Research at Nebraska 2021-2022 Report
Research Leadership

Nurturing a Culture of Success

Dawn O. Braithwaite capped her 40-year career with some of the university’s and nation’s top honors.

On campus, she received the 2022 James O’Hanlon Academic Leader Award for her exceptional leadership and service. In 2021, she received the National Communication Association’s Distinguished Scholar Award, the group’s highest scholarly accolade. The NCA’s Family Communication Division also named its distinguished book award after Braithwaite, honoring her influential scholarship.

And the Department of Communication Studies, which she chaired from 2011 to 2020 and is now led by Jody Koenig Kellas, has continued its trajectory as an award-winning powerhouse. Since 2011, department faculty have won more than 55 research, teaching and service awards at the national, regional and local levels.

Pandemic notwithstanding, it was a fairy-tale ending for Braithwaite, who retired in May 2022. But none of these recognitions happened by chance. Day in and day out, she followed a leadership philosophy centered on three tenets.

“It’s not magical, any of it,” said Braithwaite, now professor emeritus of interpersonal and family communication. “My focus was on being proactive, fostering relationships, and recognizing and celebrating success.”

It was never about winning awards for awards’ sake. Her original goal was to boost the department’s visibility on campus and nationwide. Considering the department’s small size – it currently has 10 faculty – and the scarce grant funding available in the discipline, awards are an important vehicle for highlighting excellence.

Braithwaite mastered the fundamentals of awards success – and passed these skills to colleagues. She constantly scanned available awards, matching faculty appropriately. She crafted high-quality nomination packages, addressing award criteria and soliciting on-point support letters. She was vigilant about monitoring deadlines.

“My focus was on being proactive, fostering relationships, and recognizing and celebrating success.”

Most notably, Braithwaite cultivated a culture that celebrates accomplishments. She initiated traditions that remain today: a departmentwide e-communication with a “congratulations” section; use of social media to honor awardees; an emphasis on personal expressions of congratulations; and encouraging colleagues to seek awards, even if they may not win the first time.

The culture aims to enhance the department’s and Nebraska’s reputation. By creating an environment where people know recognition is valued, they are motivated to keep striving and celebrating success.

“Any time somebody won an award in the department, that brightened the world for all of us.”

+ Additional content for Nurturing a Culture of Success

Nebraska news release: Braithwaite unlocks secrets to awards success

N logo with the text In our grit, our glory