Barry McNamara  |   Published May 14, 2021

Award-Winning Seniors

Class of 2021 graduates Erin Henkel, Renee Rude take top honors in communication studies.

MONMOUTH, Ill. – The two 2021 Monmouth College graduates who received major communication studies awards this year are in full agreement – they’ve worked every day with outstanding faculty in the department.

Erin Henkel of Kewanee, Illinois, received the department’s Lois Bailey McGaan Prize for excellence in communication. The Public Relations Prize, awarded to the outstanding senior in public relations, went to Renee Rude of Washington, Illinois.

RENEE RUDE: Award-winning student from Washington, Illinois, was also a valuable member of the Fi... RENEE RUDE: Award-winning student from Washington, Illinois, was also a valuable member of the Fighting Scots volleyball team.“I have loved getting to know each of my professors outside of the classroom,” said Rude. “The professors at Monmouth truly care about the success of students, not just in their class but in life after commencement. Whether it be asking about the results of a volleyball game the night before, or just asking how everything is going, I can always count on Monmouth’s professors to care.”

Rude started her Monmouth education intent on learning more about marketing, and she soon added public relations to her business administration major.

“I knew I wanted to add another major my freshman year but could not decide what I wanted to pursue,” she said. “After talking to Laura Dulee (’20), one of my teammates on the volleyball team, I added public relations. And after talking to a couple professors in the communication studies department, I knew I’d made the right choice and that adding public relations would be important for expanding my professional skill set when it came time to work in marketing.”

Rude said her favorite course in the communication studies curriculum was “Multi-Media Production” with Chris Gobel.

“I loved working in the news studio in Wallace Hall and creating different projects with software I hadn’t been exposed to prior to the course,” she said.

Falling in love with communication

Like Rude, Henkel altered her major during her time at Monmouth, which consisted of two years after transferring from Black Hawk College. Originally a political science major, Henkel switched to communication studies after taking one of the department’s courses on a whim.

ERIN HENKEL: During her two years at Monmouth, she was the anchor for MC-TV, was an editor for Th... ERIN HENKEL: During her two years at Monmouth, she was the anchor for MC-TV, was an editor for The Courier and had an internship with her hometown newspaper.“I took ‘Mass Media and Modern Society,’ and I realized that communication studies combined all my interests – sociology, psychology, political science,” said Henkel. “It challenges me to think about things in a complex way, and I enjoy being challenged. I’ve never been bored in communication studies.”

Henkel said other academic disciplines might flash brighter to prospective students, but when real decisions about a college major need to be made, communication studies is a popular choice.

“Once people take a COMM class, a lot of them fall in the love with the department and with the field of communication,” she said. “Really, everything we do in our daily life is communication-based, whether it’s interpersonal communication, or in a small group, or even reading an article on your phone.”

Post-Monmouth plans

Following graduation, Rude will continue as a content specialist for Systemax, a marketing agency in Springfield, Illinois.

“I started as an intern there last September, and I’ve been working full-time in the content specialist position since March,” said Rude. “My professional writing ability has improved thanks to the communication studies department. Writing in public relations and marketing differs from the typical writing style that we learn throughout our time in school. It has helped me in my job at Systemax and it will be a skill I’ll carry with me throughout my career.”

Rude said the department has also helped her enhance her presentation skills.

“The professors have given incredible feedback that has allowed me to become more confident when public speaking,” she said. “That’s another skill that will benefit me throughout my marketing career.”

Henkel plans to pursue journalism in graduate school, and will lean toward a social justice or policy focus. She’s not sure whether she will be more on the print side or the broadcast side, but she has experience in both, and she said the line between the two is frequently blurred anyway.

“Once people take a COMM class, a lot of them fall in the love with the department and with the field of communication. Really, everything we do in our daily life is communication-based, whether it’s interpersonal communication, or in a small group, or even reading an article on your phone.” Erin Henkel

For her senior year, Henkel was the anchor for MC-TV, leading the station’s three monthly broadcasts last fall remotely, before anchoring the spring semester’s three editions in person. On the print side, she served as The Courier’s news and politics editor and had an internship with her hometown newspaper, the Star Courier.

On the same day she received the McGaan Prize, it was also announced that Henkel placed third in the College’s Sam Thompson Essay Contest for a paper she wrote for her “Communication Criticism” course.

Of her major award, Henkel said, “It says that I had really great professors who supported me and helped me throughout my time in the department. It gives me the confidence to pursue communication in graduate school.”

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