As her students say, Melanie Morgan has a knack for making even the murkiest, most complicated material seem crystal clear. Such is the art of communication, the subject she has been teaching at Purdue for the past 16 years.
An associate professor in the Brian Lamb School of Communication, Morgan is a recipient of the 2017 Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching Award in Memory of Charles B. Murphy—Purdue’s highest undergraduate teaching honor.
Morgan arrived at Purdue in 2001 as an assistant professor and was heavily involved in the direction of COM 114: Fundamentals of Speech Communication. She was later asked to develop a course that applies those fundamentals to science, showing how complex data can be presented in an accessible, engaging way. The result was COM 217: Science Writing and Presentation. Morgan also teaches a communication course focused on quantitative research methods.
“One student said to me, ‘You teach things to people that they don’t want to learn and make them have fun doing it. You teach statistics to COM majors and communication to science students,’” Morgan says. “I had never really thought of it that way before.”
Although communication is her specialty, Morgan doesn’t spend much of her class time speaking. She keeps her lectures short and sweet—no longer than 15 minutes. Rather than standing at the podium, she prefers to step back and let the students engage with the material in a more hands-on manner.
“I try to create an environment where students feel free to try new things, share ideas that may be new to them, and take chances,” Morgan says. She enjoys watching them experiment and put the pieces of information from each class period together like a puzzle. Morgan always hopes that students walk away not only with an enhanced understanding of the content but also with new perspectives on the world.
Outside the classroom, Morgan serves as the graduate director in the Brian Lamb School of Communication and as interim associate dean of the Graduate School. She also frequently lends her expertise to publications such as The Journal of Communication, Health Communication, and Communication Studies. But at the end of the day, her true passion lies in teaching students. This is why she considers the Murphy Award the most meaningful honor of her career—it’s a reward for doing what she loves the most.