Texas Tech University

CoMC congratulates faculty on academic advancement

Michael Ortiz

March 31, 2021

The College of Media & Communication congratulates five faculty who received recent Board of Regents approval for position advancement. These advancements indicate valuable commitments to academia, noteworthy scholarly and professional pursuits, and the college's mission to provide a high-quality education for its undergraduate and graduate students.

Jenna LaFreniere, Ph.D., earned tenure and was promoted to associate professor in communication studies. Originally from Dallas, LaFreniere attended the University of North Texas, Texas Christian University, and the University of Denver for her degrees in communication studies. LaFreniere was elated when she heard the announcement.

“It's an exciting time,” LaFreniere says. “My husband has done so much to celebrate with me and make it a big event especially during COVID when we can't get together with everybody. We celebrated and had cake, we're all so thankful for it.”

LaFreniere currently oversees multiple academic projects that delve into interpersonal and family communication with a focus on conflict development. Her last published work this year focused on how parental confirmation is associated with family quality and seeks to teach people communication tools to elevate complications that will impact future generations. She credits working with college students as the source of her career inspiration.

“I just love working with them”, LaFreniere says. “I think they're in such a unique place in life that they end up helping to shape me into a better person. They challenge me in interesting ways that is unlike anything else that I could have imagined. You hope that they go out and blossom into whatever that next step might be.”

LaFreniere hopes to return that source of inspiration back to her students by combining her research with her teaching to provide a transformative experience.

“I think it's true that teaching should complement research,” LaFreniere says. “Because I often study college students in my research, it's interesting because I can bring a lot of that to the classroom. There's this neat relationship to connect the concepts they're learning about to real analyses. It's important to tie that together for them.”

Lisa Du Bois Low, was promoted from assistant to associate professor of practice in public relations with continuing appointment. Low has worked in the communication industry since 2007 as a marketing director for Magline Inc., and a sales & marketing manager for Compass Minerals.

Lisa Du Bois Low

In addition to her industry experience, Low is well known for her expertise in social media and strategic communication as she was the first to execute Texas Tech's first institutional-level digital marketing strategy in 2007. Low, who joined the CoMC as an assistant professor of practice in January 2015, was excited to hear the news.

“I'm over the moon,” Low says. “It's so wonderful and nice to have that validation. I love to teach, and it's what's keeping me going to be an effective mentor to my students.”

Low wants to continue to share her expertise with her students through her digital public relations strategy (PR 3315) and public relation content development (PR 3311) courses. Additionally, Low remains current with the industry to further her passion for teaching.

“It's all about trying to hone my craft,” Low says. “I keep in contact with practitioners who've frequently interviewed for national media and I'll talk to them. A lot happens in the industry, so you must keep learning. It changes so often that you need to take the initiative.”

Low frequently collaborates with students and faculty to conduct research on various social media strategies. She blends her teaching with her industry experience to provide students a well-rounded academic experience.

“You know, there's a time for theory and there is a time for work,” Low says. “We teach students concept and theories, but it's time for them to put into practice. That's why I collaborate with my students to put their theories into practice.”

Michael Zahn, Ph.D., was also promoted from assistant to associate professor of practice in advertising and brand strategy with continuing appointment. Zahn has experience in both higher education, completing his doctoral degree at Texas Tech, and professional practice. His experience includes senior roles in marketing management and marketing communication development of media. He also led product management teams and developed business strategies across the industry focusing on advertising and educational assessment.

Mihael Zahn, Ph.D.Zahn believes his colleagues have been a major help and is thankful for the support they have given him.

“It's another step at the university and I'm excited to continue working at Tech,” Zahn says. “It helps me continue and open different approaches for my students.”

Zahn's research in communication effectiveness is integrated in advertising and promotional communication across multiple media vehicles. His focus on multitask media provides insight on improving creative and media strategy by understanding cognitive processing. Conversely, as an associate professor of practice, Zahn does his best to remain current with the industry by actively following the flow and history of media.

“New media is not new anymore,” Zahn says. “It's been dead now for 15 years. All productions adopted the movie production industry standard, then it became economically unstable because everyone watches movies back-to-back now. So, it's more about following the media to stay relevant and active.”

Zahn's active media approach helps his students remain current, as well. He emphasizes the importance for his students to receive a transformative experience by introducing different media approaches and analyzing them.

“I try to bring in digital and tell students to determine how it's different,” Zahn says. “Do they need to bring in influencers or another approach? People can learn these strategies, then study what the next step should be.”

The importance of giving students industry experience has always been at the core of Zahn's teaching. Building upon his academic and professional experience, he offers his students opportunities to build portfolio experience.

“When I was hiring designers, the unicorn was finding those with experience,” Zahn says. “You must train people to be a master of at least one skill. I bring in topics to students and grad students, like how to manage people or monitor the economy. It's all about giving students more experience.”

Lara Mandrell, an instructor of professional communication and the director of the business communication program, was granted continuing appointment effective immediately. Mandrell earned her bachelor's degree in English with an emphasis on education and a master's degree in technical communication from Texas Tech University. Mandrell thanks Kelli Cargile Cook, Ph.D., professor and founding chairperson of the Department of Professional Communication, for recognizing her potential.

Lara Mandrell“I feel honored to have gone through this difficult process,” Mandrell says. “It feels like a relief to know that my peers and those above me see value in what I do. I'm really fortunate to have Dr. Cook recognize my voice and tell me I'm just as valuable as everyone else.”

Mandrell focuses on introducing her students to managerial-communication concepts and strategies through business communication. She delivers her course work exclusively online using instructional design, usability, and accessibility to simulate training for her students. In addition to her teaching, Mandrell volunteers with Education Connection to facilitate a learning environment for children to read by the third grade. Considering the announcement, Mandrell doesn't see anything changing on how she approaches her teaching.

“I've always felt compelled to give it my all no matter what,” Mandrell says. “I love teaching and to be in a position where that's my focus. It gives me more confidence to maintain my commitment, and it won't change how hard I work.”

As an educator, Mandrell designs her course to reflect a transformative online experience with the student perspective in mind. She wants every one of her students to have a meaningful experience.

“It's all about trying to determine what's the best experience for students,” Mandrell says. “I love setting something up and then looking at it from a student perspective. You find issues or challenges, then fix it. It's an ongoing process of finding the best experience for students. It's really important for instructors to find that ‘why' value for the students.”

Michael Kennedy, an instructor of professional communication, was also granted continual appointment effective immediately. Kennedy teaches business communication (PCOM 3373), providing students a focused professional communication course on audience and purpose in messaging. He is thankful for the opportunity to keep providing his students a transformative experience.

Michael Kennedy

“It represents a good opportunity, so I greatly appreciate it,” Kennedy says. “Especially with everything going on lately with everyone being affected by COVID, to be given reassurance for my position feels pretty good.”

Before teaching, Kennedy worked as an investigation supervisor for Childrens Protective Services for over 13 years. Kennedy earned a bachelor's degree in political science at the University of Florida and his master's degree in American literature at Texas Tech. Kennedy hopes to use his career-wide experience to be a voice of experience for his students.

“All of my students are highly motivated,” Kennedy says. “Every once in a while, you'll come across a student who needs someone to be there for them, so just being a voice of experience for them can be beneficial.”

Even after 30 years of teaching, Kennedy still experiences new things with his students.

“The experience in business communication has been great,” Kennedy says. “I realized what I need to emphasize in my teaching, but I've also realized that you can learn a great deal from your students. I've come to enjoy that interaction because I've realized it's a two-way street.”