Walking downtown Decorah last summer, communication studies major and journalism minor Connor Hopkins (‘21) vividly remembers Professor of Communication Studies Kim Powell honking her horn at him as she drove past. The gesture not only struck Hopkins as fun and lively, but also reflected Powell’s personality, which has been shaping Luther College for the last thirty years.
Upon finishing her graduate studies in rhetoric at the University of Georgia in 1992, Powell came straight to Luther College. As she went to a small college for her undergraduate degree, Luther’s intimate, liberal arts learning environment was very much in-line with Powell’s teaching goals.
“It was a great decision for me; I actually met my husband here, so that was a perk,” Powell said. “I had excellent people to work with, but what stands out to me always is the students. I mean the relationship while they are here but also after they leave, them keeping in contact. What I’ve learned from them has really enriched my life and my perspectives over the 30 years that I’ve been here.”
Reflecting on her career highlights, Powell stated that successfully building a community in the classroom where everyone has a voice was a pinnacle of her time at Luther. Hopkins, who has received Powell’s guidance since he started in the communication studies program, expressed his gratitude for Powell’s teaching style.
“She’s genuinely one of the kindest professors Luther has,” Hopkins said. “I don’t think I’ve ever encountered anybody, especially a Comms major, who has had anything bad to say about Kim because, even outside of the classroom, she’s a wonderful human being.”
Powell has done a lot of research, ranging from social movements in the US like the vegetarian movement, to life situations like research on adoptees. Powell expressed that the most rewarding research she has done has been with students where she has been able to discover new things alongside those she has been teaching and mentoring.
Besides her research in the communication studies field, Powell also taught many courses, such as public address, intercultural communication, and argumentation, and she has advised many students. A newly decided communication studies major Delaney Buisker (‘23) explained her experience taking one of Powell’s courses.
“I took her public address class and I really liked it,” Buisker said. “I mean, I love talking, but I loved getting feedback from her because I felt like it was very useful. It made me into a better speaker; I still remember her patterns she used for our speeches. I feel like it’s good for anyone to take, even if you’re not a communication studies major.”
According to students, Powell successfully created the class environment she wanted thanks to her approachable personality and ability to create casual, discussion-based interactions. Communication studies major Emma Everitt (‘21) shared her thoughts on Powell’s special qualities.
“One of her most notable qualities is – I guess I would say is her sassy personality,” Everitt said. “She’s not afraid to be a little bit dramatic and make people laugh. It’s one of her core qualities that really helps her students to connect with her.”
Powell’s impact on the communication studies department has been immense, as she’s been a mentor, a facilitator, and a listener. Associate Professor of Communication Studies Sarah Wilder has been mentored by Powell. According to Wilder, Powell’s presence has had a continual impact on the communication studies department.
“She brings history, commitment, passion,” Wilder said. “She is very organized and helped keep us strong in the department, helped us navigate difficult moves, helped shape the community of the department– how we get along. Her influence is endless.”
Outside of the Luther community, Powell is also admired by her colleagues because of her significant contributions to the Decorah community. Professor of Communication Studies Thomas Johnson shared his observations regarding Powell’s commitment to the local community.
“As a person, Kim cares about the pursuit of justice and the common good,” Johnson said. “A prime example of this is her work with the Humane Society of Northeast Iowa. She’s done so much for that organization to make it the success that it is today.”
As Powell is planning to retire and move to Minnesota upon the end of the academic year, she expressed her appreciation for her time at Luther.
“As grateful as I am to be able to retire after 30 years at the college, I’m more grateful for the people I have been fortunate to learn with and from at Luther during those years,” Powell said. “I’m fortunate to have the best departmental colleagues and students who engage, challenge and as — Parker Palmer has described the ultimate classroom interaction — ‘dance with me.’”