Meet Karla Stevenson: UT’s Professor and Role Model

By: Danielle Strejc

By day, Karla Stevenson guides intelligence analysts with rhetoric and communications skills at the Department of Defense.  As a director of the analytic outreach for Central Command and communications, she often finds herself working 16-hour days answering requests, performing research and retrieving information for different branches at her office.  By night, she performs what she believes is a much more difficult task – mentoring students to become better writers, critical thinkers, and overall better communicators as a communications professor at the University of Tampa.

“You should be proud of these,” Professor Stevenson smiles as she stands over her Thursday night Media Writing class at the University of Tampa, holding on to the students’ graded creative writing story from the previous week.  She pulls up a spreadsheet on the projector and creates columns, asking her students what they wish they could have changed about their stories.  Rather than providing a powerpoint, she engages in a powerful, intimate discussion with her students, insisting that every student opens up and shares what they didn’t like.

“You have to be perfect and flawless for the publication you’re writing for,” she advises to the class.  Wearing a black dress, gold-toed flats and her hair long, brown and effortlessly flowing, one might think she was a student opposed to the professor.  However, after taking one listen to her, it’s obvious she’s not the one sitting behind the desk but the one guiding the students at UT on a journey to their future success.

“Understand the power of storytelling,” Stevenson stresses to the class.  “A person who can tell stories is more successful.”

Stevenson, an admirer of creative writing, has been training her media writing students to become better creative writers by having them recreate a memorable time with their family and friends, ensuring to bring their characters – friends and family members – to life through descriptive storytelling.

Chelsea Snyder, junior at the University of Tampa and student of Stevenson’s Media Writing class, has already noticed improvement in her writing since the start of the fall semester.

“She breaks down the dynamics of what a good writer is and it has made me a better writer,” she says.  “And what’s cool is that she makes everything understandable and gives us creative freedom – she doesn’t put pressure on us either which helps a lot.”

Stevenson, not only a helpful writing instructor, is also known to go the extra mile to ensure her students find internships.

“I had a student who spent a summer in L.A. because I helped her to get an internship there,” Stevenson says.  “She had such an amazing experience and it was such a cool thing to hear her tell her stories when she came back.”

As an employee of Department of Defense, Stevenson has come across exciting career opportunities.  But according to her, she says the highlight of her career to date has not been her involvement with DOD but rather seeing her students succeed.

“I’ve gotten to meet some really cool people but it’s not even that big of a deal – people fall all over ‘important people,’” she explains.  “What I’m really proud of is that I’ve seen my students be able to realize their goals, and I sometimes think, ‘If they hadn’t had that experience or asked that question or met that guest speaker or gone to that lecture – maybe they wouldn’t have done that,’ and it makes me happy to know that I helped facilitate that process.”

In her free time, Stevenson engages in side projects around the Tampa Bay area that she feels truly passionate about.

“There are a lot of projects that come that I’m really passionate and excited about,” she says.  “I’ll work 80 hours a week because I’m excited about that project and I believe in it.”

Her current project is her recent involvement with the film, “Miss Representation.”  The documentary, which made it’s debut in Tampa Tuesday night at the Tampa Theatre, explores the under-representation of women in America and the effect the media has had on women and young girls.

Joshua Williams, Stevenson’s friend and co-worker at DOD, says he believes Stevenson deserves recognition for her accomplishments.

“She is involved in a multitude of community events, works two demanding jobs, and strives to emulate an impeccable reputation,” he points out.  “She takes a lot of pride in her work and develops innovative and forward thinking ideas.”

Stevenson, graduate of University of South Florida and University of Iowa, is still publishing academic articles and will be receiving her Ph.D. mid-November.  She was nominated for Community Leader of the Year in 2011 by the Tampa Bay Business Buddies and won the bake off in her office for the best baked goods, earning herself “not two, but one oven mitt,” she laughs.

“She is an outstanding role model for young professionals,” says Jennifer Olson, Stevenson’s friend and co-worker at DOD.  “She’s a social butterfly with a great work-ethic.”

And If there’s any advice Stevenson could give to the students at UT, she recommends this:

“Leave the world better than you find it.  Understand that you can be an agent of change.”

And, an agent of change Stevenson has been – for UT students, her co-workers at DOD and the Tampa Bay Community.

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