HPU Welcomes New Faculty to School of Communication

HPU Staff

HIGH POINT, N.C., Oct. 11, 2018 – High Point University welcomed seven new faculty members to the Nido R. Qubein School of Communication.

Dr. Brianna Clark, Assistant Professor of Event Management

Dr. Brianna Clark teaches courses on event operations, marketing and sponsorship, and the administration of events and festivals. She also conducts research and will be facilitating service learning opportunities for students. Clark, who was a faculty member at Temple University before joining HPU, has published research in top journals within her field. She studies women and children and their leisure experiences. Clark has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in sport management from the University of Connecticut. She also has a Ph.D. in parks, recreation and tourism management from Clemson University. She is currently pursuing a credential to become a Certified Festival and Event Executive.

“I have a passion for service learning, as it was what excited me to continue my academic career and become a professor,” says Clark. “The real-world experiential learning opportunities I like to bring into the classroom make learning more exciting and relevant to students. I’m also excited to work with students through the Research Rookies program at HPU, as I would like to inspire as many as possible to get involved with research and creative works.”


Gabriel Cruz, Instructor of Communication

Gabriel Cruz teaches freshman- and sophomore-level communication classes, including Media and Popular Culture. His area of research is critical media, especially analyzing news and fiction in terms of racial representation. Previously, he worked as a graduate teaching assistant and an adjunct instructor. Cruz received his associate degree from Rockingham Community College and his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in communication from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

“I hope to help students develop their media literacy and become thoughtful about their consumption of media,” says Cruz.





Dr. Laura Marshall, Professor of Strategic Communication

Dr. Laura Marshall teaches undergraduate and graduate-level strategic communication and health communication classes. Her area of research is qualitative analysis of communication about health care, looking at written and spoken language pertaining to issues of how health care services are provided, the legislative policies that affect access to health care, and communication between providers and patients. She started her career as a radio and television broadcast journalist and after several years became a public relations executive in health care. She received an Emmy nomination for her television journalism and an award from the advocacy group GLAAD for fair coverage of issues affecting the LGBTQ community while reporting in Atlanta. Marshall has a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism, a master’s degree in health communication and a Ph.D. in mass communication.

“I want to help HPU students learn how they can influence others through public relations and health communication to advocate for patients and for positive change in how health care is provided,” says Marshall. “I draw inspiration from seeing students’ motivation when they gain new skills and understanding of how communication works. It’s also rewarding to watch students grow and gain confidence in their own talents and abilities.”



Ken Medlin, Assistant Professor of the Practice of Communication

Ken Medlin, who worked as a local television sports anchor and reporter for more than two decades, is sharing his broadcast journalism expertise with HPU students. He teaches video journalism and sports reporting classes, and he supports the development of a student newscast. Medlin received his bachelor’s degree in history and political science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and his master’s degree in communications from North Carolina State University.

“I want to excite students about engaging in the art of visual storytelling and developing their video skills and writing skills,” says Medlin.




Barry Thornburg, Instructor of Video Production

Thornburg, an award-winning documentary filmmaker, teaches video production and editing courses. He specializes in documentaries and freelance video production. In his documentary work, he has worked with a wide range of topics, from conspiracy theorists to foster care age-outs, and he often explores stories in the common but overlooked and ignored corners of the community. Thornburg, who has relocated from Texas, received his bachelor’s degree in communications with an emphasis in advertising from Brigham Young University and his master’s degree in documentary production and studies from the University of North Texas. He has worked professionally as a freelance video producer for the last seven years for corporate and nonprofit clients, and has also produced documentary productions as either director or cinematographer for the last five years, with films showcased at festivals throughout the country and internationally.

“I strive to encourage students to hone their production techniques with an ethical and equitable focus,” says Thornburg. “We have a sacred responsibility as media producers to influence our various audiences in ways that build up, rather than degrade our communities and neighbors. I think students get excited about telling nonfiction stories because it allows them to dig deeper into the issues and people they care about. Documentary film has the potential to push us beyond the superficial tourist mindset about the world we live in and convince us to care differently and more deeply about each other and the challenges each of us face. It is exciting to provide students an outlet for exploration and self-expression.”

Dr. Kelly M. Tran, Assistant Professor of Game and Interactive Media Design

Tran teaches games courses as well as a course on the history and development of electronic media. Her area of research is video games, specifically the ways in which games impact society. She worked on a number of projects as a graduate student around education and gaming, including being a part of a team that developed and researched computer science games for adolescent girls, and a project examining how the concept of design thinking is taught to kids by using game design. Tran earned her bachelor’s degree in English and her master’s degree in digital arts and sciences from the University of Florida, along with a doctorate in learning, literacies and technologies from Arizona State University. During the final year of her doctoral program, she was the Fulton Presidential Chair Graduate Fellow and served as research coordinator.

“I’m fortunate that many students are already excited about gaming,” says Tran. “My job is to help them engage with games critically and to get students to think about games from a variety of perspectives, not just as players but as critics, designers, scholars and so on.”



Dr. Sarah Vaala, Assistant Professor of Strategic Communication

Dr. Sarah Vaala is teaching undergraduate research methods and a special topics graduate course on media, youth and health. She also will be teaching additional courses focused on health communication. Her research examines various implications of media for youth and families, including ways to design and use media to improve children’s health and learning and how to deliver information about media to parents in ways that are useful to them. She has previous experience in research and has taught as an adjunct instructor at Wake Forest University and Temple University. She is currently a senior research fellow at the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop. Vaala received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Davidson College and both her master’s and doctoral degrees in communication from the University of Pennsylvania.

“One of the best parts of my research area is that everyone already has some experience with it. We were all once children who watched or used various media,” says Vaala. “I love to draw on those experiences in the classroom and then challenge students’ broader assumptions about the roles and impacts of media in children’s lives, which have grown out of personal experiences. It’s a thrill for me to see the light bulb go on when a student realizes that these same media can be used to improve children’s lives – suddenly the research that informs those efforts has much more purpose. Ultimately, I hope to help students discover the delight in asking meaningful questions that intrigue them, figure out the best way to answer them, interpret the data they collect, and contribute to the ongoing conversation of scholarship.”

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