“My research relates to how people get along: how they maintain and develop relationships,” says Dr. Stephen Spates, assistant professor of communication.
As an expert in organizational communication, Spates fuses his professional experiences in business with his love of reading, writing and speaking.
“I’m interested in how people work together,” he says.
Since joining Missouri State in 2016, Spates has been helping graduate and undergraduate students explore workplace relationships.
Culture plays a large role in his field. “We talk about the ways an organization’s culture is represented through communication and interaction.”
Spates notes that an organization’s culture is not limited to the ideas expressed in its mission statement or on its website. To help students understand, he sometimes calls on a familiar example.
“We talk about the concept of organizational heroes, the people who are perceived as good representatives of an institution’s culture and beliefs,” Spates says.
“When I ask about Missouri State’s president, Clif Smart, the students light up. He’s very well liked and supported by the student body. This relationship helps students understand what it means to be a hero in an organization.”
Supporting students who are first
Spates also applies his expertise to his work with Missouri State’s first-generation student support services. As a Proactive Advisor, he mentors students who are the first in their families to attend college.
This type of advising provides an extra layer of support to students who can’t call home and ask someone to walk them through the complications of college life.
For example, Spates makes sure his first-generation advisees are aware of important deadlines and available resources, such as tutoring assistance.
“Because they’re college students, we may expect them to seek out these resources on their own. But our first-generation students may not be aware such resources exist,” Spates says.
Proactive Advisors, like Spates, also provide emotional support. “There are so many small challenges, like simply missing home,” he says.
A first-generation student may be the first in the family to “leave,” which Spates says can come with “a little bit of guilt. It’s a historical change for them and their families.”
And, he says, “While everyone back home may be rooting for them, we have to be aware of what a significant shift it is for the whole family.”