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Hinck helps students build their skills in scary subject

Barry McNamara
MONMOUTH, Ill. – The fear of public speaking is widespread, but students who take Monmouth College communication professor Robert Hinck’s courses will overcome that fear and build a foundation for a successful career.

Hinck, who joined the College’s communication studies faculty in the fall, said the Jerry Seinfeld line about most people being more comfortable as the person in the coffin than the one delivering the eulogy rings true with most college students.

“Public speaking is almost universally feared,” he said.

To combat that fear, Hinck has students speak early and often, focusing on different elements of speech beyond the standard “intro/body/conclusion” format.

“Throughout the semester, in almost every class, I have the students stand up and deliver some part of a speech,” Hinck said of how he teaches “Fundamentals of Communication,” a course taken by all Monmouth students. “The focus for that particular class could be using hand gestures, or it could be vocal variation, using shouting and whispering. They can be weird, zany things, but the idea is for them to be no longer abhorrent and completely petrified of speech. I keep building up to the end of the semester.”

Hinck said that “Fundamentals of Communication” is not only foundational for a Monmouth education but also for a student’s professional career.

“You have to be able to articulate an answer in an effective way,” he said.

In addition to teaching “Fundamentals of Communication,” Hinck has taught “Media and Public Relations Writing” and “Organizational Communication,” both upper-division classes.

Hinck also believes in providing experiential learning opportunities for his students. A class last fall worked with the Warren County History Museum in Monmouth. The students significantly bolstered the museum’s social media presence and asked important PR questions about the museum’s key messages and target audiences.

“The idea is to build good relationships with community businesses – ideally non-profit organizations – and to ask them ‘How can I create value for you?’” he said.

Hinck borrowed a phrase from the late literary theorist Kenneth Burke when discussing the value of communication skills, calling them “equipment for living.”

Hinck, who earned a master’s degree at Central Michigan University and a doctorate at Texas A&M, said he appreciates Monmouth’s approach to higher education.

“I like the focus at Monmouth on teaching,” he said. “The prep I need to do for my classes includes reading more texts, which broadens my understanding of more fields. When I have to learn it well enough to explain it to students, it helps me. I’ve also learned about the importance of adapting your language to best help students understand, and to really think about what might be the best examples to use to teach a certain topic.”

Hinck earned a bachelor’s degree in Chinese relations from the University of Michigan, where he participated in the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy program. That included interning in Washington, D.C., and living in China for six months. During his studies, Hinck focused on the negotiations for normalizing U.S.-China relations during the Carter administration. Part of his studies at Texas A&M were at the Bush School of Government and Public Service.

Ironically, Hinck didn’t take his first college communication course until he was studying for his master’s, even though both his parents are communication professors at Central Michigan.

And in that department, the apple did not fall far from the tree, as Hinck is married to part-time communication studies instructor Sara Kitsch, who also earned her Ph.D. at Texas A&M. The couple lives directly across the street from campus and Hinck said he appreciates his hassle-free commute, as well as the presence of seasons resembling his native Michigan, including “crisp fall weather.”

“I loved being here in the fall,” he said. “We didn’t have that in Texas.”