National Association of Communication Centers Archive

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This I Believe About Ethics at the Center: Remembering Paul Sandin

At the 12th Annual Excellence at the Center Conference we remembered Paul Sandin, one of the founders of the communication centers movement. As Paul was an ethics scholar, participants were invited to develop a personal statement on ethics in the communication center. While written and audio recorded copies are below, essays were presented live at the conference.

The inspiration for this genre was National Public Radio’s “This I Believe” series which is based upon Edward R Morrow’s 1950’s program of the same name. Murrow, a Greensboro native, is pictured above.


Beau Bingham – Director, Oral Communication Center (University of Wyoming)

The “Spark”

I believe Communication Center Consultants provide a spark that keeps communication centers functioning. As I think about sparks, I am reminded of my childhood on a rural farm in Southeast Idaho.

It was a warm summer day and my three brothers and I and just came back from a cookie run to Grandma and Grandpas house. In addition to finding cookies, we had stumbled across a book of matches in the window above grandma’s kitchen sink. For boys ages 6-12 years old…….curiosity got the best of us…… we soon found ourselves walking across Grandpa’s farm, periodically stopping to see what would burn: old string, leaves and weeds on the ditch bank burned quickly before smoldering to a pile of ash. As we walked…we spotted the Taj Majal.., the Mona Lisa….. the Mount Rushmore of all match trials………grandpa’s haystack. It was a stack of hay about 150 feet long, 10 feet wide and 20 feet tall. It seemed ENOURMOUSE…..fortunately……. about 75 feet down the length of the stack, Grandpa had created the perfect location (a fort of sorts in our minds). He had removed the bales….lowering the height to about four feet, the perfect height for four boys to crawl up and continue their experiment. After a tedious crawl we found ourselves in a circle with matches in hand. My brother lit the first match……a match that changed our lives….

I believe Communication Centers Consultants are the “spark” that keeps our centers going. I remember the first consultant I had in the Oral Communication Lab. We had a small room with bare walls, covered with gritty floor tiles, old window blinds, four wobbly tables and chairs we scrounged up from different classrooms. However, I had a consultant that had the spark …the desire to bring clients into the center. We soon found ourselves planning workshops, creating flyers and talking to classroom instructors. …with all our efforts, we had a total of 34 visitors that semester. The excitement started to smolder….The second semester came, and we added two consultants. The consultants began to fan the smoldering embers and the fire began to grow to a small flicker. Once again we continued with workshops, flyers and newspaper advertisements. However, instead of the Director of the Oral Lab (me) visiting all of the classrooms and talking about the services of the lab, I asked the two student consultants to help visit the 26 sections of public speaking. Following the visits, students responded and began coming to the lab. We had 548 client visits that semester. I once again learned the spark our consultants provide……. It’s what keeps our centers going.

I remember a spark provided by a student presenting at a NACC conference. The student commented how they called their center the “Oral Communication Center” or “OCC for short…… instead of “Oral Communication Lab” (as ours was called). The student commented that “OCC” is more appealing to students. Shortly after returning from the conference……… we changed our name and became the “ Oral Communication Center” or “OCC located on the Upper Deck of Ross Hall ( more commonly known as the fourth floor). After all…… the University of North Carolina Greensboro had their center located in the “underground” or basement … ….we also had to have a catchy name.

As I think back over the years, consultants in the OCC continue to provide sparks in multiple areas:

  • Consultants provide sparks by energizing us as center directors.
  • Consultants provide sparks when clients ask for them by name when making return appointments.
  • Consultants provide sparks when they work with their peer tutors providing insight into tutoring and offering tutoring advice.
  • Consultants provide sparks when they bring in new and innovating ideas.
  • Consultants provide sparks when they are willing to answer student’s questions outside of their regular scheduled hours (in the library, roommates, in fraternities or sororities).
  • Consultants provide sparks when they are willing to do whatever they are asked by their directors.
  • Consultants provide sparks when they work with challenging clients.
  • Consultants provide sparks when they work with the same challenging client for the second, third and fourth …..fifth time.
  • Consultants provide sparks when they break down cultural barriers, or when they work with physically challenged clients.

I believe Communication Center Consultants provide the spark that keeps communication centers functioning.Just as my brothers and I learned the value of one spark that day as we lit matches on my Grandpa haystack. That one match or “one spark” soon grew into a fire that could be seen for miles. There were fire trucks, flashing lights, firefighters, a line of cars about ½ mile long and an energetic Grandma lecturing us on the danger of playing with matches. In addition to learning the power of one match, I also learned the value of one spark.

I believe Communication Center Consultants provide a spark that keeps communication centers functioning.Because of them, clients come to the centers, clients view our web sites, clients share the excitement with their friends, at times they may even line up to visit our centers  Center Consultants provide a spark that keeps our Communication Centers functioning. A spark that continues to grow with each visit and each consultation…..as it grows into an energetic flame.


Nathaniel Cheshier – Communication Center Consultant (University of Wyoming)

“The Act of Guidance”

This I believe…I believe Communication Center tutors have a unique opportunity to guide students. The title of an OCC tutor is more than a title. It is a position of trust. It takes time and patience to build this trust with students. Over a series of visits, students come to trust tutor’s advice. They come to trust the tutor will guide them with sound and credible advice. Sometimes, a tutor may think…….. “it would sure be easier to just take a student’s speech, make a few changes…..and return it to the student”. It would be easy to do this, but when I think back at the ethics of the class. It is at this time, I must be reminded that gaining student trust, takes time and patience.

One day I was introduced to a student who I could tell really needed help when it came to speaking. Not only was this person from a different country, but he also had a problem with his vision. The student had a condition where his eyes would not focus, thus making him blind when it came to seeing things right in front of him. He explained to me that this was his second visit to the OCC. He said he was going to continue to come due to how much help it was. He had worked with a previous tutor and trusted the OCC was there to help and guide. I felt it my responsibility to help him feel like he could come to us for help with speaking. This young man sat and asked many questions on how an outline was to be prepared and what it should look like. The session went at a slower pace, but I knew it was appropriate to give this student as much attention and help as any other. I patiently explained and went over every detail that the outline needed to be correct. This visit was my third visit for the year, and right from the start I was able to really see just how important of a guide the OCC was for students.

This same idea came from another visit with a student who was from a different part of the world. This student had a hard time understanding the concepts of the class. He had also visited before and trusted the guidance from the OCC. He had expressed to me that it was a huge help to know there was a place where he could go to get reliable help. I could tell that he was engaged in the session and he trusted what I had to say. This student saw the tutors at the Communication Center as role models, willing and ready to help and guide. I believe this man was able to create a bond with me at the OCC and know that he would be able to receive reliable help from me whenever he needed it.

I believe Communication Center tutors have a unique opportunity to guide students. In the sessions I have with students, so much trust can be built. Students come in to receive help…..but leave with guidance and trust. These students leave knowing that when they have questions or concerns on public speaking, they can come to a tutor and have relief. They can see that I care, and want to guide them with sound and credible advice. This is why I believe that the Oral Communication Center is a place where students can go to find guidance.


Anthony Fleak – Communication Center Consultant (University of Wyoming)

Assembly Line

This I believe…I believe that our first priority is to help the student coming to see us. I bet you’re all thinking well of course……. what else are, we supposed to do but help them with their speeches. What I mean by this is …..actually wanting to help the student not just because it’s our job and that’s what we get paid to do, (or if you’re like us we actually pay to tutor). A student knows when you’re just there to be there and that makes it uncomfortable for them, makes them feel like they need to get out of there as soon as possible.

I can recall a young lady coming in who had a different cultural background and was very shy and nervous. She didn’t know what questions to ask me or how to ask me. I immediately knew I had to help her feel comfortable….. to help her know I wanted to help her be successful. Throughout our one hour session we covered a lot. It was evident she was still having trouble with the material. Normally I would ask her to make another appointment (after she made the corrections) before she gave her speech. Only there was a problem, thanksgiving break was going to start in a couple of days. While she was packing her stuff up I began to think what could I do to help this student be successful. I offered her my email and told her she could email me with any questions she may have over break. I also mentioned she could email me after break is over and discuss her presentation some more. She immediately replied yes she would do that and thanked me. She did exactly that……. she emailed me over break a couple of times with questions and I was able to offer some suggestions. When we returned from break, we met once more. Within five minutes of the session, I knew she felt more comfortable. She was communicating very well and was unafraid to ask questions.

I’m also reminded of another student, whom was experiencing a difficult time in his life, He was trying to graduate and all he needed to do was test out of public speaking. There was only one problem; he had to give his presentation in a few days. I said, “Well let’s have a look and see what we can do”. It was obvious to me his speech needed some work. This student wasn’t shy or afraid to discuss areas with me. He had the mentality that he was almost done, just wanted to get this over with. I had to begin with the basics. What were the key components of an introduction, conclusion, body, and the structure of an outline? As you might know starting with the basics and working through an entire presentation can take some time. I was very patient and understanding as the student worked to figure out each area. As the session progressed it was evident that his mentality was changing, he no longer wanted to just get it over with, he wanted to fix and polish his presentation. Before I knew it, two hours had gone by. I was just about to ask him if he’d like to meet again to discuss his presentation……but he beat me to the punch.

I had accomplished what I set out to do in both instances. I had proved to them that I was there to help them be successful. Now I’m not saying you have to offer your email to every student or meet with everyone when you’re not scheduled………as these were two distinctive instances. I’m only saying I believe our first priority is to help……….. and actually want to help. Prove to them throughout the session that you actually want to help them succeed. This will help them feel more comfortable, and want to work with you. I believe we should avoid treating students like a product on an assembly line where you build it or fix it as fast as possible, in order to get out the finished product. This I believe… I believe that our first priority is to help students coming to see us.


Jackson Fry – Communication Center Consultant (University of Wyoming)

One on One

This I believe… I believe that when it comes to bringing students into the oral communication center, peers attract peers. Every semester, after the first week of classes, the student tutors go to every Public Speaking class and tell the students the “10 Reasons Why You Should Come to the Oral Communications Center”. Within our short visit, we inform them of the resources and benefits available to them. The very next day, the online schedule goes from absolutely empty to completely packed with appointments. Well, truth be told, the students didn’t always have such a positive reaction to the classroom visits. These visits use to be done a little differently, and rather than the student tutors making the visits, the director of the Oral Communication Center did. That one change made all the difference when it came to encouraging students to make appointments and visit the center.

One event leading to this change was an insight our director had when overhearing a Public Speaking student. As he tells the story, he was sitting in the Oral Communications Center just out of view, when a student came in and saw a fellow student tutor. Sounding relieved, the student remarked, “I thought there was going to be some old guy in here!”. Naturally, since the director had been the one to visit the classrooms, people assumed that he’d be the one offering help in the Communication Center.

While college students are capable of working with professors when seeking supplemental instruction, the “peer” factor of student tutors seems to provide a more comfortable environment. Every student tutor has been through Public Speaking. We’ve all written and presented speeches for every assignment the students seek help on. We’ve all gotten first had experiences of discovering what goes into producing successful speeches. And we’ve all experienced the anxiety that often comes with public speaking. This is what allows us to easily relate with students who come into the center.

Any time a student asks me for advice on a particular area of a speech, I don’t have to strictly rely on curriculum to help out. Sometimes I can say, “Well, when I wrote this speech, this is what I found helpful…” Students tend to take in the advice with a much higher affinity, by referring to personal experience, in addition to what the “book” says to do.

A common ethical hurdle within the Oral Communication Center is maintaining patience and having appropriate emotional responses to students. In certain situations, students may not seem particularly interested in, or may be having an especially hard time understanding whatever advice you can offer. Other students may merely come into the center to take advantage of an extra credit opportunity for their public speaking class. At any rate, it’s very important that each student is regarded with an understanding and friendly demeanor.

With all this is mind, I can assuredly say, not only do I believe peers attract peers, it’s a fact. The proof is in the appointments.


Leslea Hunt – Communication Center Consultant (University of Wyoming)

“Sandwiching”

This I believe. I believe that compliments in an Oral Communication Center are important. One day when I was working in my OCC on campus I had my schedule packed with back to back appointments. I had just finished up one appointment, and was sitting at a low table filling out the assessment for that student when my next appointment walked in. This student was a tall and beautiful young woman, with a confident smile. Naturally I pushed the assessment I was working on aside and got up from my chair to greet her and ask her sign in. As she was signing in I simply asked what she would like to work on for that session. She settled into the chair next to me, and stated that she wanted help with her outline for her second speech. At UW the second speech for the Public Speaking 1010 course is always a “How to Speech”, which is usually really easy to help students with. I asked her a few more questions about how her previous speech had gone, trying to gauge what I could really help her with, and also making the situation more comfortable. After a couple minutes (of chatting) she started to pull out her material for her upcoming speech, and that is where our session began to take a bit of a turn.

This girl went from being really confident and bubbly to a bit on edge, and right when I began to look at her outline her confidence just began to drop. She was doing her speech on “how to tie-dye”, a pretty common topic for a “how to” speech, but I could see why her confidence had dropped. Her outline needed quite a bit of work…….., as in, I was pretty sure that we were going to have to reorganize her speech completely. As I looked at her speech I knew the reorganizing wasn’t going to be the most important thing to accomplish in this session, because the longer I looked at her outline and asked her questions about her speech, the more criticism she had to give. I knew that all the negative things she was pointing out were truthful, but she was not being ethical and showing herself any respect for what she had accomplished thus far. So I began to do what I call “sandwiching”.

Sandwiching was a simple way I found to give a student constructive criticism while building their confidence. I started by complimenting her on what she done right, then I’d tell her something we needed to work on, and then give her another compliment. We began to work through her entire outline, but each time before pointing out something we needed to fix, I complimented her on what she had already done right. As the appointment went on, her attitude towards her outline had taken a 180, and fixing her problems was going smoother. She began to slowly change back into the confident girl who had first walked into the center. When the session was over she packed up her things, thanked me, and joyfully headed out the door.

This is why I believe it is important to compliment each student who comes in to an Oral Communication Center. This girl had come in with a lot of issues on her outline, there were a lot of aspects within it that she had right……she just simply chose to focus more on her problems. By complimenting her and pointing out pieces that she was doing well she became much more coachable. She became more interested in fixing her outline, but most importantly…..she left the center with confidence in what she had accomplished, and with confidence that she could apply when it was finally time to deliver her speech.


Chelsea Pantle – Communication Center Consultant (University of Wyoming)

The Culture Remix

This I believe…here at the OCC we are not only sharing our knowledge of public speaking but we are also sharing our culture. During the spring semester of 2012, there was a student from Sweden that was scheduled to meet with me. Appointments with foreign exchange students are always particularly challenging and very hard to prepare if you have not met with him/her before. There are several challenges when a tutor meets with a foreign exchange student. There are often linguistic and cultural barriers that the tutor must overcome in order to facilitate effective communication with the student.

I was not new to the OCC by any means but still not totally comfortable with tutoring foreign exchange students due to the several previous meeting with other foreign exchange students where there was a definite linguistic barrier. It was so challenging for me just to try and understand the student, let alone teach him/her the main concepts of public speaking. I felt very uncomfortable asking him/her to repeat what they had said several times because it was frustrating for both me and the student. As you can probably imagine, I always felt anxious about the meeting when I was scheduled to meet with someone who did not have an English sounding name. But I had to manage my emotional response and try and help the student as much as possible because it was my ethical responsibility. This is exactly how I felt when a stark blonde young woman entered the OCC to get help with her outline, let’s call her Sonya.

Sonya was a foreign exchange student from Sweden who was here to complete her college degree. My initial impression was that this was going to be a tough appointment if her accent was too thick for me to understand her English but Sonya surprised me. Her English was very good and I could understand everything she said. This helped to ease my tension and set the stage for a wonderful meeting with Sonya. After the appointment I felt I had learned so much about not only Swedish culture, but about how to share my own culture with other foreign exchange students. Sonya was very articulate and able to ask me how and why she was supposed to organize her speech and the purpose of using different English words in certain places. In this way I was able to distinguish the differences between American culture and Swedish culture and help her to bridge the gap between them.

The experience I had with Sonya was certainly not a universal experience I will continue to have with all foreign exchange students. However, for the first time I was able to understand that sometimes, with these particular students, we need to share our culture in order to more effectively share our knowledge about public speaking. This seems like a simple conclusion, but for me it took time and several experiences, and eventually a meeting with Sonya to understand this concept. I believe that here at the OCC we are not only sharing our knowledge of public speaking but we are also sharing our culture.

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