Whether the College of Media & Communication is located at 3003 15th Street in Lubbock, Texas, or located 345 miles away on the banks of the Brazos River, the college's transformative experiences remain prevalent. With inspirational CoMC faculty on site, the CoMC's partnership with McLennan Community College in Waco, Texas, enables students to earn bachelor's degrees in communication studies or digital media and professional communication at the community college without sacrificing the TTU academic experience.
Anthony LaStrape, Ed.D., an assistant professor of practice in the College of Media and Communication at Texas Tech University in Waco, received his bachelor's degree in university studies from Texas Tech. His academic advancement continued at Texas State University where he received a master's in communication studies, followed by a doctorate in educational leadership from Tarleton State University. He found his way back to Texas Tech and the CoMC with an opportunity tied to the college's unique relationship with McLennan Community College.
LaStrape's background in rhetorical criticism, motivational speaking, and rhetorical methods enable him to teach a variety of communication studies and digital media and professional communication courses students are taking with the CoMC through McLennan.
“A lot of students in our community, they're not your traditional student,” LaStrape says. “They're either working in the community or have families. They all have roots in the community, so our Tech partnership is centered on getting those students necessary skills for their careers.”
By providing students quality, yet affordable higher education, students are offered a plethora of experiences that go beyond the College of Media & Communication. In addition to the CoMC programs, a bachelor's degree in biology, education, and political science are among the many academic pathways students can pursue at Waco.
A major goal for LaStrape is fostering community growth through students' latent potential.
“Would this happen anywhere else?” LaStrape says. “You have people going straight into education or principal certification right after graduation because they've learned the skills necessary for this. You help them realize that they had this in them the whole time.”
As an alumnus, LaStrape stresses the importance of repetition and mentorship to his students as he believes these are the building blocks for success.
“Success comes when we repeat things over again until you can accomplish the next challenge,” LaStrape says. “For a lot of our students, they're out to finish their degree because they don't have a history of success because they didn't finish college. We have a place that not only accepts them but will be with them throughout their academic career.”
Although the educational context in Waco is different than in Lubbock, LaStrape notes the familial aspect of the Waco community to be an important propellant for carrying the CoMC experience outside of Lubbock.
“Classes are getting bigger, but I don't know if we'll ever have 200-person classes like Lubbock,” LaStrape says. “You're getting full-time faculty and research that are just as much a part of the Lubbock community as anybody else, but you're in this space where you know your professors. You see them at grocery stores, and you can talk to them because you're eliminating barriers.”
LaStrape hopes to create a personable connection with his students, as well as becoming a mentor figure for them. He fondly recalls a time before the pandemic when sharing dinner with his students was possible.
“We would have these intimate graduation dinners at the end of the semester,” LaStrape says. “Families would be welcomed with catering and even a guest speaker. You want to make them feel special and make them feel the weight of what they accomplished.”
McLennan Community College continues to build out the landscape of their campus, and being located on the Brazos River allows it to host unique social events.
“Everybody that comes to the college, they're always in awe of how nice it is,” LaStrape says. “The trees, flowers, and landscape all have a plan in place for the beautification of the campus. Which flowers do better in the heat versus which flowers do better in the cold? Again, someone is always looking into how we can make the campus better.”
The considerable effort to maintain the college's infrastructure works in part to recruit potential students and mitigate the stereotypes surrounding community college. Lastrape, who also works as a recruiter for the CoMC program at McLennan, performs recruiting presentations to debunk community college stereotypes.
“Is it really Tech? They always ask this question during my presentations,” LaStrape says. “They believe they can't go anywhere, so they choose community college as their last option. It's a bunch of nonsense. You demystify this by showing them that it is Tech, you can still get the same level of education, and sometimes it's the best option before you commit. Employers are not going to care that you started at community college, and at no point in my life did any one care.”
While recruiting, LaStrape shares his own story of leaving his college education the first time to highlight the importance of personal drive.
“College is about priorities, and you have to ask yourself, what are your priorities,” LaStrape says. “Once you can connect college to what you want to do later, you start moving in a direction that separates you from completing an assignment to completing a career goal. I dropped out of college my first time, but by the time I came back, I had a clear goal in mind.”
With a diverse set of communication tools, LaStrape's unique approach to motivational speaking separates him as a professor of practice. He aims to utilize his motivational speaking to inspire others, especially those in lower socioeconomic groups.
“[I] speak to youth groups, first generation students, and minority populations to give them a vision that they don't need to run and jump out of their situation” LaStrape says. You can read and write your situation, plus there are way more opportunities for those.”
An advocate for lower socioeconomic groups, he encourages these populations with inspiration from his parents, who sacrificed for him and his brother in hopes they would go to college. With how he felt about leaving his own education the first time, LaStrape vowed to help those in similar situations as he was to finish their education.
“When you're talking to these populations or groups, you're talking about generational change,” LaStrape says. “You're carrying the mantle for your family and all the generations have been working to get you to this moment. When you feel the weight of that, you start to feel the sacrifices made. If you can make it bigger than yourself, you can make lasting change.”