One year ago after being hired by Middle Tennessee State University, Amy Aldridge Sanford seized the opportunity to tackle a new job — vice provost for Academic Programs in the Provost’s Office — at the only speed (warp) she knows.
A senior scholar in higher education, the author, activist, TEDx speaker and more, Sanford totally met the challenge of replacing longtime MTSU administrator Peter Cunningham, who had retired. She joined MTSU after being associate provost in Academic Affairs at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.
Sanford, who lives in Cannon County near Woodbury, Tennessee, recently learned she is the recipient of the next Jack Kay Award for Community Engagement and Applied Communication Scholarship — a major regional honor from the 13-state Central States Communication Association.
The award recognizes individual communication scholars who have achieved notable records of success in applying their work to confront issues of social injustice, inequality, intolerance and prejudice … and also recognizes and celebrates a significant body of engaged, applied, and/or activist communication scholarship.
“To be nominated for the award, it wasn’t something I sought out,” said Sanford, who will receive the recognition in March during the organization’s annual conference in St. Louis, Missouri. “Last year, the person who had won the award approached me at the conference and said to me, ‘I can’t believe I won this award before you did.’ I said, ‘That’s sweet of you to say.’ … I don’t go looking for awards. It helps younger people’s careers more than mine at this point.
“I didn’t think much more about it, but she nominated me for the award this year. So it means a lot to me that a person who won it last year nominated me for it. It’s cliché to say, but it’s really such an honor to be from my peers in communication, who also do applied work, to say that I deserve to be noticed and celebrated.”
Kristina M. Scharp, associate professor in the Department of Communication at Rutgers University and the 2022 Jack Kay Award recipient, said it was her “great honor to nominate Dr. Sanford for the award. She is the epitome of what this award represents: a scholar/activist who partners with communities to create social change.
“I think it’s telling that I have never been her student, colleague or co-author. Rather, her leadership and reputation within and beyond the field is so compelling, anyone can see she is deserving of this accolade. On all accounts, she is an inspiration for communication scholars seeking to translate their research, for students seeking to foster a meaningful change and people who want to make a real difference in the world.”
MTSU Provost Mark Byrnes called the award “a wonderful personal honor for Amy, to be recognized by her contemporaries, and shows her zest for academic excellence, plus her strong commitments in the classroom and off-campus activist role with nonprofits and similar organizations needing her expertise. She has been a tremendous addition to Academic Affairs.”
In addition to peer-reviewed “important work” that winds up in a journal, Sanford said it’s “also important to get out in our communities and make a difference.” She does it mostly through her communication work.
“I’ll go out and help people with a strategic plan for their nonprofit organization or go out and help a group that isn’t being heard and talk to them about how to organize for direct action,” she added. “I am a scholar, but I help real people in the community, put them into action. … The fact that I can make a difference in a community outside the university means a lot to me. It validates my work.”
Sanford wound up at MTSU, which “is very well respected amongst regional comprehensive universities,” she said. “It’s been on my radar for at least 15 years. So, when this job became available, I applied.” In her job, she oversees degree development, general education, catalog and curriculum and the transition of the Registrar’s Office to Academic Affairs.
Sanford has authored one book, “From Thought to Action: Developing a Social Justice Orientation,” which recently came out in a second edition and is utilized in classrooms and book clubs around the world. Her research has been included in more than 20 other publications.
Previous honors for Sanford include being named Outstanding University Administrator by the National Communication Association in 2017 and Outstanding Communication Educator in Texas in 2018 and in Oklahoma in 2008.
She earned her doctorate and master’s degree in Communication Studies from the University of Iowa, a master’s in Education and bachelor’s in Communication Education (minor in mass communication) from Northeastern State University.
Central States Communication Association is an academic organization of communication professionals including college and university professors, students and K-12 educators. It was founded in 1931 to promote the communication discipline in educational, scholarly and professional endeavors.
— Randy Weiler (Randy.Weiler@mtsu.edu)