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Kathryn M. Olson, professor

Department of Communication

University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee


Join us in San Antonio for the

Merritt Award Reception,

scheduled for Friday, Nov. 17, 

6:30 p.m., in room 214C

of the convention center.

Kathryn Olson Wins the

2006 Francine Merritt Award

for outstanding contributions

to women in communication


Special congratulations go to Kathryn Olson, this year’s Francine

Merritt Award recipient for her outstanding contributions to the lives

of women in communication. Olson (Ph.D., Northwestern, 1987) is

a full professor who teaches rhetoric in the Department of

Communication at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.


A prolific scholar and much-admired teacher, Olson’s distinguished

career is like many Merritt winners in that her unselfish mentoring has

generated devotion among her colleagues and former students, who

claim they owe their own success to Olson’s friendship and guidance.


Olson herself said, “I am very honored because this award is not for a

single big accomplishment, but recognizes those small things that one

does consistently and over time that accumulate and ripple out to make

a difference in other people’s lives. This is the gentle spirit of the Francine

Merritt Award that makes nomination itself a treasure.”


Olson was touched when she finally sat down to read her letters of

nomination. “That women whom I respect so much shared such moving

stories about how I had touched their lives, often in ways that I was unaware

of, for me is the honor.”


One of Olson’s former students, Jennifer Considine, agrees. Now an

assistant professor at the University of Montana, Considine said, “As a

first-year faculty member, I’ve come to appreciate even more the amount

of time and energy Kathryn devoted to working with me when I was a

first-year master’s student.”


Considine said, “Growing up, I had been taught that is wasn’t ‘ladylike’ to

engage in arguments, particularly dealing with political topics. But Kathryn

showed me that it is both acceptable and commendable to engage in political

and social debate.”


Considine jokes about students being taken aback by Professor Olson’s “

multi-colored ink pens—and, yes, red, too,” especially the rainbow manner

in which they show up on graded papers. Considine said Olson’s “ability to

get to the heart of an argument and willingness to push young scholars helps

them become better thinkers and writers.”


Another former student, Christina Frey echoed the same sentiment: “What

puts Professor Olson above other teachers is her ability to push students to

new levels of critical thinking, while making learning fun and inviting.”


“Professor Olson understands that all students don’t learn in the same way,

and she tries to give every student the same opportunity to excel,” Frey said.


Renee Meyers, Olson’s colleague at the University of Wisconsin, said, “As

I’m sure her supporting letters will attest, Kathryn has touched, and changed,

the lives of many women in her career.” But Myers also praises Olson’s

scholarship, both in terms of quantity (dozens of peer-review articles, not to

mention book chapters and monographs) and quality (among the field’s most

prestigious journals).


Olson says, “I hope that my research helps people understand ordinary

events in fresh ways that expand their choices and empower them. I’d like to

think that my work on social justice/injustice, hierarchies, and educating

rhetorical leaders makes a difference.”


On women’s issues in communication scholarship, Olson worries about sacrificing

“the baby with the bathwater” or “reinventing the wheel” in pursuit of the novel.

“Much of what is available in traditional scholarship, sometimes with only the

slightest twist or if exercised from a different vantage point, can be adapted to

address special symbolic challenges faced by those with fewer social advantages,”

she said. “I agree with Kenneth Burke that we should ‘use all that is there to use.’”


“If we better capitalize on existing intellectual resources, as well as developing

theoretical innovations, we can spend our collective scholarly energies more

effectively and hopefully make a greater difference in people’s lives,” she said.


Her most recent work includes a forthcoming article in Rhetoric & Public Affairs

(“Shared Power, Foreign Policy, and Haiti, 1994: Public Memories of War and

Peach,” 2006). She also has some book chapters forthcoming in edited collections.

“White Paper on Televised Political Campaign Debates” will appear in Readings on

Political Communication. She has two chapters in Engaging Argument: “The

Epideictic Lens: The Unrealized Potential of Existing Argumentation Theory to

Explain the Bush Administration’s Presentation of War with Iraq” and “Educating

Rhetorical Leaders.”


Olson currently serves as director of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s

Rhetorical Leadership Program. Some of her other recent accolades include the

2005 Daniel Rohrer Research Award, the 2005 Golden Anniversary Monograph

Award, and the 2003 Rose B. Johnson Article Award.


She also takes pride in the fact that, since 1999, 19 of her students have published

as single authors from class papers they wrote for her.


Please join Voices in congratulating Professor Olson for both earning the Francine

Merritt Award and serving as a role model for the rest of us. Don’t miss the award

reception in San Antonio on Friday evening at 6:30 in room 214C.


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Last Updated September 13, 2006