Faculty Focus: Dr. Denise Vrchota

CATEGORIES: Faculty Focus

If you’ve been enrolled in the communications disciplines at Iowa State any time in the past four decades, you most likely have a fond memory of Dr. Denise Vrchota. Denise is a highly valued and adored faculty member in our program, having taught at Iowa State since the 1970s. Denise currently serves the Communication Studies Program as a Teaching Professor, and you can often find her working diligently in her office in Carver Hall.

“There’s a saying about researchers investigating what they are bad at,” Denise joked when asked about her journey to Communication Studies. “Maybe I was a bad communicator?”

Unlike the traditional, direct narrative of pursuing a Bachelor’s, Master’s and Ph.D. to become a professor, Denise’s journey actually follows the path that many take: the winding, uncertain route before reaching the destination. Denise received her BA in English from University of Northern Iowa and her MA in Interdisciplinary Studies in English, Speech, Theater, and Journalism from Iowa State University. Denise’s Ph.D. in Adult and Extension Education was also earned at ISU. Professionally, Denise taught in a rural high school for five years, then taught at DMACC and Simpson College before finding her way to the front of an Iowa State classroom. However, it took these years of layered experiences and education to bring Denise to a career in Communication Studies.

“I came to interpersonal communication late in life–as an undergraduate I was an English major and taught English; my graduate work is in adult learning theory. The adult learning theory when integrated with interpersonal communication just made so much sense to me. It was where I belonged.” Denise also recognized the timing of her own awakening to this thread of communication: “I discovered interpersonal communication at about the same time the communication discipline discovered interpersonal communication.”

“I originally taught public speaking classes but there were a few interpersonal classes, similar to our current COMST 211 that captured my attention. I read the journals and attended interpersonal classes as an observer, took workshops at NCA [National Communication Association Conference], and here I am. I am totally committed to the role of interpersonal communication in everyone’s lives.”

Denise’s commitment to our program is deep, but the passion for theory is only surpassed by her passion for our students and what she hopes they can get from her coursework.

“Through my research and life experiences, I’ve learned that many people believe that interpersonal communication is something that is just ‘natural,’ like breathing–that people can’t learn or improve their own interpersonal skills. I enjoy busting that myth! It’s a real pleasure to see the light go on on someone’s face when they discover there is something they can say or a different way of saying it that could make a huge difference in their relationships.”

Interpersonal communication may have been the gateway to pulling Denise into the discipline, but she acknowledges that every aspect of the Communication Studies Program’s curriculum is vitally important.

“I enjoy teaching all the COMST classes and believe each one is necessary; not only for students’ education but for students’ personal and professional development,” Denise said. “I am interested in the communication traditions of other disciplines. It is the case that along with theories and concepts, etc., disciplines also have their own way of communicating.”

“It’s easy to do something you really believe in. That saying about never having to work a day in your life if you love what you’re doing? It’s true.”