Wichita State professor looks for meaning in communication
After years of traveling the United States, Jennifer Tiernan said the opportunity to work with her husband at a highly respected school led her to Wichita.
Tiernan joined Wichita State’s Elliott School of Communication (ESC) in 2013 as an assistant professor. Her husband, Matthew Cecil, came to WSU at the same time to take over as ESC director.
In her year at Wichita State, Tiernan has been busy. Her expertise is in critical and cultural studies; visual communication; and technology. She teaches undergraduate and graduate media studies courses on topics of gender and communication, film studies and mass communication.
Recently, Tiernan presented a paper about when women in online mothering support groups create real friendships. And she and ESC assistant professor Jessica Bertapelle are conducting interviews about communication among families in which grandparents are the primary caregivers.
“Ultimately, I study how we as media consumers and citizens make meaning,” Tiernan says. “I tend to focus on visual communication, but I am also interested in how we use technology to make meaning and form communities of practice.”
A broader perspective
Tiernan has taken the long road to Wichita, having lived in nine different states.
Born and raised in Torrance, Calif., until age 10, she and her family then moved to New Jersey when her dad took a job in New York City.
“I wouldn’t change a thing,” she says. “It was great to grow up 25 miles outside of Manhattan.”
After high school, Tiernan got her undergraduate degree at Eugene Lang College of the New School for Social Research in New York City and then headed to the Midwest and the University of Iowa. She knew she wanted to be a professor, but wasn’t set on the discipline. She majored in American studies for her bachelor’s and master’s degrees and loved the combination of history, popular culture and theory.
Tiernan’s focus turned toward communication as she worked on her thesis: an ethnographic study of Vietnam veterans who took snapshots during their time at war. She was interested in how veterans used their photographs to make sense of their wartime experiences, and how their images compared to those of professional photojournalists.
That work continued as Tiernan pursued her Ph.D. and became the primary reason she pursued mass communication as a career.
During her last year of college and for a few years after, Tiernan headed back to the East Coast. She lived in New York City and was assistant to the director of development at The Jewish Museum, as well as an assistant photographer for a big wedding photography company.
After her stint in New York, Tiernan went to graduate school at the University of Wyoming and then headed back to the University of Iowa. She even spent time as a radio deejay while there before heading into the teaching world.
Tiernan has since worked at Purdue University in Indiana, the University of Oklahoma, and most recently at South Dakota State University.
“Aside from getting to know many different people, I feel like living in so many different parts of the country has given me a broader perspective on American culture,” Tiernan says.
Tiernan is excited about her future in Wichita, which also includes her 9-year-old son, Owen.
“There are many exciting things going on at WSU, so I think it’s a great time to be here and be a part of the change and development,” she said. “It’s been a great move for my family, and I am really enjoying Wichita.”