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St. Lawrence Elevates Public Speaking as Critical Skill

Using a recent $250,000 grant from the William Randolph Hearst Foundation, St. Lawrence University will make rhetoric and communication studies an even more integral component of a St. Lawrence education.

The University will apply the majority of the grant funds to revitalize the Rhetoric and Communication Program (RCP) with new programming, instilling in students and faculty a refreshed appreciation for the discipline. It also will enhance physical spaces around campus including creating flexible workspaces with state-of-the-art presentation technologies in the Owen D. Young Library (ODY).

“Behind the central goal of this project is the desire to summon every resource and opportunity possible to enable our students to become excellent speakers, listeners, conversationalists, orators, presenters, and spokespersons – who understand the importance of listening to all sides of a story and have both sensitivity and rhetorical acuity,” said Valerie D. Lehr, vice president and dean for academic affairs.

University President William L. Fox ’75 stands behind superior rhetoric and communication skills as a key differentiator for students who earn liberal arts degrees – skills that employers consistently identify as “most important” in surveys conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).

“Rhetoric and communication – and in particular, effective oral presentation skills – are among the oldest of the liberal arts disciplines. They lay a foundation for intellectual exchange of ideas,” Fox said. “Leading discussion and debating ideas in scholarly settings translate to confident leadership in the workplace as well as society.”

Since 2012, St. Lawrence requires learning outcomes that include developing students’ abilities to speak and write clearly; acquire, evaluate, and communicate information; analyze and resolve complex problems; and develop knowledge of the complexity and diversity of the human experience and natural world.

Now the university’s RCP curriculum will comprise more group work and intercultural communication, providing students with more opportunities outside of the classroom to practice speaking skills.

Other recent physical renovations further support the university’s commitment. In the library, for example, four group study spaces were updated last summer to support changes recommended by a student survey and in collaboration with an environmental psychology class taught by Tom Greene, Sarah Johnson Professor of Science. The updates support a more successful group study environment with added features such as whiteboards and large screen displays.

Upcoming renovations to be completed in July will include similar enhancements to additional group study rooms, the creation of one lecture space with 35 seats and one seminar space with 12 seats. A second grant of $160,000 from the George I. Alden Trust will support the technology-rich enhancements throughout the ODY library.