Teaching ability, helpful mentorship and service to the field of communication have earned Kristen Eichhorn, SUNY Oswego’s dean of graduate studies, the Eastern Communication Association (ECA) Distinguished Teaching Fellows award.

Eichhorn attended her first ECA conference nearly two decades ago, as an undergraduate at Canisius College, and since then has served in capacities including on its executive council, chairing several interest groups and directing the annual undergraduate conference. She is also proud of bringing more than 100 students to the annual gathering, many of whom also presented.

Former students including 2007 graduate Jeff Knauss, co-founder of the award-winning Digital Hyve agency, praised Eichhorn’s “incredible knowledge and deep understanding of interpersonal communication." Knauss stayed in touch as he parlayed a successful sales career into growing the startup, finding Eichhorn always willing to lend advice and guidance.

“I can directly attribute much of my success to Professor Eichhorn’s teaching abilities, as well as her mentorship,” Knauss said. “She has had a profound impact on my life and I am deeply indebted to her wisdom and friendship.”

With a Ph.D. from Miami University and a master’s from West Virginia University -- where she attributes learning the importance of ECA and of professional service -- Eichhorn started teaching at SUNY Oswego in 2007. In her time at Oswego, she has also served as professor and chair of communication studies, an American Council on Education Fellow (at Cornell University), interim dean of extended learning, a Presidential Faculty Fellow and a SUNY-wide faculty senator before becoming dean of the college’s graduate studies in 2017.

Her many publications include two editions as co-author of the "Interpersonal Communication: Building Rewarding Relationships" textbook, as well as research in such journals as the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, Human Communication and International Journal of Leadership Studies.

Committed to students

“Her caring for her students is obvious,” said Matthew M. Martin, professor of communication studies at West Virginia University, her former teacher who became a mentor and a supportive colleague. “I have also witnessed Dr. Eichhorn interact with her students at conferences. She spends considerable time with these students, introducing her students to scholars they read about and supporting them when they present their own research at the conference.”

Owing much to her mentors, Eichhorn sees taking students to the ECA conference, prompting them to present, coaching them on professional conduct and helping them network as a way of paying it forward.

"Students are reading these people’s textbooks, and when they’re able to shake the hands of these researchers and authors, it’s very empowering," Eichhorn said. "This organization is very collegial, very open. They understand the future is based on today’s students being tomorrow’s faculty members."

The many Oswego students Eichhorn has inspired to continue as teachers include Katrina Webber, now a doctoral student at the University of Connecticut, who recalls Eichhorn encouraging her to present at ECA’s 2010 Undergraduate Poster Session -- where her research earned first place.

“She taught me how to be a great instructor, leader and mentor” and is “always down-to-earth, relatable and very likable,” Webber said. “She is extremely well-versed in the field, articulates the concepts and theories in a way that makes them easy to conceptualize and she truly challenges students to think and work outside the box.… I attribute my work ethic, both in research and in teaching, on the impact she had on me.”

Eichhorn was one of four recipients of this year’s ECA Distinguished Teaching Fellows honor, with criteria for recognizing “a distinguished career of teaching excellence in the field of communication … limited to colleagues who have active and ongoing service to ECA.” Mary Toale, chair of communication studies at SUNY Oswego, earned the distinction in 2016.

That the award includes student testimonials and feedback makes it particularly gratifying, Eichhorn noted.

The Eastern Communication Association is a professional organization of scholars, teachers and students of communication studies. Initially established in 1910, it continues as the oldest professional communication association in the United States.