Anand Rao came to the University of Mary Washington more than a decade ago with one goal in mind: to teach students to communicate effectively.
“Strong communication skills are essential to succeed in every area of life,” said Rao, associate professor of communication and director of the Speaking Intensive Program.
In his role with the Speaking Intensive Program, Rao has influenced most every UMW student, since undergraduates are required to take at least two speaking intensive courses to graduate.
“The purpose of the speaking intensive requirement is to help students find ways to express themselves and build relationships,” said Rao. The ability to communicate well is crucial not just for excelling in classes, but for relationships and the work place, he said.
Speaking Intensive courses are offered in nearly every major, from math to historic preservation. Students learn how to become proficient in speaking skills that are specific to their individual majors.
Within UMW’s Speaking Intensive Program, Rao also directs UMW’s Speaking Center. The center’s doors are open to any UMW student or faculty member who needs assistance with anything related to speaking, from help on class projects to job interviews and presentations.
“The Speaking Center does a really good job of preparing students for speeches, speech anxiety, and class discussion,” said Rao. “If we do our job well, students are involved in class and expressing themselves well.”
In addition to his director roles, Rao teaches courses in public speaking and small group communication, as well as social media and visual rhetoric.
“I’ve heard thousands and thousands of student speeches, but I still love hearing my students speak on what they’re passionate about,” said Rao.
Junior English major Rives Kuhar said Rao’s lessons will have a lifelong impact on her. “He cares about his students and their future and the work that they produce,” she said. “I know that I can go to him for anything. He’s my mentor.”
Last spring, students in his social media course collaborated and produced a handbook guide for college students about social media. Rao plans to have the handbook, which deals with everything from social networking to navigating jobs online, published as an e-book later this fall.
“I want my students to recognize the best ideas come from collaborative discussion,” he said, noting the ability of UMW’s small classes to foster quality student and teacher interactions.
Rao also has shared his communication expertise worldwide through numerous lectures and presentations, which have taken him as far as China.
More recently, he spent his last two summers directing a public speaking and debate workshop at Harvard for high school students. Rao, along with several recent UMW graduates, worked with students from 14 states and nine countries for daily 12-hour instruction periods.
“It’s really great when you get together with a group of students who are passionate about what they do,” said Rao. “By the end students are amazed with how much they have done and learned.”