Rapid technological advances have transformed the field of communication studies during Richard McGrath’s tenure at Central. Throughout the more than 20-year span, the associate professor has observed the impact of those changes, taught with the new tools and techniques, and contributed to an emergent genre in environmental communication.
“Technology impacts people’s ability to think and process information. There are lots of advantages to technology, with more information available to more people,” McGrath observes. “But we have to make judgments. There is little time left for introspection.”
His own professional development and conference participation reflects changes in the field over time from “interpersonal communication” to “beyond email” to “public address in the electronic age” to “media and pop culture” to “communication and the environment.” He served twice as associate editor of the Iowa Journal of Communication.
His courses in communication theory, public speaking, persuasion, argumentation, rhetorical and narrative theory and criticism reflect his expertise in speech communication. But his development of courses in environmental communication and communicating spiritual ecology drew on his other passion—the environment.
“Environmental communication was an emerging area when I got involved with a pioneering national group and started developing the course,” McGrath says. “The sustainability effort on campus followed, with great applause to Jim Zaffiro. I’m especially thankful for the freedom I had to develop courses in environmental communication. I consider those my most significant contribution to the Central curriculum.
“The environment is the master issue. Everything else revolves around that. I’m happiest when I’m in the elements. It’s my main interest in life. When I’m not working, I’m hiking, kayaking, fly fishing. When I ‘graduate’ from here, that’s where I plan to be.”
McGrath’s environmental activism began in response to the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear meltdown, considered the worst U.S. power plant disaster. His commitment continued with publications and presentations about environmental issues, and locally his development of a website for the Friends of Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge, for which he was recognized with the Pride of Prairie Service Award.
Throughout, McGrath credits his department colleagues with making it possible to navigate the many changes and remain true to his passions and commitments.
“I was fortunate to have landed at Central College 22 years ago and am grateful for the privilege to have worked with my communication studies colleagues Dennis Doyle, Linda Laine and Shelley Bradfield. Our time together has exemplified the ideal of collaborative group synergy. It’s an organic thing. Our strengths complement each other,” McGrath says.
“Daily teaching duties would not have been possible without the expertise and responsiveness of the Information Technology Services staff, most notably Deb Bruxvoort and Deb Rooda. They helped me avert pedagogical disaster on numerous occasions and I’m much appreciative for that.
“I would also like to acknowledge the institutional stewardship of Dean Strey and President Putnam. They are the most competent, collegial and forward-looking senior leadership duo Central has had in my time here. The college is in good hands.”