Communication Arts Honors First Distinguished Alumni Award Recipients

Graduates of UW-Madison who earn a degree in Communication Arts go on to do amazing things—so the Department of Communication Arts is excited to announce its inaugural Distinguished Alumni Awards to recognize these many accomplishments. As communication professionals, our graduates shape the ways that we can interact and connect with one another. They pursue research fields that will change the way that the next generation understands the evolving world of communication media. Our alumni also give back to the department, lending their time and energy while seeking to connect with the next generation of students. These real impacts demand recognition, and we thought we should answer the call.

Plumer Lovelace III (BA, '87)
Plumer Lovelace III (BA, ’87)

The first of our three new Distinguished Alumni Awards is the “Career Impact Award,” recognizing the achievements of alumni who have realized the Department’s vision of making a difference in the world through effective communication. Whether seeking to inform, entertain, or persuade, the alumni recognized with this award will have made a vital contribution to the lives of the people they engage in their work.

Communication Arts is honored to be able to bestow the first Career Impact Award upon Plumer Lovelace III (BA, ’87), a leader in both the private and public sectors who has harnessed the power of communication to educate and bring communities together. Lovelace studied media production during his time as a Communication Arts student, which influenced his early career working at the School of Education’s instructional media center. His successes in this field led him to a position at Credit Union National Association (CUNA), where he led the company’s learning technology division. His entrepreneurial spirit later led him to launch his own education technology consulting company. Throughout his career, Lovelace has remained committed to public service, serving as the executive director of organizations including the Wisconsin Library Association, the National Council on Measurement and Education, and the Health Care Educators Association. More recently, he has returned to UW-Madison as a research program manager at the Population Health Institute. Lovelace is a remarkable example of our graduates’ capacity for understanding the ways communication can empower us and applying that knowledge to many important projects.

Kelly Kahl (BA, '89)
Kelly Kahl (BA, ’89)

The second of our new Distinguished Alumni Awards is the “Service Impact Award.” This award recognizes the contributions of alumni whose generosity and commitment have significantly enhanced the Communication Arts Department. Their support has led to genuine transformation at the level of what our department is able to accomplish and how we are able to meet our students’ needs.

Few alumni have had as much impact on these levels as our first Service Impact Award recipient, Kelly Kahl (BA, ’89). The generosity shown by Kahl is truly remarkable. As donors, he and Kimberly Kahl made it possible for the department to acquire a state-of-the-art digital film scanner and endowed the Kahl Family Professorship. Most recently, they made the matching gift challenge that supercharged the department’s success on Day of the Badger. However, Kahl’s service goes beyond financial contributions—he has led the way in prioritizing the future career needs of Communication Arts students. During his 26-year career at CBS, where he was most recently President of CBS Entertainment, Kahl used his position and expertise in the media industries to create an internship program supporting Communication Arts students. Year after year, our students spent the summer in Los Angeles learning everything that Kahl could teach them about the entertainment business, preparing them for successful careers of their own. Kahl’s leadership in this area inspired other Communication Arts alumni to create their own internships, and the department now has a thriving network of supporters eager to mentor young communication professionals. Kahl also returns to Madison frequently, where he is a popular guest speaker in our classes and a stalwart supporter of the Wisconsin Film Festival. His enduring service to the department challenges us all to give back.

Mary Beth Oliver (MA ’88, PhD, ’91)
Mary Beth Oliver (MA ’88, PhD, ’91)

The third and final Distinguished Alumni Award we’ve created is the “Research Impact Award.” This award recognizes the achievements of alumni researchers who have been inspired by what they learned from their study with Communication Arts faculty to build their own cutting-edge research programs at other campuses and institutions. These alumni are building the communication knowledge of the future.

As the first recipient of the Research Impact Award, Mary Beth Oliver (MA ’88, PhD, ’91) is a highly productive and influential communication scholar who has revolutionized the field of media psychology and social scientific communication research more broadly. Oliver is the Bellisario Professor of Media Studies in the Bellisario College of Communications at Pennsylvania State University, where she is also co-director of the Media Effects Research Lab. Professor Oliver’s impressive research in media psychology has examined not only on the potential harms of media on viewers, but has more recently focused on how we may harness the power of media to elevate us, to help us see the beauty of kindness and compassion, and to help us feel our connections with others. This research has produced a remarkable number of publications, including four co-edited and co-authored books, at least sixty-five peer-reviewed journal articles, and dozens of book chapters. Among many other honors, she was selected as a Fulbright Scholar in 2006, which afforded her an opportunity to conduct her research in New Zealand. She is the recipient of the B. Aubrey Fisher Mentorship Award and was elected as a Research Fellow in the International Communication Association. She also served as the President of this organization in 2021. The concepts and theories with which we understand media effects in Communication Arts classes today depend on the work that Professor Oliver has done to shape the field. Amazingly, Professor Oliver credits her ability to do all of this to the experiences she had as a UW-Madison student. She is the finest example of the impact that our alumni can have on communication research.

Communication Arts is thrilled to be able honor these three alumni at our upcoming Graduate Recognition Ceremony on May 9, 2024—where we will also celebrate the accomplishments of a new class of graduating seniors about to start their own lives at UW-Madison alumni. We hope our graduates will be inspired by those that have gone before them and we expect to recognize their own accomplishments in the very near future.