Sonja Foss​When Professor is teaching a class in the University of Colorado Denver’s Department of Communication, she notices that some of her students use their phones to surf the web. Her standard response is to tell them to stop and pay attention.

“But before cell phones, we knew they weren’t paying attention some of the time. When I say, ‘Put your cell phone away and look at me,’ it’s now a competition between me as the teacher and whoever they’re talking to. That’s not satisfying for it to be a competition. How can we find remedies that work for everyone?” she said.

Foss (pictured above) has committed an estate gift that will help CU Department of Communication scholars investigate the answers to these questions. Her bequest will enable graduate students and faculty members to attend conferences, visit archives, complete study abroad semesters, and fill key departmental operational needs. As the former chair of the department for seven years, Foss understands how opportunities such as being able to present a paper at a conference can help master’s students gain entrance to prestigious doctoral programs.

In addition to penning articles for academic publications, Foss writes textbooks so students can apply the knowledge in a practical way. She cowrote “Inviting Transformation: Presentational Speaking for a Changing World” with her twin sister, Karen Foss, professor and chair of the Department of Communication and Journalism at the University of New Mexico. The textbook focuses on inviting an audience to listen and gain understanding, which is an alternative to communicating by persuasion.

Foss would like to pass on her excitement about the communication field to graduate students, and her bequest will better enable future students and professors to shape the Department of Communication around their own new ideas.

“I’m not dictating what my bequest will be used for, other than areas with funding needs,” Foss says. “The department chair and the faculty will figure it out and I trust them. I love being in this department—it’s a wonderful place for faculty and students. It’s always good to be able to make some place better though, and I want them to have the freedom do that.”

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