“I can see IUP from a myriad of perspectives, because I have been a student, an alumna, a donor, a professor, a chair, and now as a parent because my son goes to IUP,” said Michele Papakie, of the Journalism and Public Relations Department.
Papakie won the Distinguished Faculty Award for Service in 2014–15. The award was especially meaningful to her because, as she said, “Service is one of my personal core values.”
Papakie’s distinguished career demonstrates that core value. In addition to her more than 20 years in a lucrative PR career that included work in strategic planning, education, and policing, she is serving her 29th year as a member of the 171st Air Refueling
Wing of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard. As a lieutenant colonel, she serves her organization as its inspector general, solving problems at all levels. She enrolled in Air War College, a rigorous two-year course required for promotion to colonel.
Her service has taken her to nearly 20 countries, including a six-month tour in Afghanistan in 2010. Additionally, Papakie is currently serving her second six-year term as a Brush Valley Township supervisor.
When in professor mode, she teaches writing-intensive and public relations courses. Early in her career at IUP, she won a Center for Teaching Excellence award in pedagogy for a PR campaign project she and her students developed for BRAvo, a breast cancer
awareness foundation in Maryland. Their campaign raised $1,000 for the foundation.
Papakie likes to engage her students in real-world challenges and then deconstruct what they are learning. She says her favorite and most effective teaching strategy is “to throw students into an uncomfortable situation and help them to think and work
their way out of it.” She breaks down the issues they face into smaller lessons spread throughout the semester. By semester’s end, students have completed a real-world project for their portfolios of which they can be proud.
The teaching project of which Papakie is proudest is the IUP Strategic Visioning Project. President Mike Driscoll was new to IUP when she invited him to her PR class. After a lively class together, Papakie asked if she and her students could help Driscoll
to develop the university’s Strategic Plan. A few days later, Driscoll gave her the green light, and she and her students worked the entire calendar year conducting focus groups of all university constituents and running the data through qualitative
analysis software to discover themes. These themes were then used to develop the university’s official vision statement. Through their work on the project, students developed amazing skills in problem solving, facilitating focus groups, collaborating,
and conducting themselves professionally. When President Driscoll unveiled the Strategic Vision in a public presentation, students finally understood the scope and impact of their work, “and there were tears,” Papakie said.
Papakie’s lifelong success ironically began with her undergraduate college education at IUP, where she graduated from the department she now chairs. In 1996, she earned her master’s degree in geography and regional planning from California University
of Pennsylvania. And in 2002, she earned her DSc in communication and information systems from Robert Morris University. IUP is lucky to have her back as an outstanding faculty member.
Written by: Lisa McCann
Edited by: Marie T. Webb