Faculty Spotlight: Jenny Tatsak, Ph.D.

Jenny Tatsak, Ph.D., understands firsthand the positive impact a teacher can have on students.

When she started college, her plan was to major in political science and minor in economics. “I always had an interest in the political process and how people organize in pursuit of a common goal,” said Tatsak. “I also had a great high school economics teacher who really made the subject come to life.”

After her first economics class in college, she wasn’t sure she had made the right decision about her areas of study. “I had a communications professor who I really enjoyed and who showed me the opportunities of the field,” said Tatsak. “I ended up doing a double major in communications.” The ability a teacher has to help open a student’s eyes to a different path is what ultimately drew her to teaching.

Tatsak has been at Walsh since 2010, first as an associate professor, then a full professor and now chair of business communications and marketing. But she didn’t start out in academia. Her natural interest in politics and her communications education led her to spend several years working as a senior strategist and primary spokesperson for local, state, and national political campaigns. She developed general messaging and marketing materials, crisis and reputation management communications, and served as a speech writer and media coach for debate preparation. In fact, she was chosen by the nonpartisan National Commission on Presidential Debates to study presidential and vice presidential debates and her research led to improvement in both of those debate formats.

Real World Experience in the Classroom

Tatsak brings her years of communications experience to her classes and many of her students do as well, which is something she appreciates about teaching at Walsh. “Our student body is unique because so many Walsh students are working professionals,” said Tatsak. “Classes are structured to encourage the sharing of experiences, and our students are engaged and engaging. I learn from them all the time, which is exciting.”

As a Walsh faculty member, Tatsak feels she experiences the best of what academia has to offer. “We are supported in our research and we also have autonomy to engage with students in a variety of ways to offer a range of practical experience,” she said. Some of those experiences include simulation projects at the undergraduate level or graduate capstone projects, where students often have the opportunity to work with real companies. “Students are able to put the knowledge and practical experience they have gained throughout their programs to work to benefit an organization,” she said. “I look forward to being more involved with the marketing capstones in my new role. These are dynamic projects with an impressive client list.”

The Rewards of Teaching

One of Tatsak’s favorite aspects of teaching at Walsh are the connections she is able to form with her students. She notes how small class sizes allow faculty to really get to know their students, including their strengths and challenges, making it easier to intervene and help a student who is having trouble. “Constructive feedback is critical, and I find my students are generally receptive to it because they are receiving it in the workplace,” said Tatsak. “In my experience, my students’ emotional intelligence has been more fine-tuned, which makes it easier for them to accept help if they need it.”

Tatsak also loves witnessing her students’ growth, which she is often able to do in real time. “When I see a student’s confidence level grow right before me in the way they develop or deliver a message…there is nothing more rewarding than that. My hope for all of my students is that they feel more confident in expressing themselves, because that confidence helps not only them, but those who they are communicating with.”

Challenges and Opportunities

Despite the challenges this year has brought, Tatsak has a positive outlook about the opportunities the COVID-19 pandemic has presented, too. “COVID has been a challenge, of course. We are all decentralized and balancing many competing priorities. But those challenges open up new ways of thinking, too. Walsh is an agile institution. We are able to move quickly when needed and accomplish a great deal in a short amount of time,” she said. “The pandemic presented the opportunity to explore additional ways of delivering courses, such as the virtual synchronous format. I appreciate technology and find these developments compelling.”

As for those online and remote learning experiences, Tatsak says they are “top notch.” Faculty and instructional designers collaborate to develop online courses, which Tatsak notes is apparent in the look and feel of the courses. “The online education experience Walsh provides sets us apart from other institutions of higher education,” she said.

What's Next?

Tatsak looks forward to the busy time ahead of her, leading an additional department in her new role, continuing to teach, and diving into a new area of research. She has been exploring the impact of positive communication in higher education and health care, and more recently is researching public identity performance and the persuasive impact of places. “We perform based on the environment we’re in. We may present a stylized version of ourselves when we are at a coffee shop, for example, or we may offer a best or worst slice of our lives in our online personas,” she said. “As observers, we see those curated presentations from others and may use them to form a perception of what a ‘good’ parent is, or what an ambitious professional looks like. This research is especially compelling with the current climate we are in. I’m very excited about it.”

Tatsak’s years of professional experience, enthusiasm for her area of study, and continued pursuit of new ideas make her a skilled educator and mentor. She understands the impact she has as a professor, the power of effective communication, and is committed to the success of her students.

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