Amy Struthers, professor of advertising and public relations, retired at the end of the spring 2021 semester. Her 18 years in the College of Journalism and Mass Communications was marked by leadership, dedication to experiential learning and a tireless commitment to helping students succeed.
Struthers joined the College of Journalism and Mass Communications in 2003, and quickly took on leadership roles in the college. She served as advertising and public relations sequence head from 2005 to 2011, where she helped the rapidly growing major adapt its curriculum and offer students industry-centric experiences.
In 2016, Dean Maria Marron asked Struthers to serve as the college’s graduate chairperson and help grow graduate student enrollment. Struthers oversaw the launch of the college’s first graduate certificate in public relations and social media and managed the approval process for a second certificate in financial communications. Working with the college’s graduate committee, she eliminated the GRE as an entrance requirement, launched a recruiting campaign and set the program on a trajectory of growth bringing in new students across the program.
In January of 2018, Struthers was asked to serve as interim dean by then-Executive Vice Chancellor Donde Plowman. Struthers served in the role until July 2020. Struthers brought excitement to the role and pushed herself and her colleagues to experiment and take risks.
“Amy brought a level of enthusiasm to the job of interim dean that was infectious. As a result, I felt more excitement about the college and its future than I had for several years,” said John Bender, professor of journalism and associate dean. “Amy encouraged faculty to come up with new ideas for courses and contributed many ideas of her own. But what she did most was encourage and support faculty.”
Under her leadership, the college experienced enrollment growth in the undergraduate and graduate programs, had the highest four-year graduation rate on campus, doubled participation in the college's Learning Community and increased alumni engagement including a 182% increase in new donors.
Struthers led a year-long celebration of the 125th anniversary of the first journalism class offered at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and created a homecoming reunion for all alums. The reunion specifically piloted Multicultural Homecoming activities, which implemented a more demanding focus on the college’s dedication to diversity, equity and inclusion.
While Struthers was dean, a core curriculum that represented a commitment to ensuring excellent writing skills for all graduates was developed and launched. The college also added a media production option to its repertoire and led the campus in creating and offering innovative "pop-up" one-credit hour classes. Struthers also led searches resulting in the hire of nine new faculty members and six new staff members, meeting her goal of increasing diversity across the college.
Struthers leaves a great legacy of leadership in the college and on the UNL Campus. But her greatest legacy will be as a pioneer of experiential education at UNL. Shortly after her arrival at UNL, Struthers founded a National Student Advertising Competition team in the college. The team competes annually against colleges and universities from across the nation in the American Advertising Federation Competition.
Struthers’ calming spirit and support for students helped the team compete against the biggest programs in the nation. Danny Scheyer, a 2011 advertising and public relations graduate, remembered a time when Struthers helped the team overcome its fears. The team was in Dubuque, Iowa, for the NSAC presentation in the 2008-2009 academic year.
"There, on that trip, at the lunch before our presentation, we were nervous. Too nervous,” Scheyer said. “Amy was the one who talked us down, who told us we had already won no matter where we placed. She told us it would be okay. She was right.”
A few years later, the team won nationals for the Nissan campaign.
In 2010, Struthers founded Jacht, the College of Journalism and Mass Communications for profit student-run advertising agency. Launching the agency was no small feat. There was no model on campus for a program that was half class, half start-up and all new. But Struthers was not deterred. She secured the backing of Nebraska Global, a local venture capital firm, that provided funding and office space in Lincoln’s Historic Haymarket. Local Lincoln advertising and public relations agencies helped open the firm.
From the initial class in 2010, Jacht has grown and now “employs” more than 50 students per semester and serves clients across industries. The agency has launched many student careers.
“One of the biggest deals of my college career was getting into Jacht,” said Katherine Ringenberg. “Because of Jacht I was able to move to Boulder (Colorado) and start an internship at a great agency. I actually had a lot of opportunities because of Jacht.”
Struthers was committed to providing opportunities for students campus wide. She actively recruited students from graphic design in the Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts and students from throughout the College of Business. She also involved students from across the College of Journalism and Mass Communications, not just those majoring in advertising and public relations.
“Amy was a great role model for making sure students had practical experiences in their field before graduation. Her creation of Jacht was an excellent example. Although it focused on advertising and PR students, she made sure to include opportunities for editing students as well,” said Sue Bullard, a retired emeritus associate professor of journalism. “Many of them went on to editing careers at nonprofits and other venues beyond traditional newsrooms. For me, this was a good lesson in how to prepare students for nontraditional jobs in journalism.”
After her service as interim dean, Struthers was tapped by senior associate vice chancellor and dean of undergraduate education Amy Goodburn to help launch experiential learning campus wide. During the 2020-2021 academic year, Struthers served as the campus experiential learning coordinator and oversaw the implementation of two, three-week winter sessions between the fall and spring semesters that encouraged faculty and students to take shortened experiential courses to further their skills and career aspirations.
Struthers has received many accolades for her dedication as an educator. She received the UNL College Award for Distinguished Teaching in 2011, the American Advertising Federation's Most Promising Minority Student Nominator award in 2010, was selected as a scholar in the Advertising Educational Foundation's Visiting Professor Program in 2006 and posted at McCann Erickson New York, now called McCann. She also received the college's Outstanding Faculty Service Award in 2005.
Struthers also worked on teams that secured millions of dollars to promote health communication. Struthers was part of two interdisciplinary teams of researchers working on large health-related grants. The first, a $1.2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health Science Education Partnership Award called The World of Viruses, was a five-year grant that funded development and testing of innovative materials about viruses such as HPV and HIV/AIDS for dissemination through non-traditional channels such as tablet apps.
Another $1.8 million grant, titled The Omaha Science Media Project, tested the hypothesis that high school students can learn science better when given the tools and training to produce media about science topics. Virology was the science focus of this project, and students as well as teachers in the Omaha Public School system participated in summer workshops to learn media storytelling, using the latest in video and audio equipment.
Working with both undergraduate and graduate students, Struthers has researched the social phenomenon of trends using both quantitative and qualitative methodologies, helping to shed light on the dissemination of ideas and products with particular audience segments. Her work in this area was funded by the Archrival Faculty Fellowship for Trend Research.
Prior to joining the CoJMC faculty, Struthers was a marketing professional for 15 years for IBM and for a variety of programs at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She was the first full-time professional advertising manager of the Daily Nebraskan. Struthers graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln with bachelor's degrees in English, French and comparative literature and was a member of Mortar Board. She was a Newspaper Fund reporting intern at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Struthers earned a master's degree in French language and literature following her teaching in the French public school system.
Struthers leaves a long legacy of service to the College of Journalism and Mass Communications and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
“Amy has been such a leader throughout her career,” Goodburn said. “She’s created such meaningful and authentic learning experiences for her students. Amy, what a wonderful legacy you've created.”