Dr. Allison Weidhaas: From Public Relations to Student Relations

View all blog posts under Articles | View all blog posts under Master of Arts in Business Communication | View all blog posts under Master of Arts in Health Communication

Allison Weidhaas, PhD, program director of Rider University’s online master’s in business communication and online master’s in health communication programs

Dr. Allison Weidhaas brings a decade of experience in public relations and strategic communication to her classes at Rider University, where she teaches and directs the online master’s programs in business communication and health communication.

Weidhaas is uniquely qualified to teach students to become effective communicators based on her professional management experience, including co-owning a small business, and her academic degrees;
she holds dual master’s degrees in public relations and management, and a doctorate in organizational communication.

“Communication is one of those foundational skills that is used in just about any business or organization,” says Weidhaas. Noting that her experience in public relations ranges from working on the account of German chemical giant BASF’s pest control and lawn care divisions to being director of PR for a law firm, she says, “I think that really speaks to the range of organizations that need to think about communication.”

Bringing the Outside World to the Virtual Classroom

Within the online Master of Arts in Business Communication program, Weidhaas teaches Communication in Multicultural Workplaces and Communication in a Global Market, which focus on diversity and globalization. Those two topics, along with her academic research on gender issues in the workforce, are extraordinarily relevant to business and society today. As a subject matter expert on all three, Weidhaas sets the stage for lively and interesting conversations with students and helps keep remote learners engaged with thought-provoking course content and in online discussion groups.

Weidhaas’s academic interests arose from her own work in public relations. Her experience in the female-dominated public relations industry became the subject of her doctoral dissertation at the University of South Florida, which was published by Lexington Books in 2016. In Female Business Owners in Public Relations: Constructing Identity at Home and at Work, Weidhaas examines the challenges women face in integrating their work and home lives through narrative interviews with female business owners.

Her research explores women’s identity questions and the difference between invisible labor and hidden work, both of which many women perform. Briefly, invisible labor is the unpaid work many women do caring for children or elderly parents, while hidden work might be taking an after-hours client phone call in a closet or the “mommy guilt” that comes from not being available to one’s children. Ironically, with so many mothers working at home due to the pandemic, women’s at-home identities are now on full display during Zoom meetings and other video conferencing platforms.

Weidhaas’s more recent research on female business owners and labor studies includes a chapter in the book Mothering and Entrepreneurship: Global Perspectives, Identities, and Complexities, which will be released in November  020. She has also been accepted to speak at two events in the fall of 2020, the Organization for the Study of Communication, Language, and Gender (OSCLG) 43rd Annual Conference and the National Communication Association (NCA) 106th Annual Convention.

As a mother of two school-age children, Weidhaas has firsthand knowledge of the challenges women — including some of her students — face, especially with the coronavirus lockdown requiring many  mothers to work from home while also caring for their children who are home from school. The disruption to the work-life balance triggered by the pandemic presents major challenges for businesses and families alike. Effective crisis communication — a topic covered in both the business communication and health communication programs she oversees — is understood to be more important than ever during the COVID-19 crisis.

While the ultimate impact of the pandemic on women in the workplace remains to be seen, Weidhaas is optimistic that it won’t result in a mass exodus of women from the workforce, but instead will create more enlightened employers and organizations. “Women in the workplace are really important,” she says, adding that she hopes the current crisis will force businesses to consider employees’ challenges outside of work, including their vital role as parents, and adopt family-friendly policies such as flextime.

Likewise, Weidhaas is also hopeful that technology, which is enabling many to work and study from home, will be more of a benefit than a detractor to the work-life balance. “Again, I’m rather optimistic that organizations will begin to think about policies that protect workers, because it’s ultimately in the organization’s best interest to think about setting parameters” for such things as email response times and avoiding the employee burnout that comes with a 24/7 work week, she explains.

Teaching Communication Skills

Weidhaas’s background in public relations and strategic communication helps her connect with students and keep them engaged in a 100% online format. “In an online course, I think that people want to see each other,” she says. To that end, she records plenty of short videos so students can see her, and she encourages students to record their own videos on topics connected to coursework. Required courses, which include classes in written, visual and oral communication, along with electives in business, are organized into weekly modules, which helps set expectations and allows students to easily keep track of assignments and deadlines.

“Rider has been very supportive in terms of offering faculty resources to be able to structure classes in ways that make sense for online students,” notes Weidhaas, adding that the 12 to 1 student-faculty ratio in the online business and health communication programs means classes are small enough to keep students engaged in online learning.

Build Your Business Career by Becoming a More Effective Communicator

Rider University’s online Master of Arts in Business Communication, directed by Dr. Allison Weidhaas, is designed for professionals at all stages of their career who aspire to become more effective communicators. Dr. Weidhaas is also the program director for Rider’s online Master of Arts in Health Communication, which emphasizes the vital importance of communication skills in health care by helping professionals develop the leadership skills to promote health literacy to diverse populations worldwide.

Find out how enhancing your written, verbal and visual presentation abilities can lead to greater organizational success and help you achieve your career goals.

Recommended Readings

How to Create a Successful Social Media Campaign

The Importance of Public Speaking in Business Communication

Why Is Critical Thinking Important in Business?