Jacob Stutzman and Phyllis (Shelley) StutzmanJanuary 9, 2018
The Reverend Phyllis (Phyl) L. Stutzman is the pastor of Emporia Presbyterian Church. Pastor Phyl is a graduate of Truman and Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary and is an ordained Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church (USA). She has served churches in Missouri, Texas, Kansas, and Oklahoma, serves on presbytery level committees, and has served on the board of Young Clergy Women International, an ecumenical organization that supports young women in ordained ministry.
Dr. Jacob Stutzman is an instructor and course designer with the Institute for Leadership Studies at the University of Kansas. He earned his Ph.D. in Communication Studies at the University of Kansas, then taught communication and rhetoric and coached debate at Oklahoma City University and Emporia State University before taking his current position. He studies and writes about the rhetoric of politics and religion, as well as interfaith dialogue.
Together, Phyl and Jacob live in Emporia, KS and are routinely active in interfaith community building and ecumenical work, as well as raising their daughter, Annora.
What year did you graduate and what was your concentration?
Phyl (P): 2001, Communication Arts
Jacob (J): 2001, Communication Arts
What extra-/co-curricular activities did you do?
J: Debate. It was all debate.
Did you go to grad school? If so, where? Was it immediately after you left Truman or did you wait?
P: I went to Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary after a gap year, during which I served as an intern at First Presbyterian Church, Jefferson City, while I made my decision about which seminary program would be best.
J: My plans shifted a lot in my senior year, so I started an MA program at Truman that I decided to leave after one year in order to start my MA at Texas State University in Communication Studies. After that, I completed my PhD at the University of Kansas.
What was your first job after graduation?
P: Pastoral assistant at First Presbyterian Church, Jefferson City.
J: I was a graduate assistant coach for Truman’s debate team for a year.
What work do you do/What are you doing now?
P: I am the solo pastor/head of staff at Emporia Presbyterian Church in Emporia, KS.
J: I’m working for KU’s Institute for Leadership Studies, developing some new courses and programs, and teaching online classes.
How has your Liberal Arts/COMM education helped you?
P: Every Sunday, I’m speaking in public and doing all of the audience analysis, revision, practice, and research that goes into the weekly sermon. I also write newsletter and newspaper articles, and engage in community organizing. All of this requires me to make broad connections with people from lots of different backgrounds. My job is as varied as my liberal arts education!
J: For a while, I was more directly in a communication and debate position at a liberal arts university, so it was directly applicable! In my current position at KU, I work with students from all across the university to get them to bring their own perspectives to some shared leadership concepts, so a liberal arts background is tremendously helpful. I can hold multiple, competing ideas at once, either trying to fit them together or trying to make a choice between them. That’s a very useful approach.
What would you say a COMM student should absolutely do while at Truman?
P: Take non-major classes beyond the basics. I took Biomedical Ethics and, even though I’m not a doctor or medical researcher, I still sometimes have to talk to families and patients about significant medical decisions (especially at the end of life). That course helps me do that in a more informed and thoughtful way. I didn’t plan on using that class in any meaningful way, but almost 20 years later, I still do. Also, Musical Theater was just fun! Who knew 50 pages of dramaturgy could be so relaxing?
J: Make some stuff. We made websites in college, and 20 years ago that was kind of a big deal because it showed off a range of skills and gave us a place to be public. Now, the stuff you need to make is different. Make a podcast, make a YouTube series, blog about something that can get an audience, write things that aren’t just for class. Most of it will probably be terrible at first, and that’s a good thing. As long as you know it’s bad, you can work on improving it. And as long as you’re not afraid to be wrong or mess something up, then you’ll be open to a lot more opportunities to get things right.
Which class did you dislike at the time you took it, but now you’re grateful you took it?
P: I really did not enjoy Business and Professional Communication while I was in it, but it was a class that has really paid off. Interview skills, group project management, managerial communication, have all helped me navigate being the head of staff as well as bridge the divide between the nonprofit and corporate worlds.
J: I’d say the Mass Communication class with Dr. Speckman. I thought the class wasn’t going to be useful because I wasn’t in the journalism concentration, but a basic understanding of media structures and media criticism is really important to being a critical consumer of the news.
What was your greatest accomplishment at Truman?
P: Graduating. Senior year, I was overloaded with 21 hours and if not for the good graces and assistance of the COMM faculty, my advisor, and my fellow students, I would not have made it through.
J: She’s reading this, so I’ll say meeting my wife (and not running her off). But also, winning the 2000 NPDA National Championship, Truman’s first intercollegiate national championship in debate.
Why is Truman a good place for a student to study?
P: Ours was the first class that applied to Truman State University, rather than Northeast Missouri State, and so with the name change, our freshman year experience came with a heightened emphasis on the liberal arts mission of the institution. It turns out, that matters! Particularly in my case, where my vocation is so broad in scope, the liberal arts foundation helps me draw from all those areas of study and apply them to all of the things that I do – from using psychology in pastoral care, to budgeting and finance in the church, to the importance of historical and political context while engaging modern ethical dilemmas, to basic written and oral communication skills.
J: There are a lot of reasons: small class sizes, access to qualified and engaged faculty, a strong liberal arts mission, but the one I didn’t realize until I graduated was just how good Truman State’s reputation is. Having a Truman State diploma helped open some doors that another school might not have. I took a political science class during my MA and the professor was a new guy, fresh out of his PhD program. He earned is undergraduate degree from a small private liberal arts school in California. He really liked my work and at one point asked where I’d gone to college. When I told him it was Truman State, his eyes went up, he sat back, and said “That explains it.” No one wants to put too much value on prestige or reputation, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter. Truman’s reputation is golden.
What advice would you give someone who wants to go into the same line of work as you?
P: Do something other than religious studies. Cultivate coursework, civic engagement, friendships, and organizations so that you can meet people where they are, not just tell them the things you know about God. The pastorate is more than just sermons on Sundays and writing theological reflections. The pastorate is walking with people through the good, the bad, and the mundane of life. Parishioners and community partners come from all sorts of backgrounds and you have to be able to relate to all of them.
J: Save your syllabi and take good notes on how the best instructors do their jobs. One of the biggest failings of higher education is that most graduate students don’t learn how to teach. Instead, because of the short shrift teaching gets, they often learn that teaching isn’t important. Truman is a school with faculty who are good teachers, who take teaching seriously. That’s not the case everywhere. If you’re thinking about paying for grad school with a teaching assistantship (and you REALLY should be), or a career in academia, remember what makes for good teaching so that you can emulate that when you’re at the front of the room. Truly, your time at Truman may be the best chance you have to see those positive examples.
What do you miss most about campus/Kirksville?
P: Thousand Hills State Park. And sitting on the quad with my friends. I rarely get to sit outside somewhere beautiful and talk about classes, articles, life in general, with people in the way that I did during college. I miss that.
J: Late nights in Kirk Memorial, when the debate offices and squad room were still there. It was cold and usually cramped, but worth it.
What tag line would you create for the COMM department at Truman?
P: “COMM one, COMM all” (please don’t print that).
J: Clearly, I could have paid more attention in my Public Relations class because I’ve got nothing here.
If you could come back to Truman and teach a class for a semester, what would be its title and what would it be about?
Both: It would be great to teach a class on religious communication. We’d talk about communication within religious contexts, like sermons and denominational material, interfaith communication, and the ways religion communicates with the secular world.
That, of course, would depend on the two of us being able to tolerate working with each other. The process of writing this answer proved that such an endeavor would be a touchy situation.
What did we not ask that you think is important for people to know?
P: You didn’t ask if I intended to be a COMM major, or if I would do it again. The answer to the first is decidedly no. But the second, yes, I would do it again.
J: I’ve always thought this was a really good question, and I always ask it in interviews and when setting up new projects. And sitting on the other side of it this time, I don’t have a good answer.