Dr. Sandy Pensoneau-Conway
Dr. Sandy Pensoneau-Conway

Pensoneau-Conway’s career aspirations went from Kroger checker to CMST Chair

If you are a student in the Communication department here at SIUC you should be somewhat if not very familiar with the name Dr. Sandy Pensoneau-Conway. It should ring a bell considering that Sandy is the chair of the department.

I had the great pleasure of getting to know Sandy a little bit better. I was able to ask her a few questions, and not just about the department but about her as a person. We discussed part of her life as a child as well as the person she is now and how every part molded her.

As far as childhood dreams and hobbies while growing up Sandy said her dream was more tied to what she wanted to be when she grew up, which in her words took a variety of forms. “I wanted to be a checker at Kroger (so I could scan the groceries), a barista (though I didn’t know the name for it at the time), and an actor. If I had to go to a Plan B career now, it would be a party planner. . . but for low-budget, not-terribly-trendy parties. I still have an adult dream of having a rescue farm.”

As a kid she was involved in a band which only lasted a few years but it instilled a great love for music in her forever. She went on to say, “I started playing piano at 14, and by about 17 was getting paid to play for a variety of events. I don’t play so much anymore–my fingers are definitely rusty–but I still have a piano in my house. One of these days I’ll take it back up.

Then I asked about her favorite food, book, and/ or movie and her response was. “Oh gosh…hard question! I never turn down a brownie or a good musical.” That was so funny to me because it seemed as though she answered all of the in-depth questions so effortlessly. The irony.

The third question was “What influences drew you into being interested in the Communications field. Sandy’s response was “I don’t know that I ‘discovered’ communication studies until I was an undergrad. I was fascinated by how real and applicable my interpersonal communication class was, and I also noticed that I took very easily to everything in my communication courses. It’s a field that makes a real difference in the world. I also think I probably had early experiences that many communication folks have–we were reprimanded for being too social, and that definitely was me as a kid!”

Dr. Sandy Pensonaeu-Conway
Dr. Sandy Pensoneau-Conway
This caught me by surprise because I have the exact same story. I took the interpersonal communication class at SIUC during the beginning of my sophomore year with professor Todd Graham. I absolutely adored that class; the book was great and the lessons feel as though they will stick with me for the rest of my life. Todd had a way of drawing you in during his lectures connecting the lessons to his life and telling us stories. All of my communication courses were always the easiest to me, I always did that homework first, I was eager to. I agreed with everything Sandy said here. But enough about me, back to Sandy.

Regarding motivation to continue in her major during college she said she never had doubts about her major neither did her support system. Sandy went through teacher prep to teach Comm Studies, English, and Theatre for 6-12 grades, and the teacher prep part sometimes felt a bit uncertain. But “education” and “comm studies” never felt doubtful. As far as life after undergrad Sandy was not able to find work, and that’s what took her to grad school. She had certification to teach 6-12 grades, and applied to so many schools, but never even got an interview. Despite graduating with honors, having excellent letters of recommendation, and so on. “I think one thing I did wrong was to make sure each resume/application I sent was in the colors of the school I was applying to, and I’m guessing that might not have seemed entirely professional.” However, not getting a job right out of college was the best thing that could have happened, because, she decided to go to grad school and that was a pivotal experience that led her to where she is now–and she loves her job. All in all, everything happens for a reason. This interview with Sandy made me feel more hopeful and secure in the major. Everything isn’t always going to go how you expected it to.

Here’s some valuable advice Sandy left for the students in her department: “I would encourage students to believe in themselves. You have great faculty behind you, the things you are learning and encountering in your courses are will give you an advantage over those who aren’t in communication. And don’t forget to ask for help. You aren’t doing this alone! I didn’t know what I was doing when I got to college, but I have never been shy to ask questions. That is one of the greatest resources you have–don’t be afraid to ask questions. One tip I can offer is to get to know your professors. Meet with them during office hours (whether that’s online or in person), ask them questions, show that you’re interested. I also suggest to be involved in organizations both that are more hobby-type organizations, and also professional development organizations. The opportunities available to you through C3 and PRSSA are unparalleled, and aren’t things you can find on your own. I know that sometimes it’s difficult to focus right now; building a network through the student organizations, department activities, and your professors will not only support you when you’re feeling worn out and tired, but will also prove invaluable after graduation.”

I think Sandy’s words were truly comforting and reassuring. After this interview I feel inspire to continue and stick through the last semester and finish my major. Not saying that I wasn’t, but I definitely for sure am now. I hope students read this and feel the same way. To all the communication students here at SIUC, when you’re feeling down just remember this advice and keep going.

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