Dorothy Thompson Works in University Relations
Since she was a child, Dorothy Thompson has enjoyed the smells of paper and ink. Art, writing, history, psychology, and sociology were among her favorite classes. She liked so many subjects that it was a challenge deciding on a major.
Thompson enjoys reading books, organizing information, helping people, visiting art museums and galleries, photography, international travel and knowing things, including the latest news. She serves the University of Wisconsin-Richland as program manager in the University Relations Office.
Located in Richland Center, Wisconsin, UW-Richland is a campus of the UW Colleges, the freshman/sophomore campuses of the University of Wisconsin System. For more information about UW-Richland visit the campus website at www.richland.uwc.edu
You work in University Relations for the University of Wisconsin-Richland. Can you tell me a little bit about what you do?
My position description says I’m responsible for media relations and marketing. Aspects of that include writing and distributing news and features — including creating and keeping lists up to date and serving as liaison to regional media; developing and carrying out marketing and advertising campaigns; developing publications; managing budgets; developing and updating website content and features and campus social media such as Facebook and You Tube; managing my office; community relations; participating in campus and institutional governance; and other duties. Mine is a one-person office, though we have support from the central office of our multi-campus system to help with some things.
Since I started here 25 years ago using an electric typewriter in a pre-website world, many things have changed. The basic core of what I do hasn’t. That is, as I like to say, “I do pretty words and pretty pictures.”
It sounds like this would be a great job for someone who likes to learn something new all the time.
You’re right about that. In recent years, the pace of continually learning new technology has picked up. Overall, I enjoy learning new technology and have a great sense of satisfaction once I master aspects of it. That’s not to say that, when faced with deadlines while using new technology, I don’t get frustrated from time to time.
I learn all the time, too, in other ways —a bout new people, new programs, new initiatives, and new ideas — as I gather information to help inform others about these things.
Part of your job is to communicate the school’s brand and messaging to both internal and external audiences. Who decides what that voice should be, and how do you go about conveying it?
That’s a big question. Of course, we do research, so we have data. Tradition, too, plays a part in how we describe ourselves to others. In meetings, interviews, and other communications, we share ideas, so I hear from students, faculty, staff, administrators, parents, government and community leaders. This helps me better understand what people care about, what’s important to them, what they want or need to know and how best to explain it.
As for the tone, it depends on the topic. For example, to publicize a campus theatre production that’s a light comedy, I use a different tone than I would to promote a play that’s issue-oriented. In developing informational pieces about a new academic program, the focus would likely be somewhat different if it was intended for students and their families rather than administrators.
You attended the University of Wisconsin as a student, and here you are again. What about your undergraduate experience made the thought of coming back so appealing?
A university environment is overall very positive. Everyone is working hard to improve—themselves, their understanding of the world, their skills and abilities, and to make the world a better place. Every day, all around me, I see positive transformations. This makes my job easier. In sales talk, you could say that I believe in my product.
I also enjoy the cosmopolitan atmosphere. We currently have students from 14 nations outside the USA, as well as international faculty and staff. Our campus is located in a peaceful small city in an environmentally beautiful setting, the region that inspired architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who was born here in Richland Center.
What kind of educational background would someone need to have if they wanted to get a job like yours?
According to my job description the requirements are: “A minimum of a bachelor’s degree in journalism, communication, marketing or related field plus six years of experience in a university, non-profit or corporate communications setting (or equivalent combination of education and experience) is required. This position requires excellent verbal and written communications skills, the ability to communicate with diverse constituencies, strong organizational and leadership skills, and demonstrated publication and production skills; proficiency using a variety of software; knowledge of graphic design principles and photography.”
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Seeing students succeed. This may be when I take a photo at graduation of a student who is the first in his or her family to earn a degree, or an adult who came back to school with little confidence and leaves us knowing they’re on the way to achieving their dream. Those are the biggest rewards. There are steps along the way—seeing their happiness and satisfaction when they master a new skill, earn a scholarship or award, gain understanding and confidence to speak up at a meeting. I also enjoy seeing young faculty and administrators gain confidence and experience.
What is a typical day at the office like for you?
There is no typical day. On any given day, I’m likely juggling between four and ten of these types of activities:
- At least one meeting—could be a campus committee such as Instructional and Information Technology, Staff, Budget, or one on a new degree program in development, or a UW Colleges (institutional) committee, which may take me off campus;
- Arranging or conducting at least one interview — for radio, as the basis of a news release, for local television, for a website or social media feature — and otherwise talking to people to gather information;
- Writing a news release, public service announcement, ad copy, script or speech/commentary/introduction, grant narrative, or copy for a publication;
- Taking photos to be used on the campus website, for a PowerPoint presentation, on our Facebook page, in connection with a publication, news item or poster;
- Analyzing/planning/managing information, be that a budget, website analytics, a communications plan, or something else;
- Reading—information related to my work, instructions, reports, news from/about other campuses, applications, proposals, minutes, proof reading my own work and the work of others;
- Email — I just looked and last week I sent over 350 messages, most answering questions or providing information;
- Creating an ad, poster, web feature, PowerPoint slide(s), or social media item/feature;
- Assisting/advising residence halls, food service, the Foundation, departments and other campus organizations;
- Figuring out how to use, approach, explain or promote something new—be that a new website, new faculty member, new piece of software, new course;
- Dealing with those “other duties assigned by the CEO/Dean”
- And, of course, thinking—about how to solve problems and adapt to the future that is continually becoming the present.
What is the best career advice you’ve ever received?
“Be there.” Whatever it is you want to do or be, it’s important to place yourself where it’s happening.
Once there, it’s helpful at times to remember, “It will be better tomorrow.” This is useful for everything from learning a new computer program to adapting to a new administrative structure.
What advice would you give to a college student who thinks they might like to do what you do one day?
Be there. As soon as your freshman year, get a work-study, part-time or even volunteer job in the University Relations or Marketing Communications office. You’ll be able to get a feel for what happens there and how it works. Be the publicity person for a student club or organization. Later on, perhaps as a junior or senior, seek out an internship. If you can manage it, find a part-time or summer job in a communication-related position, at your local radio or public access television station, newspaper, Chamber of Commerce office, or something similar. Save samples of the work you do, along with notes explaining your role in the various projects and what you learned—and keep them in a portfolio that you continue to develop. That way you’ll be developing both your educational and practical credentials at the same time.
Thanks so much for your time!