Organizational and instructional communication specialist Jennifer Waldeck has been named head of the Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communication (ALEC) in the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences beginning July 1. Waldeck most recently served as the associate dean for academic programming and faculty affairs for the School of Communication at Chapman University.
Waldeck has spent the majority of her career focused on instructional and organizational communication, researching ways that effective communication facilitates teaching and learning, as well as the role of communication in achieving improved organizational outcomes. When thinking about organizational success, Waldeck said that one of the most important questions to ask is “how do we take the research off the shelf, dust it off, and make it useful for people?”
As a consultant and well-known leader in her field and across disciplines for her work in graduate student teacher training and development, Waldeck has worked with many clients to improve organizational culture and outcomes through research-based, theory-driven approaches. One of these clients stands out as a driving factor in her decision to join ALEC and CAES — the Dairy Council of California.
“Working with the Dairy Council opened my eyes to the impact and affect this work can have on people and industries,” she said. A believer in involving students in change-making work, Waldeck saw this partnership as an opportunity to show her students what they could achieve in real-world communications.
This service-learning project for her students at Chapman turned into a long-term collaboration with the Dairy Council of California. Through service-learning courses and consulting opportunities, Waldeck and her students were able to produce web-based, app-driven nutrition literacy programs for Californians that took into account cultural implications and audience characteristics, all in pursuit of increased education around nutrition and health.
This results-driven approach is one Waldeck plans to bring with her as she makes the move to Athens to lead the ALEC department. As department head, Waldeck will lead diverse, dynamic faculty on UGA’s Athens and Tifton campuses as they continue pursuing excellence in research and instruction. She will also hold a courtesy appointment in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences' Department of Communication Studies.
ALEC’s mission is to develop effective agricultural leaders, educators and communicators who translate issues of complex science into information that the public can understand and use in a meaningful way.
“When we are successful, ALEC is training people to teach, lead, develop and evaluate a variety of messages in a way that supports one of the nation’s largest industries — and it’s one that isn’t just lining someone’s pocket. Agriculture is feeding and sustaining the world,” Waldeck said.
Communicating with and educating the public about agriculture is a challenge that Waldeck plans to address through increasing externally funded research efforts, enhancing student growth opportunities, and identifying ALEC’s unique areas of specialty within agricultural communication and education nationwide. In an industry that relies upon making science work for people, Waldeck believes it is vital to equip faculty and students with the tools they need to employ simple, effective strategies that ensure the public has accurate information about agriculture and the environment.
“The industry has information and consumers need information — if agriculture and environment is not a place to invest our communication resources, I don’t know what is.”
Waldeck has been involved in writing six books and more than 50 peer-reviewed papers and chapters. She is currently working with a research team exploring the effects of educational messaging about agricultural water conservation practices on consumer behavior. A recent paper titled "Combating the Water Crisis through Transformative Messaging: An Application of Psychological Reactance Theory and Message Framing" was the top-ranked paper submitted to the Applied Communication division of the National Communication Association and will be presented at the association's annual meeting in November.
Since 2018, she has served as the first vice president for the Eastern Communication Association (ECC), and is currently the president-elect of the ECC.
Waldeck holds a bachelor’s degree in communication from Ohio University, a master’s degree in speech communication from California State University, and a doctorate in communication from the University of California, Santa Barbara.
For more information about the ALEC department at CAES, visit alec.caes.uga.edu.