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Tasha Rennels

Doctoral student uses Masters degree to pursue dream

Tasha Rennels currently calls The University of South Florida (USF) campus, in Tampa, Fla., home. Rennels, a second year Ph.D. student in the Department of Communication, has had a distinctive southerly trajectory to her education. With a Bachelor’s degree from Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., and a Master of Arts from Eastern Illinois University (EIU), her move to Tampa seemed, at the very least, geographically appropriate.  It also has been extremely beneficial as she chases her dream of earning her Ph.D. As a graduate teaching assistant at USF, Rennels takes a full load of classes and either teaches one or two courses a semester or assists professors with their research. Currently, she is teaching Interpersonal Communication and working with Dr. Carolyn Ellis on her research.

Tasha at desk

Rennels path to her Ph.D. began at Concordia. “I knew I wanted to go to graduate school, but was unsure of what to pursue. A couple of weeks before most applications were due, one of my favorite communication professors gave me a ‘pep talk’, which changed my life forever.” Rennels was accepted into multiple Masters programs, but ultimately chose EIU.  “I was intrigued by the idea of moving to a new state and EIU seemed to have a lot to offer.”

The breadth and depth of Eastern’s program was a benefit to Rennels. “My experiences in the graduate program at EIU, first and foremost, enabled me to figure out what I wanted to pursue when I started my doctoral work…I was exposed to a wide variety of interests in the field and I found this exposure incredibly beneficial because it enabled me to figure out what I was, and was not, interested in further exploring.”

My EIU “professors were incredibly supportive of what interests I decided to pursue and provided invaluable guidance for me when I started to pursue them.” Rennels points out that she discovered her passion for critical and qualitative research at EIU. This led her ultimately to USF, which has its primary focus in critical and qualitative research.  Rennels feels that her relationships with her EIU professors were instrumental to her moving on to a Ph.D. program. “These professors are not only willing to speak on my behalf… but have inspired me to realize I have the ability to pursue a degree I never thought possible. Their dedication to my scholarship and positive influence in my life, have carried me to the place I am today. “

Tasha teachingRennels also sees the supportive nature of her Eastern cohort as instrumental to her success.  “When I was at EIU, I was blessed with a cohort that worked together and supported one another. Had I not been surrounded by this wonderful community, I don’t think I would be where I am today.” She argues that graduate students should always strive to foster community. “I think it’s important that as communication scholars we practice what we preach. The networks we create today will greatly influence our tomorrow.” 

Her current research program has grown directly from her Masters’ thesis.  She has built on her early work and now pursues work that is “situated in the gap between mediated representations and lived experiences of poverty.” She is trying to “bridge this gap by exploring the similarities, disparities, and relationships between how poverty is lived and how it is socially constructed in the media.”

From her experience Rennels recommends thesis work for those interested in pursuing a doctoral degree. “I think one of the best choices I made was to write a thesis because it not only solidified my research interests, but also provided an opportunity to me to learn, hands-on, the process of producing quality scholarship.”

Today she loves where she finds herself.  “I love that I can do work that makes a difference. The critical focus at USF enables me to engage in scholarship that can be used as a means of fostering social change and creating awareness that transcends the ivory tower.”