During the late 1930’s, the need for a speech department, separate from the traditional notion of written rhetoric, arose within the university. Moving from the English department, John H. Frizzell served as the Speech Communication Department’s first chair from 1940 until his retirement in 1946. Over the course of his career, he published three books, The Chapel Prayer Book, Notes on Public Speaking, and For Days of Crisis: A Book of Prayers. Additionally, he published several articles in well-recognized journals, such as the Quarterly Journal of Speech and Communication Quarterly. Beyond his scholarship, John Frizzell also engaged in service beyond his head duties by starting the women’s first debate team, abolishing compulsory chapel attendance, serving as the college chaplain, and serving as President of both The Eastern Communication Association and The Pennsylvania Communication Association.
Upon John H. Frizzell’s retirement in 1946, Joseph F. O’Brien took up the Acting Department Chair mantle until 1949. During his time as a rhetoric faculty member, he published articles in several journals, such as the Quarterly Journal of Speech and Communication Quarterly. He also published a book titled Parliamentary Law for the Layman: Procedures and Strategies for Meetings. Joseph O’Brien continued the tradition of debate and deliberation, expanding the men’s program and reinstating the women’s debate team upon the conclusion of WWII. Before his tenure as department head, he also served as President of the Eastern Communication Association and President of the Pennsylvania Communication Association.
Robert T. Oliver rose to Department Head in 1949, and served well over a decade until 1965. He wrote over fifty rhetorically-focused books during the course of his career, including Training for Effective Speech, Communicative Speech, Culture and Communication: The Problem of Penetrating National and Cultural Boundaries, and The History of Public Speaking in America. Additionally, he published articles in several journals, such as Quarterly Journal of Speech and Current History. Robert Oliver specialized in cultural rhetoric, developed relations with the Korean government, served as the Director of the Victory Speakers Bureau during WWII, and coached the Penn State debate team. He was recognized as the President of the National Communication Association (formerly the Speech Association of America), President of the Eastern Communication Association, and President of the Pennsylvania Communication Association.
Robert E. Dunham served as Acting Department Head from 1965 until 1966. After his term, he fully moved into administration, becoming Vice President for Residential Instruction, Acting Vice President for Faculty Affairs, Vice President for Undergraduate Studies, Vice President for Academic Services, Vice President and Vice Provost, and finally, Senior Vice President and Dean of the Commonwealth Education System. After a long career of service, Robert E. Dunham retired in 1998. During his tenure, he published in several journals, such as Speech Monographs, Journal of Communication, and Communication Quarterly.
Stanley F. Paulson served as Department Head from 1966-1969, and Dean of the College of the Liberal Arts. He was an integral part of maintaining the excellence of the College, while other Liberal Arts programs in the country deteriorated. During his service, Stanley Paulson continued to publish in top communication and rhetoric journals, such as Communication Monographs, Quarterly Journal of Speech, Speech Monographs, Communication Education, and The Journal of Business Communication. Additionally, he has published several books including Rhetoric in Transition: Studies of Nature and Uses of Rhetoric and Classics and the Classical Tradition: Essays to Robert E. Dengler on the Occasions of His Eightieth Birthday. Prior to his commitment to the university, Stanley Paulson taught internationally in both Great Britain and Germany.
Herman Cohen is a renowned rhetorician who served as Department Head from 1970-1985. Prior to his tenure as Head, he served in the United States Army during WWII. He went on to publish several books in rhetoric, such as The History of Speech Communication: The Emergence of a Discipline, 1914-1945, A History of the English Bar and Attornatus to 1450, and The Spirit of Our Laws. Herman Cohen also published in several journals, including Quarterly Journal of Speech, Communication Education, Western Speech, and Southern Journal of Communication. He was recognized for his service to the field by being honored as President of the National Communication Association and President of the Pennsylvania Communication Association. His significant contributions to rhetorical theory still shape the field today.
Robert S. Brubaker served as Acting Head from 1969-1970, and as Head from 1975 until his retirement in 1983. He published several rhetorical articles in communication journals, such as Quarterly Journal of Speech, The Journal of Psycholinguistics Research, The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, Journal of Communication Disorders, and Speech Teacher. He also co-edited a book titled Speech Pathology: An International Study of Science. As an interdisciplinary scholar, Robert taught in multiple subjects and was highly regarded as a wonderful teacher.
Dennis Gouran served as Department Head from 1984 until 1998, while maintaining an especially decorated career. He was honored with several college and university awards, such as the Faculty Scholar Medal, the Howard B. Palmer Faculty Mentoring Award, the Outstanding Faculty Advisor Award, and Service to the College Award. Dennis Gouran has also served as the President of the National Communication Association, President of the Central States Speech Association, and the chief editor of Communication Monographs. He has published thirteen books, including Discussion: The Process of Group Decision-Making, Mastering Communication, and Making Decisions in Groups: Choices and Consequences. He has also published over fifty articles in top journals, such as Speech Monographs, Communication Monographs, Communication Research, Communication Studies, and Quarterly Journal of Speech.
Michael Hecht is a communication scientist who served as Department Head from 1998-2003. It is during this time that the department changed from The Department of Speech Communication to the Department of Communication Arts and Sciences, acknowledging the merging of humanities and social sciences perspectives. Michael Hecht has been editor or co-editor of seven books, including African American Communication: Exploring Identity and Culture, Communicating Prejudice, and Contemporary Perspectives on Interpersonal Communication. He has also published over a hundred articles in journals such as Health Communication, Journal of Health Communication, Journal of Applied Communication Research, Journal of Communication, and Communication Studies. He has been recognized with several college awards including appointments as Distinguished Professor and Liberal Arts Research Professor.
Jon Nussbaum is a communication scientist who served as Interim Department Head from 2003-2004. He was later honored with the Raymond Lombra Award for Distinction in the Social or Life Sciences, one of the highest awards given by the college to recognize scholarly achievement. Jon Nussbum has published and co-edited a remarkable seventeen books including Lifespan Communication, Communication at the End of Life, and Communication and Intimacy in Older Adulthood. He has also published more than fifty journal articles in well-respected journals such as Health Communication, Journal of Applied Communication Research, The Journal of Family Communication, Journal of Communication, Communication Theory, and Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. In addition, Jon served as the Editor in Chief at The Journal of Communication and the President of the International Communication Association.
James Dillard is a communication scientist who served as Department Head from 2004 until 2009. He currently holds the title of Liberal Arts Research Professor, a distinction for scholarly excellence conferred by the College of the Liberal Arts. He has published several books, including Seeking Compliance: The Production of Interpersonal Influence Messages and two editions of The Persuasion Handbook: Developments in Theory and Practice. In addition, Jim Dillard has published over a hundred influential book chapters and peer reviewed articles in journals such as Communication Research, Communication Monographs, Journal of Applied Communication Research, Health Communication, Journal of Health Communication, Human Communication Research, Journal of Communication, and Communication Theory. He has served as the editor of Human Communication Research and authored two influential theories focused on persuasion and interpersonal influence.
Thomas Benson is a rhetorician who served as Department Head from 2009 until 2011. He held the distinguished title of Sparks Professor and was honored with the Class of 1933 Distinction in the Humanities Award, conferred by the College of the Liberal Arts. His book publications are numerous, including titles such as Rhetorical Dimensions in Media: A Critical Casebook, Readings in Medieval Rhetoric, Speech Communication in the 20th Century, and Reality Fictions: The Films of Frederick Wiseman. Thomas Benson has also published several influential articles in academic journals including Quarterly Journal of Speech, Communication Quarterly, and Communication Monographs. He is the founding editor of The Review of Communication and has received several distinguished scholar awards for his extensive work on rhetorical criticism. Beyond his scholarship, Thomas Benson has been honored in the field for his wonderful mentoring and teaching.
John Gastil is a communication scholar who served as Department Head from 2011 to 2016. During his term as Head, Gastil was also the Director of the McCourtney Institute for Democracy, and he was the inaugural President of the National Communication Association's Public Dialogue and Deliberation Division. He has authored or edited several books, including The Group in Society, Political Communication and Deliberation, The Jury and Democracy, and The Deliberative Democracy Handbook. His articles have appeared in diverse journals, including Communication Monographs, Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, Journal of Applied Communication Research, and Journal of Politics. John has received national awards and recognition for his scholarship on public deliberation and group decision making.
Denise Solomon served as Department Head from 2016 to 2022. Having previously served the College of the Liberal Arts as Associate Dean (from 2008-2013), Solomon brought considerable administrative experience to the position, which contributed to her effective leadership as faculty, staff, and students navigated the exigencies imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Solomon has been honored with several college and university awards, including the Raymond Lombra Award for Distinction in the Social or Life Sciences, the College of the Liberal Arts Service to the College Award, the Penn State Liberal Arts Alumni Society Board’s Welch Alumni Relations Award, and her appointment as Distinguished Professor. Solomon’s scholarship, which focuses on interpersonal communication in personal relationships, has been recognized by the National Communication Association’s Mark L. Knapp Award in Interpersonal Communication, for career contributions to the study of interpersonal communication, and the Charles Woolbert Award, marking a scholarly publication that has stood the test of time and become a stimulus for new conceptualizations of communication phenomena. Solomon has also been named a Fellow of the International Communication Association, a Fellow of the International Association for Relationship Research, and a Distinguished Scholar of the National Communication Association. As of 2023, she had authored more than 90 peer-reviewed journal articles, co-authored two editions of the textbook "Interpersonal Communication: Putting Theory into Practice," served as associated editor of the "International Encyclopedia of Interpersonal Communication," and received grants from the National Science Foundation to support her work on a dynamic dyadic systems perspective on interpersonal conversation.