Slippery Rock University’s Department of Strategic Communication and Media inducted three alumni into its Hall of Fame during Homecoming Weekend on Oct. 15 and honored four others with awards.
While the three inductees all hail from the same department, their careers after graduation have been varied.
Mara Kudrick, class of 1998, graduated with a communication degree and served as the vice president of public relations for the University Program Board during her time at SRU. Today she serves as the Director of Development for the College of Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU).
At CMU, Kudrick coordinates planning of the department’s major gift program for CMU’s Pittsburgh campus along with its Africa campus in Kigali, Rwanda. Despite not working in media during her career, Kudrick said the honor says a lot about the value of a communication degree from SRU.
“(This honor) speaks to the fact that a communication degree, it doesn’t fit into a defined box,” Kudrick said. “The skills I learned as a student allowed me to explore many different options in the field.”
Kudrick added she was honored that her path led her into higher education.
Kevin Scher’s 36 years with McCann Worldwide would not have been possible if it weren’t for persistence, education and a fire being lit while studying cognitive psychology in Bailey Library one night in 1978.
“I would argue that education is the indispensable yang to the persistency’s yin,” the class of 1981 graduate Scher said. “Insight, knowledge, the ability to think for oneself, that is the secret sauce.
“That’s what enables opportunity and that’s what moves the world,” Scher said. “That’s what moves my world forward.”
That secret sauce has taken Scher from a reporter for The Rocket to a secretary at Young and Rubicam to executive vice president and executive business director at McCann Worldwide.
Ryan Muldowney, class of 2005, was the Hall of Fame’s third and youngest ever inductee. Muldowney, an Emmy-nominated producer, has worked on the Discovery series “Homestead Rescue” as the senior producer, writer and editor.
Muldowney, who started as a computer science major, switched to journalism after making friends involved with the student-run television station, eventually becoming host, executive producer and editor of the late-night talk show “Gettin’ Later.”
“I discovered the path I wanted to take toward my degree,” Muldowney said. “Not to mention those early computer science classes weren’t going very well for me.”
That show would be Muldowney’s break into reality television after a television producer in Los Angeles stumbled upon the program and began talking to Muldowney. His first job after graduation was as a casting assistant on “Vas o No Vas,” the Telemundo version of “Deal or No Deal.”
According to the Media Hall of Fame, inductees must have 15 years of experience in the field of communication or media along with demonstrating leadership, service to the profession and “superior performance over the course of their career.”
Originally the Rock Media Hall of Fame, the Communication and Media Hall of Fame has inducted 33 alumni since its inception. Its largest inaugural class, 2016, had 11 inductees.
This year’s sold-out ceremony was held in the Smith Student Center Theater. Over 80 faculty, staff, students and alumni attended the event.
Along with the Hall of Fame inductees, four alumni received awards for their work during and after their time at SRU.
Receiving this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award was Ed Coughlin, class of 1987. A two-time Emmy Award-winning executive producer, Coughlin is the owner of Cognitive Production & Development, a media company based in McDonough, Georgia.
During his career, Coughlin produced more than 500 magazine-style and non-scripted programs for companies like ESPN, FOX, SpeedChannel and Discovery Communications.
Currently, Coughlin produces the primetime program “Caffeine & Octane” for Discovery Communication’s Velocity Channel for five seasons. He is also working on a second project, “Caffeine and Exotics Live.”
In order to get to where he is today, Coughlin said he had to put in hard work from the beginning when SRU delayed his entry to the university and said he would have to first attend community college and earn at least a 3.5 grade point average.
“That challenge Slippery Rock put forth to work hard presented opportunities here,” Coughlin said during his acceptance speech. “I started taking pictures at The Rocket, I started writing stories, I started selling ads.
“That hard work in that semester at Middlesex Community College, then led to a great internship program by Dr. William Barnett.”
Initially, Coughlin thought he would graduate and enter the advertising world but during his senior year, a university television studio opened up at a building right off Main Street, “planting that seed” sending him off to Atlanta.
Being able to take the Slippery Rock name and write his own script, Coughlin said the hard work provided him with opportunity after opportunity upon graduation ultimately giving him his choice in different outlets to work at including CNN, ESPN and the CBS affiliate in Atlanta.
For everything he has accomplished, he has SRU to thank, Coughlin said.
“I don’t know if I ever realized it until this award … I’m grateful to Slippery Rock,” Coughlin said.
“I owe it to them for teaching me that hard work equals opportunity equals choice.”
The department and alumni association also honored the late Carl Laughner with the Jim Aronson Founders Award.
A 1949 graduate of SRU, Laughner would return years later as an assistant professor in the English department. In 1970, he moved into an administrative role as the first director of alumni affairs until 1978.
During his time working at SRU, Laughner coached the debate team and served as the advisor to the university radio station, WNFT, an AM radio station.
In a video played during the ceremony, Laughner was asked if there was anything he missed about working at SRU.
“I miss the teaching,” Laughner said. “I missed it when I became alumni director.”
“Teaching is good if you like it and if you do well at it, it’s something that you become attached to just as if it were your wife.”
Laughner’s daughter, Wendy Honey, accepted the award on his behalf.
“One of the things he liked doing the best was teaching and he wanted to teach people how to communicate effectively,” Honey said. “One of the ways he did that was by telling stories.”
Honey then told the audience a story about when she was a teenager. Her father would say, “if you come up with a good and logical argument for something, I will consider it.” It was how he became the advisor for WNFT, Honey said.
“WNFT at the time and the debate team that he worked with, were part of his stories long after the events themselves happened,” Honey said. “They were very important to him.”
For this year’s Mike McHugh undergraduate Excellence Award, two recent graduates were honored, something that had only happened once before in 2019.
Class of 2021 alumni Hannah Shumsky and Aaron Marrie both served on The Rocket and WSRU-TV during their time at SRU. During their last year on The Rocket, the student newspaper took home more than 30 awards with Shumsky at the helm as editor-in-chief and Marrie serving as the paper’s multimedia editor.
Shumsky said her time with the organizations she served with had “changed (her) life forever.” Her time as editor-in-chief helped prepare the secondary English major and strategic communication and media minor to teach English to 10th and 11th grade students at State College Area School District.
“I’m grateful to continue the legacy,” Shumsky said about how it felt to be honored alongside other alumni.
Marrie agreed. “It’s humbling to be honored with folks who have done so much after graduating,” he said.
Both reflected on how far there is for them to go in their careers. Marrie said that some honorees had been married for 30 years, longer than either of them has been alive. Shumsky pointed out that Hall of Fame inductee Kudrick graduated the same year she was born.
From the honors to finally being a part of large gathering on campus after the pandemic limited events such as the Hall of Fame felt all too “surreal” to Shumsky.
After the event, honorees, including some member of the class of 2020 Hall of Fame that did not have an in-person event last year, and students talked about what students are doing now on campus to prepare them for careers after college while giving a tour of the television studio, radio station and Rocket office.
Many, including 1982 graduate Bill Cummings, were amazed at how far facilities like the television studio had come along.
“Today’s students are very fortunate to have this equipment available to them,” Cummings said.
Coughlin said when the television studio opened his senior year, they had no light grid and were using cue cards.
“You have everything here to light, direct, floor manage and host,” Coughlin said.
Brittany Fleming, an associate professor who put together this year’s Hall of Fame, said events like this help foster student and alumni relations which she sees as vital to the success of students.
“Communication and Media Hall of Fame is one way that we create and maintain these relationships, which opens doors for internship and job opportunities for our students,” Fleming said. “The caliber of alumni our department produces can be illustrated in the biographies of our inductees and award-winners, and we are so proud to honor them annually at this event.”