Trees, Saint Louis University for their 2013 article entitled: "Quality Interactions and Family Storytelling." 


This study examined how individuals’ satisfaction with their family, as well as the ways they negotiated the telling of a family story, combined to predict their perceived quality of the storytelling interaction. Drawing from family members’ (150 individuals, 50 families) joint telling of an often told family story, multilevel modeling analyses revealed significant variance within and between families’ perceived quality of their storytelling interaction. These variances were explained by family satisfaction and family-level ratings of engagement during storytelling. These findings drive our suggestions for future assessment of multiple members’ perspectives of joint family storytelling interactions.

Milton Clifford Dickens (born 1908) was a champion debater at the University of Southern California where he received his B.A. in Speech in 1929.  He went to Syracuse University to serve as that school’s Director of Debate while teaching classes and completing his M.A. in Speech, which was awarded in 1931.  He subsequently was hired as an Instructor at Syracuse and completed doctoral studies in Psychology (1939), after which he was appointed an Assistant Professor of Speech at Syracuse. He was active in research early and emphasized the desirability of completing experimental research in communication and concern for sound measurement.  In 1943, Dickens returned to Southern California.  During the remaining war years, Dickens worked for Douglas Aircraft Corporation and took part in the “Training Within Industry” program as part of the War Manpower Commission. 


In 1946, he joined the faculty of the University of Southern California, where he spent the rest of his academic career, rising to the position of Professor.  He served as both Acting and permanent Chair in the Department of Speech. When the Division of Communications was established in 1954 under the aegis of the College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences at USC, Dickens was appointed as its founding Chair, serving simultaneously as Head of the Department of Speech. For an entire generation of USC graduate students, he led the graduate studies administration and the teaching associates program. In addition to his academic work, Dickens provided training and consulting work for many large organizations including the Acheson, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad.


Dickens was an active scholar who was an early champion of the scientific approach to the study of communication, especially in the areas of discussion and group communication, stage fright, speech education, and academic debating. He received many grants for support of his research including one from the Social Science Research Council to conduct research into group discussion. His own data-based research pioneered work in the areas of speech anxiety and group communication and he was widely published in both communication and psychology.   In 1954 he published his popular textbook, Speech: Dynamic Communication, which emphasized communication theory advances undergirding public speaking principles.  Subsequent editions kept the title in print through the late 1970s.  He continued to publish articles through 1983, well into his retirement years.


He was active in his professional organizations serving in offices in the National Communication Association, Delta Sigma Rho, and the Western Sates Communication Association. He served as President of WSCA in 1956. His commitment to advancing empirical and experimental research is honored by naming of the Dickens Award for the best empirically-based research published in Communication Reports.


Written by John C. Reinard, former WSCA Executive Director and also the former Chair/Professor at California State University Fullerton.


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