You are here

Dr. Amy O'Connor

Assistant professor in strategic communications
September 8, 2015

Portrait of Amy O'Connor

When Amy O’Connor moved to Minnesota to take a job at SJMC as  an assistant professor of strategic communication, she got an unexpected welcome from the past: Her former students from the North Dakota State University, who had moved to the Twin Cities after graduation, threw her a party. For O’Connor, that’s one sign of building a strong sense of partnership in the classroom.

“Sharing ideas, embracing the unknown and being curious is much more exciting and productive when done with others,” said O’Connor, who spent 11 years at NDSU.  “To solve the myriad of social problems facing us, we need everyone to engage.”

O’Connor, who earned her Ph.D. from Purdue University in 2004, extends that philosophy to her research into corporate social responsibility. Her studies of the relationship between large corporations and non-government organizations have a clear purpose: making society better and finding the best ways for corporations to positively contribute to that goal.

While much of the previous corporate social responsibility research has centered on the financial contributions of large corporations, O’Connor argues that it’s equally important to study knowledge shared between a corporation and a nongovernment organization.

“Corporations aren’t designed to do the same things as NGOs and vice versa,” O’Connor said. “But that doesn’t mean there can’t be a sharing of those less obvious resources … The research has been so focused on the philanthropy and the money exchange. [Our research] seeks to understand how these partnerships, if they are sustainable, can fundamentally change the way both organizations work for a shared common better.”

A three-year, $296,406 grant from the National Science Foundation will boost O’Connor’s work. With research partner Michelle Shumate, an associate professor in the Communications Department at Northwestern University, O’Connor is in the initial research phase of a project titled, “Collaborative Research: Mind Mapping Consumers and Activists' Response to NGO-Corporate Partnerships.

The study examines the reactions of both consumers and activists to a variety of messages about corporate and nongovernment organization partnerships. The pair is focusing on incongruent partnerships, or those that initially seem like a poor fit. One example is ConocoPhillips, one of the largest energy companies and in the world, and the Nature Conservancy, which works to protect the Earth’s natural resources and beauty.

Beyond a strong research background, O’Connor also brings ample professional experience to the position. Between earning her B.A. from Washington State University and her M.A. from Western Michigan University, O’Connor held communications roles at DDB Needham Worldwide Advertising in Chicago, as well as the National Kidney Foundation of Michigan and the American Cancer Association.

O’Connor draws on her professional experience to help students in her Communication, Public Opinion and Social Media class understand and relate concepts to their everyday lives.

“It’s helpful to have that real world experience because when we look at campaigns, I can understand why choices were made,” O’Connor said. “I made some of those choices.”