Ask a Professor


Sandy Rath, Ph.D., Professor of Communication Studies

When you were in college and things got hard, how did you deal with the stress and keep going?– Emily Carrao  What comforts you when you are stressed?– Leviathan Lee


These are really great questions. Everyone experiences and handles stress differently, but I learned some things along the way via trial and error that I have used to help me through those tougher times in life. I think the most important thing I learned in college was that I can prevent myself from feeling overwhelmed or overly stressed by resisting the temptation to procrastinate. Half of the stress I felt was eliminated when I started my assignments as soon as I got them.

If I’m being 100% honest though, this doesn’t always work. Things pile up and sometimes it seems like as soon as you finish one thing, you have another task to accomplish. I learned to survive by taking scheduled mental breaks. I found that I worked better and got more done if I knew that I would spend the next 3 hours zoning out on a movie or tv show (back then I had to drive to a Blockbuster – no Netflix for me!) or by simply hanging out with friends.

Laughter is also a way I deal with stress and find great comfort in that. I laugh all of the time, if you haven’t already noticed. I find ways to laugh at myself, the situations I find myself in (even when incredibly stressful – like the time we ran out of gas on a long drive and were stranded on the side of the interstate. I laughed. And then we started walking to the nearest gas station and got the gas we needed. Hey, I’m still alive today!).

It’s all about your perspective. Is what you are stressing about really worth all the time and energy you spend worrying about it? The majority of things I stress about are pretty minor things in the grand scheme of life. When I put it into perspective, I tend to feel better, get what needs to get done faster, and forget I ever worried about it in the first place.


You shared with us in class that your youngest daughter has special needs. How would you change the world to help your daughter to better navigate it?– Jessica Weinland


Wow. Way to ask a really difficult, yet compelling question! My daughter was officially diagnosed with a rare non-hereditary genetic disorder when she was 8 months old. She is now 5 years old, so I’ve had some time to ponder this question in a number of ways.

Believe it or not, I feel lucky that she was born in this era. She has had so many resources to help her to thrive today, such as physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, vision therapy, and feeding therapy. All of these therapies have allowed her to progress in ways that had she been born 30 years ago, she would not have had access to like she does today. Many more people are aware of and understand that there are individuals like her who have varying abilities. We have met so many loving and encouraging people who accept her for who she is and that does my heart a world of good.

At the same time, there is still a lot of ignorance surrounding the needs of special kids like my daughter. I’ve met people who don’t know how to act because they feel awkward or unsure of how they should behave around those with special needs. I’ve even come across people who believe that hers is not a quality life because she isn’t typical and never will be. No matter what she does, she will always be viewed as different. That bothers me. And I worry about her because she will always stand out – and not everyone will see her for the beautiful person she is. I worry if people will try to harm or take advantage of her. I worry about who will take care of her after her father and I pass on to the next life. I worry about the types of jobs she could attain, if any. I worry a lot.

If I could cast a spell on this world so that everyone was willing to embrace difference, I would in a heartbeat. I think if individuals could be more inclusive and more willing to be involved in activities that provide opportunities to engage with people of differing abilities this could help people to become more understanding, less awkward, and more aware of the incredible qualities these individuals have. My family and I definitely plan to participate in such events and perhaps even develop our own event as my daughter gets older (as a side note: my husband already does participate in such activities by pushing a young wheelchair-bound man in races and he’ll be serving as a guide for a blind runner during a marathon in December).

In the meantime, all I need to do is look at her, see her smile (she has the best dimples EVER!) and I know that even if this world does not yet fully embrace her, her family does. Her siblings are already fighting amongst one another about who she will live with after I die (I know this sounds morbid, but is it weird that I love that they are arguing over who gets to care for her?). She has enriched my life and made me a better person in her short five years, and I know that she will do that for others as she grows and continues to progress. The world is a better place with her in it and for now that’s good enough for me.


Do you have “favorite” students?– Devin Venditti


Hmmm…the real question is, do I answer this honestly? There are just some things you aren’t supposed to say! I tend to be a pretty forthright person, though. Sometimes you can’t help but really like a particular student. The reasons may be different – they struggled and overcame, they always add something to the class discussion, they ask compelling questions, they seek your advice, they make you laugh, or there’s just something about them that makes them stand out amongst the crowd. I don’t know if I’d call these students my “favorites” or if they are just really “memorable”. During my 14-year career there are definitely a handful of students I can think of that still make me smile. You might end up being one of them since you asked me this question. Don’t get your hopes up too high, though. Being memorable doesn’t guarantee an A.