Wichita State News

Faculty feature: Elliott School director Matthew Cecil

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Matthew Cecil
Matthew Cecil
Matthew Cecil, who became director of the Elliott School of Communication July 1, almost didn’t make it to Wichita State.

Cecil and his wife, Jennifer Tiernan, were working in the South Dakota State University Department of Journalism and Mass Communication. They had been there a few years – and in that time, Cecil had been looking into administrative positions around the country.

Nothing seemed to fit, and Cecil had decided to stop looking. Then last summer at a conference, an Elliott School search committee member approached him, asking him to apply.

Cecil was a bit wary. But a trip to Wichita changed his mind.

“I applied on the last possible day, simply because I wasn’t sure whether or not the position was a good fit,” he said. “Once I visited, however, I immediately liked Wichita and was impressed with the faculty, staff, students and facilities of the Elliott School. It is a great place, and I am grateful for this opportunity.”

Getting to know Matthew Cecil

Cecil grew up in Brookings, S.D., a college town where his father was assistant to the president of South Dakota State University for many years.

After earning a bachelor’s in history from SDSU, Cecil went into the newspaper business, editing small-town papers and working as a political reporter for the Sioux Falls Argus Leader. From there, he was hired as capitol reporter and Sunday editorial columnist by The Forum of Fargo and Moorhead, the largest newspaper in North Dakota.

About 18 months later, Cecil took a job as press secretary for a South Dakota gubernatorial candidate. When he lost, Cecil went to work as a media relations assistant for a company in Brookings called Daktronics, a designer and manufacturer of large video displays.

Looking for a change, Cecil went back to school.

He earned his master’s in history from Minnesota State University and a Ph.D. in mass communication from the University of Iowa’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

It was there that he met Tiernan, who was earning her own Ph.D.

In 2000, Cecil started his first tenure-track position in the Department of Communication at Purdue University. Two years later, he and Tiernan accepted tenure-track positions in the University of Oklahoma’s Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication.

After their son, Owen, was born in 2004, Cecil decided to move closer to his hometown.

Now in Wichita, Tiernan will be an assistant professor on the tenure track in the Elliott School starting this fall.

Along with his regular duties, Cecil is a media historian and has a book, “J. Edgar Hoover and the American Press: Journalism, Public Relations and the Legitimation of the FBI,” coming out from the University Press of Kansas later this year. He has been published and presented more than 25 media history papers.

Building on legacy

Cecil is ready to get started at Wichita State. He is seeking input from the community and from local communications professionals, asking what the school is doing well and how they can do it better. He encourages people to stop by Elliott Hall, email him at matthew.cecil@wichita.edu or contact him via Twitter - @matthew _ cecil.

Cecil is also ready to start working on three of his goals for the ESC.

He wants to capitalize on the existing real-world experience opportunities that students already have, such as the Flint Hills Media Project, WSU Hunger Awareness project and the IMC Campaigns class, all of which help the community while teaching hands-on lessons to those involved.

“One goal involves dramatically expanding those experiential offerings,” he said. “We like to use a teaching hospital metaphor to describe what we’re doing. We know that students learn better by working on real projects, and if we can make a positive impact in the community, all the better.”

Cecil would also like the Elliott School to do a better job of letting everyone else know what ESC has to offer.

“At the Elliott School, we teach things like writing, speaking, thinking and the use of technology to communicate. Those are essential, real-world skills that everyone needs, but as we all know, not everyone has them,” he said. “An important part of my job is to make the case that those skills are essential for university graduates and to tell the story of the innovative ways the Elliott School teaches those kinds of things.”

Thirdly, Cecil hopes to find more ways to increase students’ exposure to new technology and seek opportunities to extend the intellectual capacity of the school into the community and region.

ESC’s biggest assets, Cecil said, are people.

“Above all, we have an amazing, talented, collegial faculty, a group of people who really care about their disciplines and want our students to succeed,” he said. “We also have a wonderful group of supporters, friends and alumni.”

Cecil said one of the other strengths of the Elliott School is what Les Anderson – a beloved and highly respected professor who died of a heart attack in 2011 – left behind.

“I didn’t know Les, but I had heard of him. His reputation as a caring educator and supportive colleague was well known in our field,” Cecil said. “He was the heart and soul of the school. You simply cannot replace someone like that. What you hope is that the values he embodied, things like high expectations for student performance and a supportive culture, became part of the DNA of the school. There is no doubt in my mind that is the case with Les’ legacy. We can build on those things.”

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Created on Wednesday, July 17, 2013; Last modified on Monday, July 22, 2013