McMicken College of Arts & SciencesUniversity of Cincinnati

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Meet Cynthia Berryman-Fink

If you're looking for a pet sitter or dog-walker, she's a softy for the furry, four-legged types.

Date: 2/15/2007
By: Britt Kennerly
Phone: (513) 556-8577
If you're looking for a pet sitter or dog-walker, she's a softy for the furry, four-legged types.

If you need clear perspective honed from years of expertise in communication issues and myriad life and classroom lessons, Cynthia Berryman-Fink is as close as a visit to 137 McMicken Hall.

The longtime communication professor stepped in as interim dean Feb. 1. She brings with her an ever-evolving world view enhanced by everyone from family and the neighbors of her youth to colleagues and students from around the globe.

A native of Fall River, Mass., Berryman-Fink says being a New Englander shaped her values of practicality, perseverance, stoicism and simplicity. And those values, it turns out, are solid complements for the role of a straightforward communicator and educator.

Berryman-Fink

Cynthia Berryman-Fink speaks at the inaguration of the School of World Languages and Cultures in one of her first official outings as interim dean of McMicken College of Arts and Sciences.

"I had always wanted to be a teacher, but the level of my teaching aspirations changed as I progressed through the educational system," she said. "I have also always enjoyed leadership, whether it manifested itself in high school activities such as newspaper and yearbook editor or in co-founding a professional association for gender and communication studies while I was in graduate school. Thus, it is no surprise that I have pursued leadership roles here at UC, including the interim deanship."

Past roles for Berryman-Fink include stints as head of Communication, interim head of Judaic Studies and as acting vice provost of faculty affairs. Each role along the way, she said, "has given me an invaluable perspective on the university at a macro level."

"As someone whose scholarship, teaching and consulting involves organizational communication issues, the opportunity to engage in leadership within this complex institution has enriched my career and aided my personal growth," she said.

"I have received enormous support from key mentors who have provided me leadership opportunities. I have learned from colleagues, with whom I have worked on important projects, and I have benefited from the perspectives of students whose world views and perspectives on contemporary issues have differed from my own. Working in a university like this one this one keeps one vibrant and young at heart, I believe."

Her own perspectives began forming, in no small part, during her youth. As a child in Fall River, Berryman-Fink lived in an ethnically diverse neighborhood populated by families of French Canadian, Italian, Polish and Portuguese descent.

"In the homes of my friends, three generations resided and English was not the language spoken," she said. “Worship at the local Catholic churches was in these other languages. I would attend many international church services, festivals, parades and holidays with my friends. So, early on, I was fascinated with the diversity around me."

The family then moved to a neighboring small town, Westport, a lobster fishing and dairy farming community of 7,000 people and some 12 miles of coastline. Post-high school, she traveled just 20 miles "up the road" to the local teaching training college, Bridgewater State College, where she majored in History and minored in Secondary Education and Speech.

"As president of the BSC debate team, I turned to speech communication for graduate school," Berryman-Fink said. "One of my amazingly dedicated undergraduate instructors drove me from Massachusetts to Ohio to visit the graduate program at Bowling Green State University, where I earned my master's and doctoral degrees."

While a TA at Bowling Green, she had many Hispanic students, who were itinerant farm workers.

"My research program in gendered communication led naturally to a broader interest in diversity, defined more broadly," Berryman-Fink said.

When she began mapping career plans, UC's Communication program interested her, she said, "because I could be a bigger fish in a smaller pond."

"I was hired to broaden the curriculum and to help build a stronger scholarly orientation for the small department of about six faculty and both goals excited me very much," she said. "I would have the opportunity to create new courses in interpersonal and group communication in a department which was largely focused on rhetoric and public speaking in the late '70s."

Berryman-Fink quickly developed courses in gender, family, interpersonal, nonverbal and organizational communication.

"I taught 11 courses that first year and I think most all of them were different preparations," she said.

The city of Cincinnati, she said, was appealing after four years in the farmland of Northwest Ohio.

"I had originally intended to stay at UC for only two years as I wanted to head back East and to move to a department with a PhD program," she said. "Twenty-nine years later, I am still here but have not regretted that decision because UC has offered me so many varied opportunities."

Her strength as a scholar, she said, is in the area of applied communication research: "I like to bridge the theoretical with the practical," she said. "My research has examined the applications of communication theories and concepts in the workplace in the areas of sexual harassment prevention and conflict management."

Recent work has investigated interpersonal contact factors related to prejudice and diversity programming in higher education.

"I enjoyed writing 'The Manager's Desk Reference' – a practical, encyclopedia-type guide which translates organizational communication research to practicing managers," she said. "I have served as a consultant to many organizations, which has allowed me to collect data in the field and to translate my own and my colleagues' work to lay audiences."

Consulting also has, she said, enhanced her ability to "bring real-world experiences into the classroom to assist my students' understanding of complex and abstract concepts."

"My strength as an educator is in creating student-centered classrooms where genuine dialogue allows multiple perspectives on controversies inherent in communication around issues of gender, race, class, ethnicity, etc.," she said.

Off the clock, she's still, well, on. Physical activities? Name one: "I enjoy skiing, kayaking, rollerblading, hiking, bicycling and going to the gym," she said. Other interests? “I enjoy reading, travel, cooking, theatre, indie movies, stand-up and sketch comedy.”

Her musical moods, too, are diverse.

“My CD’s range from jazz, blues, classic rock, alternative rock, big band and swing to reggae, world music, bluegrass, Cajun and zydeco,” she said. And, there’s that pause for the paws.

“I am a crazed animal lover with a chocolate Labrador and a rescued stray cat at the moment, but I will pet sit and dog-walk for anyone who asks,” Berryman-Fink said.

Family-centered activities lead to even more work.

“Of late, I have assisted with theater productions at the School for Creative and Performing Arts where my son is a senior,” she said. “I have also served as a residential faculty advisor at Sigma Phi Epsilon, the campus fraternity in which my older son was an officer until his recent graduation. I continue to serve in various capacities a professional organization -The Organization for the Study of Communication, Language and Gender (OSCLG) –the group I co-founded in 1978.”

Berryman-Fink has hosted three of OSCLG’s national conferences over the years. She also is board president and a member of the choir at Heritage Universalist Unitarian Church.

Always, basic communication with those she has leaned on adds color and dimension to her life.

She's inspired by her husband, Chuck, whom she calls "business savvy, extremely outgoing and skilled at networking."

"He has helped me overcome my introverted tendencies,” she said. “My two sons, Drew, age 22, and Greg, age 18, have helped me to develop patience and to stay attuned to youth culture, an important goal to connect with my students.

"And though my mother has been deceased for 26 years, I continue to draw inspiration from the tough, feisty, good natured, open-minded role modeling she provided."


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