Joel Whalen never imagined he’d be a university professor. That thought seems a bit surprising now, considering that the American Marketing Association (AMA) just presented him with its Sales Teacher of the Year award and he also recently won the Society for Marketing Advance’s highest teaching honor. Still, when you know his back story, Whalen seemed an unlikely teaching hero.
As an undergraduate student in his native Florida, Whalen struggled with college classes. Instead, he excelled at his chosen profession—the broadcast industry. He spent years advancing his way in broadcasting, starting as an on-air deejay in high school, becoming a program director, then advertising and sales manager and finally building a solid communications consulting company.
A desire to firm up his communication consultancy practice guided Whalen back to academia to get his PhD, which altered the course of his career and life.
“I fell under the mentorship of Theodore Clevenger, Dean of Florida State University's College of Communication, who was the first person to bring objective scientific methods into communication,” Whalen explains.
A New Way of Communicating
Whalen found a revelation in Clevenger’s approach to communications. Gone were the communication theories of old that emphasized rhetoric. Clevenger ushered in a way of communicating that could be measured and Whalen learned to incorporate theories from psychology, sociology and research into his study of communication.
After obtaining his doctoral degree in marketing communications, Whalen took his expertise to the corporate and political worlds. He honed his craft with various executive marketing positions. But in the early 1990s, an unrealized business deal put Whalen at a career crossroads.
“I was floundering, but still determined to make it work,” Whalen says. He spoke to his wife, Tina M. Ricca, (MBA '95) about moving to a major city. The plan was to get a teaching job while he grew his consulting practice. But his wife, Tina told him he should be a professor, that he had the talent for teaching.
He got a call from DePaul University’s Driehaus College of Business and he’s been teaching marketing here for 30 years now.
“Much to my delight and amazement it turned out that I had a talent for teaching,” says Whalen “I never saw myself as a university professor, but then again I never really knew there was a school of the quality of DePaul where they value teaching and service to students.”
Developing Effective Business Communication
Shortly after arriving at DePaul, an administrator asked Whalen to help business students become better communicators. Whalen and Ricca collaborated with Chicago business executives and DePaul faculty to create the college’s Effective Business Communication course. The class is mandatory for undergraduate business students and is popular among graduate students. Out of the course arose a new theory on effective business communication that is unique in the business school world.
“We do not teach communication like other schools,” says Whalen. “Rather than using rhetoric as the basis, I look at psychology. We look at communication from the framework of credibility, attitude and behavior change, and then created a series of exercises that helped people become better communicators.”
Recognition for Teaching Methods
Whalen says DePaul students learn how to package messaging using psychological principles and managing their attitudes and anxiety. The course is taught by Whalen and a team of real-world business executives, who are business communication experts within their fields.
The result is an effective communication expertise that has earned Whalen student teaching awards, industry recognition and even book deals. Whalen credits DePaul’s support of innovative teaching methods to the program’s success.
“We’ve become recognized leaders in business communication,” says Whalen, who is also the director of curriculum at DePaul’s Sales Leadership Program. “We keep it real and practical.”
Whalen and Ricca travel all over the world teaching communication professors about his effective communication courses here at DePaul. He also is the author of the books, "4-second PowerPoint Slide Toolkit," "Professional Communication Toolkit" and "I See What You Mean: Persuasive Business Communication."
“DePaul University expects good teaching,” says Whalen. “Teaching innovation is encouraged and fostered. I’ve thrived because of DePaul’s rich teaching culture.”