Communication Arts and Sciences faculty create endowment to promote equity

Susan Burlingame
August 19, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Department of Communication Arts and Sciences (CAS) in the College of the Liberal Arts has the distinction of having more faculty who have been named distinguished scholars of the National Communication Association (NCA) than any other member institution. The NCA is the primary national professional organization for the discipline; approximately 7,000 scholars are members, but only 115 individuals have been named as distinguished scholars since the inception of the program in 1992. Eight of the 115 distinguished scholars are current or past Penn State faculty members.

A lack of diversity in the ranks of distinguished scholars through the years, however, sparked members of the CAS faculty to consider ways to “put our privilege to work,” according to Department Head Denise Solomon. “We wanted to do something that would have a lasting impact on promoting diversity, equity, inclusion and access within our discipline — something that would create outstanding opportunities for undergraduates, graduate students and faculty members through their research, service and teaching.”

Their solution? The CAS Distinguished Scholars Fund for Equity and Inclusion. With lead gifts from several Penn State NCA distinguished scholars, the fund was established at the University in hopes of attracting enough contributions to reach $25,000 — the minimum requirement for an endowment that would yield permanent funds for the department. To date, the fund stands at $15,000.

“It’s important to note that this was a collective effort,” said Mary Stuckey, Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of Communication Arts and Sciences, whom Solomon credits with spearheading the fund’s creation. Solomon and Stuckey are both NCA distinguished scholars. “There’s a real ethic in our department, and concerns about equity and inclusion are widely shared. We felt as though we had some responsibility to the profession and wanted to start something here at Penn State.”

According to Solomon, the CAS Distinguished Scholars Fund is a flexible pool of resources that can be used for any number of purposes. “Ultimately, it will support activities that promote diversity, equity, inclusion and access,” she said, noting that the fund could provide research funding to a graduate student or faculty member studying a related topic or offer financial assistance to an undergraduate who is attending a conference or doing an internship. “We want to be responsive to activities in the moment.”

Though the lead gifts for the fund were contributed by NCA distinguished scholars in the department, both Solomon and Stuckey hope others will help elevate the fund to an endowment.

“We have alumni who are distinguished scholars who could contribute. We have people who were taught by distinguished scholars who might want to be part of this. And there are others who simply believe in the principles of diversity, equity, inclusion and access,” Stuckey said. “I would like to see this be an enormously huge thing.”

“There have been conversations in the discipline about things we could change and do differently to better promote our values, but sometimes those things seem a little intangible,” Solomon concluded. “This scholars fund is something that we can do locally that is tangible, immediate and real.”

To make an online contribution, visit this link or contact Geoff Halberstadt, senior director of development and alumni relations in the College of the Liberal Arts via email at or by phone at 814-865-3173.

The CAS Distinguished Scholars Fund helps to advance "A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence," a focused campaign that seeks to elevate Penn State’s position as a leading public university in a world defined by rapid change and global connections. With support from devoted benefactors who believe in Penn State and its mission, “A Greater Penn State” seeks to fulfill the three key imperatives of a 21st-century public university: keeping the doors to higher education open to hardworking students regardless of financial well-being; creating transformative experiences that go beyond the classroom; and impacting the world by serving communities and fueling discovery, innovation and entrepreneurship. To learn more about “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” visit

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Last Updated August 24, 2021