When Associate Professor Helena Särkiö arrived at Iowa State University on an exchange program from Finland as an 18-year-old, the plan was to learn English, earn the first college degree in her family, and then return home to pursue a career. But life and love had other plans for her—after meeting her future husband and working in the newsroom of the local ABC affiliate throughout her undergraduate career, she realized she was in the United States to stay.
She also realized, after several years as a reporter, videographer, editor, and producer, that life in the thick of hard news media is not for the faint of heart. “I was lugging heavy equipment at all hours of the night, covering murders and crime,” she said. “It was a very exciting time in my career, but for the longer-term, I wanted something that provided more meaning and a better work-life balance.”
Särkiö is not only the first person in her family to graduate college–she is also the first person in her family to graduate high school. Thus, the thrill of academia was still strong for her, so she pursued first a master’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from Iowa State University, and immediately following a Ph.D. in Mass Communication from the University of Minnesota, all the while still keeping one foot in the world of broadcast journalism. As a master’s degree student, for example, Särkiö worked as a weekend assignment editor. Upon graduation, she chose a tenure-track position at the University of Florida, where she served for two years before realizing that a Research Level I university was not the right fit for her. That’s when Särkiö made the move to Flagler College, where today she teaches a wide range of Communication classes and also directs independent studies on topics including cross-cultural identity construction on Facebook, gender norms on Pinterest, and producing documentaries for social change.
“For me, it’s all about the students,” Särkiö said. “Both my undergraduate and graduate school experiences were fundamentally transforming for me—I grew and changed not only intellectually, but also morally and politically, and I aim to do that every day for my students. It is a privilege, and a great responsibility, to serve as an educator and adviser to our students.”