Q&A WITH COLLIN COLLEGE’S 2013 TEXAS PROFESSOR OF THE YEAR

You may be aware of the fact that the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) named Collin College communication studies professor Ceilidh Charleson-Jennings the 2013 Texas Professor of the Year. You may also know that this achievement marks the sixth Carnegie Professor of the Year for Collin College, a feat unmatched by any college or university in the state of Texas. But do you know the story behind Charleson-Jennings’ first book? Do you know which expert she would choose to shadow? Read on to find out.

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Q: How and when did you first decide to write a book?

A: “Because my background is in radio, my first two books actually originated in a series of feature stories I intended for broadcast—specifically for shows on National Public Radio or Public Radio International. I read one of the early search-and-rescue features at a national writer’s conference in 2004. Some notable writers, editors and agents were in the audience, and writer Lee Child said to me, afterward, ‘This is a book. Serialize it on radio later, maybe, but this is your book. Go, go, go.’  I wasn’t going to ignore his expert advice, and I have him to thank for that decisive push toward the first book.”

Q: What was it like to learn that your book had been selected as a New York Times bestseller?

A: “Thrilling to the point of surreal. When a book releases after going through so much at your keyboard, it takes on a journey of its own. Some writers can’t resist hovering over that journey, monitoring Amazon reviews and BookScan sales numbers, but I pretty much ignore all of that because usually my head is already in the next book. So I had no idea about the NYT Bestseller’s list until my editor called me. That was a pretty good day.”

Q: You are a commercial pilot, an emergency responder, a valued member of a search and rescue team, a published author and you run a nonprofit. Why do you choose to teach?

A: “Teaching is my first love. Teaching has a vitality to it that nothing else I do duplicates. Collaborating with students keeps me curious and challenged and prevents me from getting too set in my own world view. Sure, I love to fly. I believe in community service. I enjoy writing a story and delivering it on the air. But when a student writes a feature and delivers it so well that a producer blurts out ‘Wow’—that’s an electric moment, and it’s shared. I like those sparks.”

Q: Why do you feel the field of communication studies is important?

A: Everything we are and everything we do is built, shaped and maintained by communication. Communicating well is challenging, but applied study can make us more thoughtful interpreters, more skillful at expressing ourselves. Communication studies is a discipline that can positively influence every corner of our lives.”

Q: If you could spend a week gleaning information from an expert, which person would you select?

A: “That’s a tough question because there are so many experts I wouldn’t mind trailing. Because my students and I are knee-deep in story development right now, I’ll say I wouldn’t mind shadowing Ira Glass, of National Public Radio’s This American Life, for a week. Journalist, commentator, storyteller, producer: Glass lifts radio narrative to the level of art.”

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