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Karen Dwyer
Karen Dwyer. photo by Tim Fitzgerald

Calming the Anxious

by Tim Fitzgerald

Almost everyone suffers from it.  Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy and Barbara Walters have had it and overcome it.  The "it" is a fear of public speaking, and one University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) faculty member has focused her teaching and research career on curing this problem in college students.

Recently, UNO's Karen Dwyer was honored for her work with the University of Nebraska's Outstanding Teaching and Instructional Creativity Award (OTICA).  Dr. Dwyer is an associate professor in the UNO School of Communication and director of the basic speech course.  She was nominated for her teaching and mentoring skills, curriculum development, assessment and community engagement.

Dr. Dwyer came to UNO in 1987 as a graduate student and received her master's degree two years later.  "I received my undergraduate degree in home economics and have always been interested in communication," she said. While in school, she got a job promoting Sharp microwave ovens and said she cooked her way through graduate school.  "People were always asking me to talk about microwave cooking, and so I wrote a cookbook.  We had to print a minimum of 500, but luckily I was interviewed on Shenandoah's KMA Radio and in the Omaha World-Herald on the same day.  The result was that we sold more than 2,000 cookbooks in just a few days."  Dr. Dwyer ended up writing three cookbooks, some of which can still be found in local bookstores.

Today she isn't writing cookbooks, but rather workbooks and textbooks that are used by UNO students in their public speaking classes.  "As a graduate student, I became interested in my research area of communication apprehension.  I was shocked to see so many students who were so scared to give a speech." 

Dr. Dwyer wrote her dissertation on speech anxiety and asked if she could begin teaching one or two classes for those with speech anxiety.  She also has published a textbook on the topic, "Conquer Your Speech Anxiety: Learn to Overcome Your Nervousness about Public Speaking."

Dr. Dwyer emphasizes the need to find out where speech anxiety originates, and then one can apply a technique to conquer it.  "I teach my students to go through a list of basics such as stress and behavior and find out where the anxiety begins."

Her speech expertise isn't limited to helping UNO students.  Faculty, staff and alumni can make use of the UNO Speech Center, which is directed by Dr. Dwyer.  The center offers coaching and consulting to those wishing to enhance their oral communication skills.  "We have a lot of customers, and last year we received $62,000 from the legislature to fund the center," Dr. Dwyer said.  To learn more about the UNO Speech Center, call 402.554.6054.

The UNO educator said she was shocked to win the OTICA and is grateful that the university honors teaching.  "Teachers don't get enough credit.  Everything that all of us do is somehow linked to teachers in our lives.  I'm always proud to represent good teaching."

To view a video of Dr. Dwyer, visit the Web at this link  (http://www.nebraska.edu/news/video_news_releases.aspx) and click on Karen Dwyer.

Tim Fitzgerald is manager of photography at UNO. He can be reached at tfitzgerald@mail.unomaha.edu.

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