By Grace McNamara
As the newest member of the Department of Communication Studies at UNI, Ben Baker was thankful to receive a warm welcome from fellow faculty.
Ben grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and attended the University of Wisconsin - Whitewater for his undergraduate degree in Journalism and Communications, with a minor in marketing. His initial interest was primarily the radio industry, as he enjoyed producing shows. He soon realized he didn’t have a strong enough background in the area to pursue it.
Upon graduation, Ben worked in a corporate office for five years doing internal communications for the company. “I decided I wasn’t really happy and didn’t see a future there.” It was then he enrolled in the communications Master’s program at the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee and fell in love with the study of communication.
In his second year of the Master’s program, Ben was offered his first teaching assistantship and completely jumped in. “I completed my dissertation in the same program in Milwaukee and graduated last May. I was offered this wonderful position and now I’m here,” says Ben.
Ben teaches Research Methods, Communication Theory, Business and Professional Oral Communication, and more. However, he says teaching Advanced Personal Communication is very discussion-heavy and his personal favorite. “It’s the most similar to my interests and experience, which is looking at marginalized identity,” he says.
The Family Communication course is on the schedule of the Communication Studies Department in the fall, and Ben is excited to teach it, as it deals with his research focus. “I’m also proposing a course called the Dark Side of Communication,” says Ben. “We talk about communication and focus on things that are positive and that’s great, but I think sometimes it’s important to talk about the dark side.” This course will focus on topics like lying, verbal and emotional bullying, and how people communicate and cope with death. “It doesn’t sound like the most uplifting course,” laughs Ben. “I think it’s important we talk about those things, because we all experience it at some point in our lives.”
Of course, Ben is working on some research of his own at the moment. “I spoke with 40 LGBTQI service members who served under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” says Ben. He is working to learn about how they managed communications with their loved ones, partners, and children. “I’m also refining a few other projects with colleagues and looking at how bisexual individuals are met with hurtful messages from family members and how that affects their relationships.”
An individual project at the moment for Ben is looking at speaking with transgender individuals regarding their coming out stories with their families. “I am a SafeZone Ally and have always been interested in studying LGBTQI communication,” he explains.
Although he moved to Cedar Falls in late July, he says he likes the area. “I’ve made so many wonderful friends through colleagues in this department,” Ben says. “I am so honored and grateful to be a part of such a warm and helpful department here. Beyond just the friendly people and who they are, the expertise that I wish I had had in other departments I’ve been in as a student allows access to such a wide range of subject matters that people are so good at here,” says Ben.
Here in the department there are those who are interested in qualitative or quantitative research, rhetorical scholars and critical scholars, and those who focus on design or media. “I think we have such a well-rounded department here that is such a great resource for students. I’m proud and happy to be a part of something I really believe in being a good force here,” Ben says.
“Thankfully, I wound up in a place where I couldn’t be happier as far as teaching goes,” Ben says. “There’s the research, the service, and the teaching when you’re a professor and for me, I love being in the classroom.”