This article was part of the 2015 HFAC 50th line-up of feature stories. We are sharing it now in this forum as an example of the history of mentoring for the School of Communications, and because Dr. Ed Carter has again taken a group of students to Chile.
efore each semester, Ed Carter sits in his office and flips through course notes and syllabi from when he was a student. Now director of the School of Communications, he still thinks about one of his influential professors and how he approached teaching the class.
He considers the students he’ll teach and the skills they’ll learn. Carter wants to help students, like senior Shelbi Anderson, expand their skills and their thinking much in the same way Professor Dallas Burnett did for Carter just a couple decades ago.
Carter came to BYU intending to pursue journalism. As a freshman, he took a basic news writing class, which offered extra credit if a student’s final project was printed in BYU’s school newspaper, the Daily Universe. He discovered a plan to issue fines to students who had food in the school library. Not only was Carter’s story published, it sat in the coveted position above the fold on the front page.
As Carter pursued his journalism degree, he enrolled in the required Communications Law class, taught by Professor Dallas Burnett.
Since 1948 Burnett had been associated with the College of Fine Arts and Communications, either as a student, faculty member or department chair. He had begun studying at BYU in the days just prior to the Ernest L. Wilkinson building binge, when the communications classrooms were in barracks.
Burnett graduated from BYU, volunteered for the draft and spent two years in the army, and pursued a graduate degree from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. He worked at Deseret News in Salt Lake City for a brief period but accepted an offer to teach at BYU and returned in 1958.
When Carter attended Burnett’s class, he noticed that Burnett was passionate not only about teaching the course, but also in getting to know his students.
“It felt like even though I was in a class of 70 people, he knew me,” Carter remembers.
That sense of connection was not accidental. Early in his teaching career, Burnett had established a system for getting to know his students each semester.
“It is so easy to help a student if you are willing to simply see students as human beings who have needs and concerns,” Burnett states. “My approach was always to get acquainted with them simply by having them fill out an information sheet and taking their picture. When I called on a student, I could call on them by name. When you do that, they know they are something more than a name on the roll.”
Burnett is modest in recounting the impact he had on BYU students but estimates that in his communications law class alone, he taught between five and six thousand people. He maintains that creating a good relationship with students means they are more likely to listen.
Carter listened so well that his love of journalism expanded into a desire for a law degree. He attributes his success in law school to the preparation the journalism program gave him.
“It was in Burnett’s class that I learned how writing skills could be transferable to other areas,” Carter says. “I think journalism is the best preparation for law school because of all the writing that is required.”
Carter had accepted a position at a law firm when BYU’s Communications Department Chair Michael Perkins tragically passed away. Carter was offered and accepted the position to teach communications law.
As a professor, Carter is now mentoring the next generation of students. In the summer of 2014, Carter was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to teach at the Universidad Mayor in Chile. He wanted to bring along BYU students to work on a joint project with some of the Chilean students.
“We applied for a grant through the Laycock Center, which encourages interdisciplinary collaboration,” Carter says. “You can do a better project when you cover more disciplines.”
Carter selected four students, including Shelbi Anderson. Their specialties included film, graphic design and public relations, and with Carter they decided to focus their work on education reform, a polarizing local issue. Chilean students, in crowds of 50,000 people were protesting the current higher education system.
Anderson and the students were able to gain admittance to a high school that had been taken over by the local students in protest of those who were unable to obtain a higher education due to financial constraints.
“It looked like Neverland, beds everywhere and boys skateboarding inside,” Anderson remembers, referencing the 1991 film Hook. “But they were surprisingly mature. They really believed in what they were doing. They had leadership skills. They were very professional on-camera.”
Anderson says she was able to put into practice the strategies she learned in communications classes.
“I was a journalist out there,” she says. “This was being filmed, and I was thinking on my feet and in another language. I’m so grateful to [Carter] and the Laycock donors who made it possible.”
Anderson received real-world training and experience because of Carter’s mentorship. The Universidad Mayor is hoping to make Carter’s summer teaching and research trip an annual collaboration.
Trip to Chile
Anderson, along with others from the College of Fine Arts and Communication used the footage they took in Chile for a multi-media article that placed them as finalists in The Society of Professional Journalists 2014 Mark of Excellence Awards, a ceremony that recognizes the best of collegiate journalism within a calendar year. Anderson credits her success to the skills and resources she acquired at BYU.
“There were so many supportive faculty members that encouraged me to go forward with the project…” Anderson said. “I couldn’t have done it without them believing in my abilities.”
Carter firmly believes in continuing education for both students and faculty and is working on his second postgraduate law degree, this time on international human rights law.
“As teachers, we need to be lifelong learners,” Carter says. “I learned that from my mentors.”
Carter is instilling a love of learning in students like Anderson, whether it is in the classroom or on field trips abroad. He credits his motivation to succeed to Burnett who, all those years ago, took an interest in Carter.
He may be retired now, but Burnett still offers sound advice to students.
“Sit up at the front in a classroom,” he says. “Half of the failures wouldn’t exist if they just sat in the front of the class. Be willing, and make it a point, to talk to your teacher. Make yourself known. Find a reason—I don’t care how big—to meet the teacher. Most faculty [members] are willing to help.”
Burnett and Carter are a testament to that willingness to help, a legacy that will hopefully carry on through generations and throughout the world.