By Reagan Clay
JLMC 344: Feature Writing, Fall 2018
Laura Witzling can trace her passion for food to her college days when she volunteered for a café that served healthy, inexpensive meals featuring local foods. During that time, she also interned at a community-supported agriculture farm in Wisconsin, and later worked as a volunteer on several French farms to better learn different agricultural techniques.
An assistant professor who joined the Greenlee faculty in August, Witzling now focuses her research on food issues while teaching public relations courses.
She recently received her Ph.D. in mass communications from the University of Wisconsin, where she also earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism. In between, she earned a master’s degree in natural resources and environmental sciences from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
At Illinois, she worked closely with a soil science professor with whom she studied soil lead levels in Chicago. “My research was about urban gardens and I really enjoyed that work,” said Witzling. “I liked the component with communications, so I decided to pursue that.”
Witzling was drawn to Iowa State and the Greenlee School for their academic reputations. “I was really looking for an institution where I could teach and research — a place where I felt like my research was supported,” she said. “I felt like there were a lot of people doing research that I could relate to here.”
Her current research looks at public opinion of fish farming (aquaculture) in the Midwest. She focuses on inland fish farming, which involves raising fish in tanks or ponds.
Before earning her doctorate, Witzling worked as a public information and education officer with Dane County University of Wisconsin-Extension. In that role, she coordinated a program aimed at food directors of hospitals and school districts who wanted to incorporate local foods into their organizations. She also produced farmer education and outreach programs. “During that time, I started thinking more about the communication issues in our food system, which is why I wanted to get involved in the first place,” Witzling said.
She draws from that experience now as an instructor. Witzling taught Publicity Methods (PR 305) and Public Relations Writing (PR 321) this fall. To provide her students plenty of writing opportunities, she finds real-world clients and incorporates their projects into the classroom.
Her fall 2018 PR 321 students created fliers and table tents for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to raise awareness about Rehoming Our Animals/Aquariums Responsibly (ROAR), a coalition that works to reduce the number of animals ‘dumped’ by people who can no longer care for them. Her spring 2019 class will assist the Iowa Water Center with blogs and interviews related to its upcoming Iowa Water Conference.
To boost engagement, Witzling asks students to email examples relating to concepts from class.
“I think the students enjoy making connections between what we talk about in class and the media that they like. Because of the creative examples they supply, we end up looking at all kinds of things in class — Tweets from fast food companies, newsletters they subscribe to, news releases from local organizations, screenshots from Snapchat. I think it makes class more engaging for them, and I get some insight into what is important to my students.”