Faculty Spotlight

Who We Are, What We Do. Western Washington University is full of exceptional individuals. WWYou profiles some of the great students, professors, and alums who make the most out of their time at Western.

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Tara Perry

Tara Perry

Assistant Professor
Communication Department

Perry has been teaching at Western for 8 1/2 years. However her connection with Western began as an undergraduate student, where she earned a degree in Journalism with a double minor in Communication and French. Her passion for both building positive relationships and giving individuals the opportunity to have their voice heard led her to the pursuing a Journalism degree. “I loved getting people’s stories and feel it is important to hear their perspectives,” Perry said.

She left Western and headed directly to graduate school at Washington State University (WSU), where she pursued a Master’s degree in Communication with emphasis in Organizational Communication and Broadcast Television. Although she enjoyed applying her skills as a reporter in the television arena, her experiences teaching five classes as a teacher’s assistant captured her interest even more. “I enjoyed teaching so much because my audience was live and I could directly interact with them,” Perry said. From that point forward, she realized that teaching in the university classroom setting would be her lifelong career. Perry continued her education at WSU and graduated with a Ph.D. in Cultural Studies & Social Thought, with a concentration in Communication and disAbility Studies.

Perry knew she wanted to teach at Western because she appreciated the one-on-one interaction between students and faculty that she personally experienced as a student herself. “I got really close to a few of my professors and worked hard to keep in contact with them,” she said. Because of her networking and established relationships with faculty, Perry learned about a job opening on campus when she came back to Western in the spring of 2005 to be a keynote speaker for the WWU Ethnic Student Center graduation ceremony. She has been with the Communication Department since, teaching classes in interpersonal, professional, research methods, organizational, intercultural communication, etc.

Perry’s research is in the area of scholarship of teaching and learning with a focus on service-learning, as well as disability studies. She is interested in the ways students learn and how instructors can foster better relationships with their students, especially those with learning disabilities and attention deficit disorders. “I am interested in improving open student-to-teacher relationships and encouraging dialogue in the classroom. You can’t effectively communicate if you don’t know your audience,” Perry said.

Looking back on her education, Perry stresses the importance of hands-on experience. When she was an undergraduate student at Western, Perry worked in the Office of Public Information, Klipsun Magazine, and on the Western Front. She also had the opportunity to contribute to a newsletter through “The Afro News” based out of her hometown, Vancouver, B.C. Working with these publications not only improved her writing skills, but fueled her passion to document profiles.

Strengthening her writing skills through internships as an undergraduate helped Perry prepare a persuasive application to graduate school. “I can’t see students graduating and applying for their dream job without having an internship,” she said. “Employers today will say to me that the majority of the students they hire have had at least one or two internships- and not just fast-food chain positions, but work experience pertinent to their future career goals.”

Concerning the job search process, Perry believes the first step is proper research of the organization. “You must look at the company carefully, or if you are applying to grad school, you should speak to the head of your department of interest to insure your qualifications match theirs,” she said. Perry stresses that beyond having a professional cover letter and resume, you must be persistent in pursuing the job you really want. Passion and interest go hand-in-hand with success.

Many companies ask that students have multiple letters of reference in their job applications, however Perry believes students must be very selective. “Always make sure your recommendations are top-of-the-line,” she said. Perry explained letters of reference help students get a foot into the door of an organization; therefore students must choose wisely whose voice will represent them well. Ideally, the reference will be someone the student has built a solid relationship with.

As a Communication professor, Perry believes that students who know how to articulate their ideas well, both orally and literally, will go far. She explains career success comes to those with proficient business writing skills, and are adaptable and self-directed. However, above all, Perry says that opportunities open for those who are humble and respectful. Beyond knowing how to be grateful and say “thank you,” Perry is encouraged by students who will humbly admit they don’t know everything and are willing to learn and improve themselves. “Professionalism is building a relationship network that is a circle of giving and exchanging resources,” she said. “Be willing to give back and not always take.”

Without a doubt, Perry sees herself teaching for the rest of her life, both in formal and informal settings. She is satisfied learning from her students and creating an on-going discussion about effective communication. She is interested in taking her students to her homeland, Antigua, West Indies which is located in the Caribbean. In addition she would like to take students to other places in the Caribbean, Africa, and France as French is Perry’s first written language.

The inspiration for her career has been to the influence of Perry’s mother. “My mother was always supportive of me and pushed her kids, saying that we could be anyone we wanted to be,” Perry said. Perry considers her mom her best friend because she believed in Perry when others did not. “As long as you have one person in your life that believes in you, you can go very far, as anything is possible.”

If Perry could give advice to students at Western and beyond campus, she would encourage them to build relationships with their professors, as those are the individuals who will recommend them in the future. Building relationships takes time and it requires the effort of students to stop by the office, Perry explained. When it comes to the business setting, Perry finds that those individuals who take initiative and demonstrate leadership are flexible to run with change, and listen well- even to what is not said- will rise to the top of their field. “I look for students who don’t throw up their hands and give up when things are rough,” she said. “Instead, the students who do well know what it takes to figure it out themselves and truly apply their intelligence.”