Speech Lab takes home national awards during NACC conference

Speech Lab. Nick Moran.

Speech Lab. Nick Moran.

Grand Valley State University students won two awards for outstanding papers during the National Association of Communication Centers (NACC) conference March 29-30. All four recipients represented the Speech Lab, including its motto “Best in the Nation!”

“People know who we are,”  said Speech Lab director Carl Brown. “When we walk into that place, wherever the conference is, ‘Oh, Grand Valley’s here.’”

The NACC conference serves as an annual competition for schools with communication centers. Students present research that challenges or incorporates existing theories, and Brown said this creates knowledge shared between communication centers to integrate into their practices. While some communication centers have their own buildings, the Speech Lab operates in an office at Mackinac Hall.

“But when it comes to the service and research, it just goes to show that the people, not the space, make up the Speech Lab,” Brown said.

Sophomores Dominic Cassisi and Hannah Karwat helped GVSU win the Bob and Ann Weiss Undergraduate Paper Award for the third consecutive year. Their research asked students and professionals how they regarded the importance of communication in STEM fields. Cassisi described STEM as a field where people do not outwardly communicate often, with plenty of work occurring behind computers.

However, both Speech Lab students found professionals overwhelmingly emphasized that students entering STEM fields needed to improve their communication skills. By contrast, students reported they felt they had no struggles with communicating. Cassisi said that explaining projects to coworkers is an example of communication inside STEM fields.

For the second year in a row, GVSU also achieved the Huddy-Gunn Graduate Paper Award through the efforts of graduate students Jeannie Lane and Vivian Niestrom. According to Niestrom, they tested four themes of integrating new staff into communication centers. In the process, five new Speech Lab employees completed interviews and questionnaires.

“And what we found were that there were two new themes that were really crucial when it came to our staff forming friendships,” Lane said.

Employee training and ritual participation appeared as those additional factors. Speech Lab has a ritual of adding new consultants to its Snapchat group. Here, staff can be silly and discuss their personal lives, Lane said. 

Additionally, members who complete training receive items such as a mug with their name and “Grand Valley Speech Lab” on it. For Lane, the gifts are tangible symbols of how hard people worked to join the communication center.

“I had never done any sort of research before this,” Niestrom said. 

Niestrom pointed to the learning curve of research as her biggest challenge, but only to recall she was not alone. Her co-author, Lane, had conducted previous research that their study followed up on. 

Meanwhile, Brown served as Niestrom’s mentor. Both individuals helped the first-time researcher figure out her place in the research process.

Furthermore, Lane emphasized working with another person as a challenge, since people have different ways to write and work. Cassisi also described the same situation, as he said it is difficult to organize a final product that satisfies two research partners. 

Nonetheless, Brown said the Speech Lab looks for people who work well with others, not necessarily the best speakers. Subsequently, the GVSU participants achieved great success, especially the undergraduates.

“Obviously, they were in the undergraduate research category, but that’s still pretty uncommon.” Lane said. “Most people that win that undergraduate award are juniors or seniors.”

Karwat and Cassisi scored the Bob and Ann Weiss Undergraduate Paper Award, despite being newly hired speech consultants this year. The two sophomores are not even through their first full year at the Speech Lab. 

Lane said both undergraduates set a high bar for themselves. With this accomplishment, Cassisi and Karwat have the potential to earn more national awards through further communication research.