Last modified: Tuesday, April 6, 2010
M. Elizabeth (Beth) Wood
Senior Lecturer in Journalism
School of Journalism
Indiana University Bloomington
Appointed to IU faculty, 2002
B.A., Indiana University, 1973
J.D., Indiana University School of Law-Indianapolis, 1977
"From the moment she arrived on campus, she was been shaking things up, creating new opportunities for students, and building an enviable PR program. She was, in short, an exemplary teacher." --Michael Evans, Associate Professor of Journalism and Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies
Beth Wood's seven years of teaching at the IU School of Journalism capped a successful career as a journalist, attorney and public relations professional. When she joined the faculty in 2002 as the school's first lecturer, she was returning to her alma mater, where she had earned a bachelor's degree in journalism and French in 1973.
Writing in a self-reflection on her teaching, she described her thinking as she graduated from IU: "I decided to pursue a career outside academe with an eye toward returning when I had acquired enough professional experience to offer students something of value."
She began her professional career working in public information for a state agency in Indianapolis, while earning a law degree in the evening. She went on to work for a criminal justice think tank, the state legislature, a Fortune 500 company, and two law firms.
Wood was hired by the School of Journalism to revamp and revitalize the school's public relations curriculum, which included just four courses on the subject. "She joined the faculty with enormous energy and enthusiasm," writes Associate Professor of Journalism Bonnie Brownlee, who was associate dean for undergraduate studies when Wood was hired. "Her ambition in leaving the corporate world was to give back to young people in the way that others had done for her when she was an undergraduate at IU."
Wood systematically assessed the public relations and advertising offerings in the School of Journalism and other schools on campus, engaged key PR professionals in conversations about what a top program should look like, studied what other university PR programs offered, and reviewed the requirements for certification by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). Then she set about building the expanded curriculum, writing syllabi, teaching new courses herself, and enlisting other qualified professionals to teach in the program. Along the way, she won over her colleagues who were sometimes skeptical because of the long-standing, uneasy relationship between journalists and public relations practitioners.
Under her leadership, the school increased the number of PR courses offered; now about 40 percent of journalism students declare an interest in pursuing a career in public relations. With a goal of making the classroom experience as close to the professional experience as possible, Wood incorporated service learning into the PR curriculum. She sought out community clients, such as the Bloomington Housing Authority, and then set up an agency model in which teams of students worked on different aspects of the organization's PR needs.
Nicole Schonemann, director of the Office of Service Learning at IU Bloomington, said Wood worked tirelessly to ensure that her students received the best educational experience possible and that the community agencies with whom she partnered received the highest quality projects from her students.
Wood proved to be a dedicated teacher, who not only prepared her students but nurtured them. One of her former students, Miranda McCage, describes a meeting with Wood: "After a public relations class, Beth called me aside and, very seriously, asked that I follow her to her office. I kept thinking: 'What is this about? Did I do something wrong?' Finally, when I sat down across from her desk, Beth picked up the phone and called Barbara Coffman of the IU Foundation. After a few more moments of nervous anticipation, Beth and Barbara shared some amazing news. They had heard that I was paying my way through school and struggling to manage my jobs and commitments. They had done something about it. Without my knowledge, they had worked together to help me receive a scholarship. Just typing this story makes me tear up. I'll never forget their kindness."
Beth Wood's efforts to establish a strong PR curriculum at the IU School of Journalism were recognized in 2008 when the Public Relations Society of America awarded the program certification, one of only 20 PR programs in the country to earn that distinction. The same year she was promoted to senior lecturer.
Even as she shaped the School of Journalism's PR curriculum and influenced the lives of hundreds of students, Wood quietly but courageously fought a battle with lung cancer. She lost that battle on November 14, 2009, at the age of 58.