Professors don't always have to work for decades to be recognized for a lifetime of scholarly research.
At least that's true for Brad Rawlins, an assistant professor of communications at Brigham Young University, who will receive the Pathfinder Award--one of the most prestigious national scholarly awards in the field of public relations--after only four years of intensive research at BYU.
Rawlins was recognized by the Institute for Public Relations at an awards banquet Nov. 20 in New York City. The Institute gives the award annually in recognition of an original program of scholarly research that has made a significant contribution to the body of knowledge and practice of public relations.
"The award is not for any one specific piece of research," said John W. Felton, president and CEO of the Institute for PR. "It's for a whole body of work through a number of years."
Rawlins worked on his research agenda off and on while serving for eight years as a faculty member at James Madison University in Virginia. But it wasn't until he came to BYU in 2000 that he began rigorous research in the field.
Rawlins has focused recently on ethical practice in public relations, especially moral decision-making. In addition, he hopes to use concepts such as authenticity, accountability and responsibility to show the need for transparency in communication.
"If you can help an organization become more transparent, then that organization has to account for what it's doing, not only to itself but to others who have a stake in the behavior and the practice of that particular organization," he said.
It was such research on ethics that the Institute noticed.
"Look at all the corporations that are having problems with ethics," said Don Stacks, director of advertising and the public relations program at the School of Communications at the University of Miami. "He was pushing this research before all that happened. Brad has set a path that others are following."
"His work has been, for such a young man, an outstanding array of very effective research in the field of public relations," Felton said.
The award is usually given to scholars who are at the end of their careers, said Laurie J. Wilson, professor of communications at BYU and former department chair who recruited Rawlins to BYU.
"To have someone as young as he is, have collected a body of research that caught the attention of the Institute for PR is phenomenal," she said. "It certainly is a tremendous recognition. It is indicative of the level of scholarship that this department has achieved among its entire faculty."
Rawlins has worked extensively on his research with Kevin Stoker, an assistant professor of communications at BYU, who Rawlins said has helped him immensely.
"He and I bounce a lot of ideas off each other and I think this award is a reflection of his research that we have collaborated on as much as it is my own research," he said.
Rawlins said he was pleasantly surprised to win the award.
"I had to double check the E-mail from the institute because I didn't understand what it was saying," he said.
Wilson said Rawlins had great potential when she started recruiting him about eight years ago.
"From the very first time I met and talked with him, I could tell that not only was he an excellent teacher but also that he was someone who truly had vision and a curious mind," she said.
"He truly was questioning things that are on the edge or on the borders of knowledge and was anxious to push forward and to maybe even break some of the stereotypes in our field. I knew that he would be a strong addition to the BYU faculty," Wilson said.
Stacks, who expects to see a lot more research from Rawlins in the years to come, said the honor is well-deserved.
"It is people like Brad who have made BYU one of the best public relations programs in the country," he said.
Writer: Thomas Grover