By Ken Smith
In our News Writing and Reporting class, we teach Summary Leads, which means that the first sentence captures the gist the gist of the story. The lead for this story is, “Gracie Lawson-Borders’ resignation is a huge loss for the University of Wyoming, the African American & Diaspora Studies Program, and the Department of Communication & Journalism.”
The second part of the lead should read, “UW’s loss is Howard University’s gain as the School of Communications gains one of the discipline’s most promising Deans.” A third part of the lead could read, "Gracie Lawson-Borders takes a big leap forward in her career as she assumes control of one of the nation’s up-and-coming Communications programs.”
However, as any journalist knows the most important news is about what affects us while what affects them is only secondary. So for us, Gracie’s loss is the big news. As an Associate Dean in the College of Arts & Sciences, Gracie proved to be one of the most capable administrators at UW. Even though it was her first appointment in a Dean’s Office, Gracie use the management skills she acquired over a lifetime to hit the floor running while also demonstrating the grace under pressure for which she is known. The grace was an intrinsic part of Gracie’s personality, the management skills came from past positions, such as an editor at the Chicago Tribune, and from her research interest in media management and economics.
Those qualities did not go unnoticed. She did not arrive at UW by coincidence but was purposefully recruited here in 2006 when an opening occurred for the Director of the African-American Studies Program (now African American & Diaspora Studies Program).
Due to the energy and administrative skills that she brought to the job, the Dean’s Office noticed, and after only three years, Gracie was promoted to Associate Dean. And even in this position others took notice of Gracie’s abilities because this past year Howard University came calling. Unlike many others who spend a good deal of their energy trying to climb the career ladder, Gracie was not actively looking because she loved UW and the people with whom she worked. But when others began recruiting her with offers that were difficult to refuse (Howard was not the only university to contact Gracie) she had to pay attention.
Howard offers a particularly attractive situation because it is going through a major expansion of its Communications program where it is adding a Ph.D. and diversifying its degree programs.
As attractive as the position at Howard might be, Gracie is not eager to leave Wyoming. She and her husband, Floyd, had put down roots here. Both are active outdoors people. Both have outgoing personalities and made many friends. And beyond her administrative skills, Gracie offered numerous other qualities to UW and its students.
She was a highly regarded teacher. Along with her initial appointment in African American Studies, she was also a faculty member in the Department of Communication & Journalism because of her journalism background, so she taught courses in media management and media convergence. After guest lecturing on media convergence in a course at the University of Wyoming/Casper College campus, a number of UW/CC students asked if they would ever have the opportunity to take a course from her. This is one of the foremost compliments that students can pay a teacher—when they actively seek you out to take one of your courses.
Gracie was also a nationally recognized researcher. Her research focus on convergence in the media as new media technologies have recently been developed is a rapidly (perhaps instantly is more accurate) changing field. Her recent book on media convergence helped to cement her reputation as a well-regarded scholar.
Her teaching and research are particularly impressive when one realizes that she continued these agendas when her primary responsibilities were in the Dean’s Office—a position that did not leave a lot of time for other pursuits.
Yet for all of her other achievements, Gracie will best be remembered as a friend—a friend to everyone in African American & Diaspora Studies, a friend to everyone in Communication & Journalism, a friend to everyone in the A&S College, and a friend to everyone who knew her at UW.
She is the type of person who makes other feel fortunate to have known her. Yet while she will certainly remain in communication with all her friends at UW, not seeing her smile on a regular basis will be a big loss. We are all appreciative of the career opportunity that she has to pursue, but our joy is tempered by our loss. As the news business knows, the most important news is that which affects you, and Howard University’s gain is our loss.