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About Samuel L. Becker

Sam Backer

Samuel L. Becker, Distinguished Professor Emeritus (1923-2012)

Sam Becker was a resolutely centered teacher-scholar-adviser. While he taught at the University of Wyoming, University of Wisconsin, and Nottingham University (England), and while he did post-doctoral study in sociology at Columbia University, he never really strayed very far from the Mississippi River. He grew up in Quincy, Illinois, lived with his family in St. Louis, and moved to Iowa City in the early 1940s, completing his BA, MA, and PhD at the University of Iowa, and, for good measure, staying here. He spent more than half a century of his life here—only an hour from the river that defines Middle America geographically and culturally.

Sam Becker likewise remained centered intellectually throughout his professional career. Because he was always asked what he called in a 1984 publication "The Interesting Question: A Prescription for Vitality," he worked from the center of fields outward via those questions. His scholarly work centered communication studies for some fifty years: in speech and media pedagogy, persuasion variables, radio-television production and its modes of meaning, the impact of the mass media on social-psychological life, research instrumentation, intercultural communication, rhetorical studies' need to adapt to changing public life, theatrical performance and administration, politics, ethics, and behavioral modification programs to prevent smoking.

His ten monographs and 115 journal and book publications together define 20th-century speech communication studies. Such intellectual centeredness earned his work support from the Ford Foundation, the Fulbright Commission, the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, the National Educational Television and Radio Center, the National Cancer Institute, and the National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute of the National Institutes of Health. As well, his prowess has been recognized via a University of Iowa Distinguished Professorship and the University's Distinguished Service Award, Iowa's Hancher-Finkbine Medallion, the Distinguished Communicator Award by the Central States Communication Association (which also has named its outstanding graduate student paper award the Sam Becker Prize), the Andersch Award for Distinguished Service by Ohio University, the NCA's Distinguished Service Award and Distinguished Scholar Award (with the service award finally named after him in 1995), the Fisher Distinguished Mentor Award and Fellow status from the International Communication Association, and, of course, his own building—the Samuel L. Becker Communication Studies Building, 1993. A lecturership in his honor was launched by the University in 2001-2002.

What made Professor Samuel L. Becker "Sam" to most members of his profession, however, was his commitment to a third center: a professional life centered on educational process, and especially on students. Not only did he direct 59 doctoral dissertations and author six textbooks, but he developed and orchestrated a 325-student freshman-level courses (Media and Society), advised any student—Iowan or not—who had questions, and could not walk across a convention hotel lobby in less than half an hour because he was mobbed by people wanting to thank him for this-or-that favor, note or call of advice, bibliographic citation, or piece of information he'd sent along. Sam was, simply, a model professor of higher education, which is why he was the first Mentor named by the NCA in 2000. That's Sam—teacher, scholar, adviser…and building.