Bravo, Lucia embrace new roles as department chairs

Associate Professors Vanessa Bravo and Cara Lucia take over the top leadership positions of the Strategic Communications Department and Sport Management Department, respectively.

Vanessa Bravo has been named chair of the Strategic Communications Department and Cara Lucia has been appointed chair of the Sport Management Department, with both School of Communications leadership positions effective June 1.

During their respective tenures at Elon University, the two associate professors have been active teachers, mentors and researchers, publishing, presenting and volunteering regularly in their academic pursuits, while also participating in campus and community initiatives.

Bravo, who came to Elon in 2011, will oversee the school’s largest academic program – and one of the largest programs on campus – with more than 500 majors and 17 full-time professors. An Elon alumna, Lucia returned to campus in 2012 and will be tasked with leading the Sport Management Department through its final stages to obtain accreditation from the Commission on Sport Management Accreditation (COSMA).

“Our two new chairs bring a unique blend of teaching and professional experience to their respective departments,” said Communications Dean Rochelle Ford. “They are both leaders in their fields and industries, and capable of developing engaging and progressive elements to our curriculum to ensure our students’ academic and professional success. Additionally, and it can’t be overemphasized, how proud we are to have two strong female leaders taking on these top roles. Their perspectives and leadership will only help strengthen the school.”

A few days before her official appointment, Bravo expressed excitement for the chance to lead “a superb group of colleagues who really care for their students and their learning,” she said.

“I am also excited to have the opportunity to contribute ideas regarding curriculum changes, diversity and inclusion, undergraduate research and technology adoption, for the benefit of our students,” Bravo said. “At a personal level, I am proud to be the first woman, first immigrant and first Latina to be chair of the Strategic Communications Department.”

Bravo commended the department’s previous chair, Associate Professor Bill Anderson, for his steady hand guiding the department through its first year. (In June 2019, the school adopted a new departmental structure, moving from two departments to five.) Anderson spearheaded the development of departmental procedures and operational guidelines, and he did so in an organized and transparent manner, according to Bravo. “That is a big challenge, and he was brave to step up to the role of chair in that unique context,” she said.

In addition to Anderson, Bravo said she will lean on Associate Professor Jessica Gisclair, who chaired the school’s previous Communications Department for almost a decade, for advice and wisdom as she settles into her new leadership role.

“We have 17 excellent professors who embody Elon’s teacher-scholar-mentor model,” said Bravo of her department. “They are great in the classroom, conduct important research, and bring to the table a wide variety of expertise, as well as lots of professional experience.”

For Lucia, she admitted feeling emotional as she begins to lead the academic department where she studied as an undergraduate.

“Having the opportunity to serve in the role of department chair for the program that contributed to my development as a student and supported my professional growth as an alumna brings me pure joy,” said the 2001 Elon graduate. “As I approach my ninth year at Elon, I believe I have the responsibility to provide substance, reach and relevancy for what we do and be able to demonstrate our influence in the sport industry, higher education and society as a whole. This is imperative with the continued press for accountability in the higher education landscape.”

Lucia said she relishes the opportunity to further support her talented colleagues, who uphold the shared commitment to develop students for success in the sport management industry.

“As faculty, we make intentional decisions related to our teaching, service and scholarship – through a strong commitment to nurture intellectual community and provide innovative and stimulating undergraduate curriculum,” Lucia said. “Our goal is to prepare students to be informed sport industry leaders. We do this by creating intentional experiences for students to apply knowledge to practice through experiential learning opportunities.”

Lucia takes over the department’s reins from Associate Professor Tony Weaver, who began serving as chair in 2015. She lauded her predecessor’s tenure, insights and leadership.

“I hope to carry on Tony’s ability to ignite the strengths of the sport management faculty to accomplish our strategic goals and to live out our work as a united team,” Lucia said. “And I appreciate Tony’s support and guidance as I begin my transition into this new role.”

But this isn’t Lucia’s first foray into leadership. She is currently president designee of NIRSA: Leaders in Collegiate Recreation, widely considered the leading resource for professional and student development, education and research in collegiate recreational sports. Lucia will be evaluated to president in May 2021.

Despite leading different departments and curricula, Bravo and Lucia both face the same, unique hurdle as they begin their leadership roles – the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact.

To support and strengthen her department, Lucia plans to facilitate the development of colleagues and cultivation of partnerships within and outside of the university walls to “build a foundation of trust,” she said.

“We will need to adapt to changes in the environment to deliver the promise of engaging students through innovative teaching,” Lucia added. “To do this I will invite ideas, create environments and encourage intellectual curiosity through a participatory decision making approach.”

I believe as department chair I am responsible for bringing together diverse members of the Elon University community and industry partners to best live out the university’s commitment to provide engaged learning experiences for our students,” Lucia added.

Bravo expressed similar convictions, as well as a commitment to students and her fellow faculty members.

“As a new chair, I have a lot to learn, but I will try to learn fast,” Bravo said. “I also understand that I have to be especially flexible this coming academic year to adapt to the many changing conditions and uncertainties that exist right now due to COVID-19. It is a peculiar, challenging moment to start in a new role, but I will work hard and will try to put my best effort to support our students and my colleagues.”

Bravo noted that students should know she will make every effort to be approachable, transparent, and a careful listener. “Our students can also expect that any decisions or changes we make will be for their benefit as human beings and as future professionals in strategic communications,” she said.

Bravo earned her master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Florida, where she was a Fulbright Scholar from 2001 to 2003. She received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Costa Rica. Additionally, Bravo served as a journalist and editor at newspaper La Nacion (Grupo Nacion) in Costa Rica for 14 years in positions such as online editor and features editor. She came to Elon as an assistant professor in 2011, and was promoted to associate professor in 2017.

Following her bachelor’s degree from Elon University in 2001, Lucia earned a master’s degree from Central Michigan University two years later and a doctoral degree from Virginia Tech University in 2010. After two years as an adjunct faculty member at Radford University, Lucia spent three years at James Madison University as an assistant professor before returning to Elon in 2012. At Elon, she was promoted to associate professor in 2018.