Pallavi Damani Kumar is a full-time professor in American University’s School of Communication and the Division Director for the Public Communication.
Ever since I graduated as an undergraduate from American University’s School of Communication, I wanted to teach in the program. I felt like AU helped me discover my true passion in public relations and strategic communication, and teaching was a way of giving back. Eight years after graduation, after working in New York and Philadelphia, I was headed back to DC, and my first goal was to fulfill a long-held dream of mine to teach in the Public Communication division.
I reached out to Professor Rick Stack who I had known from my undergrad days, and asked him if I could teach as an adjunct. Always encouraging, he told me to start working on a syllabus to get a feel for how I would design a course. But once I was back in DC, he said he didn’t have any openings but would keep me in mind.
Two weeks before the start of the Spring semester in 2002, I got a call from him that he had to add an extra section of the course, “Public Relations.” Would I be interested? Absolutely! I furiously prepared for that first class, fine tuning my syllabus, honing my lecture and trying to think of every detail with Professor Stack’s help. Forty-five minutes into my first class, I ran out of my material. It was the scariest feeling to be in front of 20 students and realize that there was no backup plan (they got out really early that day!).
Though I was discouraged by my first experience, Professor Stack provided nothing but kind words of encouragement. I learned to always have back up material for my lectures. And 13 years (and one master’s degree later), I am now a full-time faculty member at American University and Division Director of the very program I graduated from. It wouldn’t have happened if Professor Stack hadn’t given me my first shot at teaching, which completely changed my career path and still challenges me each and every day.