By Jaycee Kalama, CLA Student Writer - September 8, 2023
Since its inception in November of 2021, the School of Communication at Oregon State University has been led by Dr. Colin Hesse, who joined the Department of Speech Communication back in 2013.
You may know that Dr. Hesse is the director of the school, or that he currently teaches courses such as family communication, but what you may not know about Dr. Hesse in passing is that he is a husband, father of three, barbeque lover, Seattle sports fanatic, and “absolutely atrocious at golf.”
Dr. Hesse grew up in Leavenworth, WA, surrounded by communication and media from an early age. His mother was a high school English teacher, and his dad went from being a pastor to a web designer—both influencing his emphasis on communication.
Dr. Hesse received his Ph.D. from Arizona State University in 2009, focusing on the relationship between interpersonal communication and both psychological and physiological health.
Following grad school, his first job was at the University of Missouri, where he spent four years before making the move to OSU.
“Oregon State was a move for a couple of reasons,” Dr. Hesse said. “There was a move for family—both my wife and I grew up in the northwest and our families are from the northwest, so it was just a wonderful move for us and for our kids to be closer to family. Oregon State was, even at the time, seeing the ability that I would have to sort of build some of the areas of health and interpersonal communication here, especially with health, from scratch. That appealed to me in terms of just building something where there was nothing.”
Two years ago, what was previously the School of Arts and Communication was split into two separate schools; the School of Communication and the School of Visual, Performing, and Design Arts. The School of Communication contains two majors: digital communication arts and speech communication, and two minors: communication and new media communications.
Dr. Hesse started as the future School of Communication’s interim director in January of 2021 and was appointed full-time that November. According to Dr. Hesse, he was less enthusiastic about the personal accomplishment of the title, and more about being a part of the school’s launch.
“I've been here for several years and so it was really exciting to be a part of these next couple of steps and thinking about the possibilities of the two departments—the speech area and the new media area working together more closely and promoting different types of communication studies and media studies,” Dr. Hesse said. “That type of stuff was exciting to me.”
In addition to his director duties, Dr. Hesse continues to teach several courses including:
Harnit Mahal, a fifth-year student double majoring in psychology and speech communication, took Dr. Hesse’s health communication course winter term of 2022.
“Dr. Hesse’s health communication course is one of my favorite courses that I’ve taken at OSU,” Mahal said. “It really opens your mind to the way that the healthcare system is set up for providers and patients alike, and I think being open-minded when working in any industry is one of the most useful tools you can have at your disposal. Dr. Hesse has always been willing to listen to what you have to say, help you any time that you need it, and he makes himself available to work with, which is super helpful when you’re a student and have a lot going on.”
Those who have met Dr. Hesse tend to notice his quirks, such as being candidly honest in the margins of your final paper after grading, or his knack for telling really bad jokes during class.
“Dr. Hesse as a professor is always fun to experience because he makes the content fun to engage with, and his dad jokes just make the whole experience worth it,” Harnit said. “He’s the type of professor whose jokes are so bad sometimes that you have to laugh at them.”
According to Mahal, if there is one thing she believes students should know about Dr. Hesse, it is that he is reasonable—that student input does matter to him, and “he’s very much on our side.”
“We want to make [the School of Communication] as supportive for as many students as possible; that they are getting some semblance of a relationship—there's people that care, there are people that really want to help you as you move forward,” Dr. Hesse said.
As for Sarah Spieglman ‘17, who studied interpersonal communication, sociology, and rhetoric as well as a student of Dr. Hesse’s, she believes students should know that he is approachable—she recommends going to his office hours and saying hello.
Spieglman took her own advice during her college years and found that Dr. Hesse’s caring qualities enriched her learning experience.
“He is very easy to talk to and he truly cares about his students,” Spieglman said. “Although I seem like a great student on paper graduating with a master’s degree—I struggled. My studies did not come easy due to an underlying learning disability. Working with Dr. Hesse I always felt supported, and I always felt like he genuinely wanted to help me grow as a student. I spent many hours getting help in office hours, or even just interrupting his lectures to ask questions—and he was patient, kind and transparent, which helped me grow as a student.”
In talking with faculty members in both speech and new media, Dr. Hesse says professors in the School of Communication are really excited about things that are new and innovative, particularly focused on mis- and disinformation, social media, environmental communication, and the influence of media in all aspects of our lives.
“I know from the vast majority of faculty members that they love working and getting to know students,” Dr. Hesse said. “With the size of this university, I think that students can sometimes feel like they can get lost. We try to keep our class sizes low, especially as you're getting into some of those more topics-focused or skills-focused classes.”
For students thinking of joining the School of Communication or taking a course with Dr. Hesse, Mahal said, “Just go for it!”
“Whether or not you pursue a career within the field of communication, learning the tools that are offered through various courses like Dr. Hesse’s are invaluable,” Mahal said.