Teaching students that communication is a two-way street

During the fifteen years that Dr. Keri Stephens has taught at the University of Texas, Austin, she has helped hundreds of students like Courtney Bagot develop communication skills that empower them to succeed in their careers. Courtney is now using those skills to fund meals for food-insecure families across North Texas.

“I did not plan on becoming a teacher, but when I was in graduate school, I had the opportunity to teach some classes,” Dr. Stephens explained. “I decided to keep teaching when I saw that my students were getting jobs based on the things that I had told them. I really felt like I could have a tremendous impact on young adults’ lives.”

One of those young adults was Courtney Bagot. Courtney now works for the North Texas Food Bank, managing partnerships with corporate donors. She uses skills that she learned during Dr. Stephens’ Organizational Communication course every day in her work.

Dr. Stephens hopes students who take her Organizational Communication courses learn questioning and listening skills. “I want to teach my students that having a communication background can help them navigate just about any organizational situation,” Dr. Stephens explained. “Things are not laid out cleanly for them, and they’re going to have to use their asking and answering skills. And it’s my hope that it empowers them to be good at no matter what they choose to do.”

In the course, Courtney developed her listening skills. “Listening is even more important than getting your message out because it enables you to really tailor and customize your message,” Courtney said. “That’s important in my current job because I’m not just selling our mission—I’m trying to help our partners understand what we are doing and apply it to their values.”

Courtney also learned how to network from Dr. Stephens. Courtney recalled, “She gave us tips on how to ask questions that helped us inspire more meaningful conversations in order to create relationships. And with my job, that’s exactly what I have to do. I have to build relationships with people so that they trust us and work with us.”

Using these skills, Courtney was able to help the North Texas Food Bank fund and distribute seventy million nutritious meals to food-insecure families across thirteen counties last year. Her efforts earned her a recent promotion to associate director of corporate engagement, a position that requires her to manage approximately seventy-five partner relationships.

Courtney attributes her success to what she learned from Dr. Stephens. “She taught me how to communicate with different types of people, and those basic principles helped me move up quickly in my job,” she explained.

She taught me how to communicate with different types of people, and those basic principles helped me move up quickly in my job.

— Courtney Bagot, Associate Director of Corporate Engagement

Learning of Courtney’s promotion, Dr. Stephens said, “I’m not surprised that she has moved ahead quickly because of how much she engaged in my class. Professors want to see their students succeed, and it makes us very happy when we hear that they’re doing great things.”

Biographies

Courtney Bagot earned her bachelor’s degree in Corporate Communication from the University of Texas, Austin. She spent a year working for a for-profit organization before deciding that something was missing from her life. Wanting to make a difference in the world and help those who are less fortunate, she applied for a job at the North Texas Food Bank. She has worked there for four-and-a-half years and was promoted in September 2016 to the position of associate director of corporate engagement.

Dr. Keri Stephens earned her bachelor’s degree in biochemistry. After working in industry for a decade, she returned to school at the University of Texas, Austin, to pursue a PhD in Organizational Communication and Technology. As a graduate student, she had the opportunity to teach some classes, and fifteen years later, she is still teaching there as an associate professor. Dr. Stephens has published over fifty peer-reviewed articles, book chapters, and encyclopedia entries, and she recently received The President’s Associates Teaching Excellence Award (only seven were given to faculty at UT Austin).