Friday, January 20, 2012

This is the start of a series of interviews with professors, fellow alumni, and guests, and we have decided to start with a well-known professor.  Many of you will be familiar with the name and face, for she has had the opportunity to teach quite a few of you. 

Introducing our first post to the COML Alumni Blog we are featuring an in depth interview with well known adjunct professor and mentor, Sara Johnston better known as the infamous 'Sara J,' to many COML students.  For many of the students that have participated in the online community within the Communications and Leadership Studies program, the name Sara Johnston may look familiar.  Sara Johnston teaches two 8 week intensive courses alongside Cher Desautel, both partners with Desautel Hege Communications (DHC).  DHC is an integrated public relations and marketing firm with 14 employees.

Prior to this, having been a traditional student in the sense that I had taken most classes on campus I did have the opportunity to take both Cher and Sara’s online course, COML 511 Seminar in Communications in Consulting and Training.  After taking their online course I have had a firsthand experience seeing what a strong community exists online through the COML program.  Therefore, in order to represent the online community, when thinking of the first individual to interview for the COML Alumni group, Sara Johnston came to mind as an obvious choice.   

I had the pleasure of sitting down to interview Sara Johnston of Desautel Hege Communications.  True to form, as I met her in person, the warmth and light she displayed online was even more present in real life.  We had agreed to meet at Desautel Hege Communications, located downtown Spokane.  As I stood in the waiting room I saw a petite blonde walking towards me.  Sara approached me and greeted me with a warm, kind, big, smile and immediately offered me a cup of coffee or water.  As we walked around the corner to a back conference room where we could sit and visit I noticed Desautel Hege Communications observes casual Friday, for Sara, along with the majority of the firm, was sporting their blue jeans.  It was refreshing to see unpretentiousness of a firm that still observed casual Friday.  Sara led me into a conference room that was of a warm grey tone with two overstuffed chairs facing one another.  The way the conference room was designed created an environment that was welcoming, and warm, much like Sara was. 

I began the interview, asking Sara to tell me a little about herself.  She told me she is a Spokane native, born and raised.  She went to Eastern Washington University for her Undergraduate work.  When asked what she majored in, she laughed as she joked that it was so long ago she had to think back in what she majored in - Organizational Communication and Journalism.  Sara was the fourth person to join Desautel Hege Communications in 1998.  She worked within the company for 6 years before continuing her education in Gonzaga’s very own, Communication and Leadership Studies Program.  She was later told, after completing the program that she was the first official accepted person of the program, which is exciting to look back on.  She began the program in 2004 and it took her approximately 2.5 to 3 years to complete the program; during that time she continued working at Desautel Hege Communications and also made partner, so needless to say she was one busy lady! 

When asked why she decided to commit to the COML program she gave a little history to the program.  It turns out Cher Desautel worked with John Caputo when creating the program.  When Sara was working alongside Cher at Desautel Hege Communications, Sara would hear about the program and all the progress being made within.  Therefore when Sara made the decision to continue with school she was faced with what program to enter into; she remembers thinking about whether to enter into the Organizational Leadership Program, an MBA, or the COML program.  She made her decision to enter into the COML program because she wanted a more broad leadership perspective that linked with communication and the COML program was the perfect balance between the two for both her professional and personal life.  It was through Sara working with Cher at Desautel Hege Communications that she learned about the foundation of the COML program; she learned that it was a program dedicated to combining theory and real world experiences along with philosophy. 

When asked what Sara gained most from the program she responded without hesitation that she had grown as an individual.  She believes the program, through the academic rigor, the people involved, combined with Gonzaga’s sense of community, really helped challenge her and helped her grow mentally and spiritually into a more well rounded individual.  Overall, she believes the program to be adaptive and one that allows for growth and expansion as times change and new advancements are made.  The three changes she most noticed in herself upon enlisting and graduating in the program were how the program helped expand her understanding of leadership, how it helped her appreciate different types of leadership, and how it helped give her an idea of the kind of leader she strives to be. These three changes significantly helped Sara with her role at Desautel Hege Communications.   

Sara began teaching for Gonzaga’s COML program along with Cher Desautel and has been doing so for approximately 5 years now.  Sara reflected and said, the process of her teaching along with Cher happened organically; much as Cher had  worked alongside with John Caputo and the COML program early on and at the time Sara worked with Cher at Desautel Hege Communications.  As a result, Sara was inspired by the program from its inception and loves being a part of it today!  Sharing what she’s experiencing on a daily basis in an agency environment, with students across the country and world through the online environment.

Favorite quote - “Life loves to be taken by the lapel and told: ‘I’m with you kid. Let’s go.’” -Maya Angelou

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