Sandy Duhe gave up the prestige of public relations with some of the world's largest companies-- and the hefty salary that accompanied it-- to toil as an academic at UL, but she loves it. Recently she was promoted to Associate Dean of Liberal Arts. She visited with ultoday.com.

Sandy Duhe, Public Relations, Communication, College of Liberal Arts, University of LouisianaTell us about yourself.

OK... I'm a native of Crowley, grew up there. I had plans since I was a very young girl to go to law school and join the family real estate firm. That was the plan until I was a senior at LSU, when I decided that instead of law I was going into the business world. Specifically, I wanted to work as a financial analyst for Conoco in New Orleans. Which I did.

I soon realized that number-crunching was a lot more fun in school than in the real world.  But I had a supervisor at the time who saw something in me, and who led me into corporate training. That's when I got my first taste of teaching.

And loved it.

Then in the '90's the oil industry went through a reorganization, or a 'right-sizing', whatever the term was at the time. So the New Orleans office gets closed, and they move everyone to Lafayette to establish the Gulf of Mexico Division. In this new division I'm offered a new position, to establish our community outreach program. And I was insulted.

I thought, "What have I done wrong? I'm a business school grad, I'm great with numbers and figures, and now I'm asked to do this fluffy PR stuff." Then I thought to myself, "This work will pay my mortgage just as well."

That's when I met Kathy Kelly. I had started to pursue a master's degree at UL in Communication, in interpersonal communication, until Kathy convinced me I needed to pursue Public Relations at an academic level.

UL must have been a big shock after LSU.

It was, but for the better. At LSU I got a great business education, but I had to introduce myself to my professors every time I went to their offices. At UL I found a community; I found a family.  And I have felt a personal connection to the University ever since.

The difference was stark. I'm grateful for my education at LSU, I had some outstanding professors.  But the experience I had at UL was literally life-changing for me. Because it was from Kathy Kelly that I found that the work Conoco was asking me to do was not 'PR.' In fact, one of the first things she told our class is that we should never refer to public relations as 'PR', because the relationship and communication building that it does for organizations is too important to be reduced to two letters.

So Kathy Kelly is the sole reason that I became enthusiastic about the field of Public Relations, and I pursued it as an extremely rewarding corporate career for 12 years, with three multinational oil companies.

Fast forward to late 1999. I'm working on the Exxon-Mobil merger, and I get assigned to be the first corporate brand manager for the newly merged entity in Dallas. Then after being in Dallas about a year, I began working on my PhD at UT-Dallas. In '04 as I was wrapping up, Kathy Kelly's spot at UL became available, because she went to the University of Florida.

I applied, and was invited in for an interview. I came to UL for two days of interviews, and I was staying with my parents in Crowley. I went home and told my parents, "I don't know how I'm going to make this work, but I'm going to leave the corporate world to come teach at UL." I was just sold on it.

From the moment I set foot on campus, being a UL professor has never felt like work. People laugh when they hear me say that, but it's true. I get to hang out with twenty-somethings, and share my stories from the corporate world. Then I get to watch them start their own careers, and hear them come back and tell me how their UL education helped them to become successful. You just can't put a price on that.

I like to impart 'tough love' on my students. We demand a lot of them, and 99% of the time they meet or exceed the standards we set.  We love them and we nurture them, but we make them meet their deadlines.

UL is all about student-teacher interaction. And that's what makes it such a special place.  Nothing is more fun than to tap into the shy kid in the back of the room, and watch him or her blossom in a semester.

You get your publishing, you get your academic work done, yeah yeah yeah. But when you come down to it, it's about the relationship you have with your students.

So now we come to 2009, and I'm an Associate Dean of Liberal Arts. The joke is that the University was so pleased with my work in the classroom that they promoted me right out of it.

But I still teach one class a semester. And as good as my situation was before, I think it is even better now, because I still have a foot in the classroom, I get the opportunity to be mentored by Dean Barry, and I have a much broader view of the University.  Which is just awesome.

What's the future?

You know, the one thing I learned making the switch from business to liberal arts, is to not plan so much, and to let life present opportunities to me. That's advice I now give my students. It's great to have a plan, but you've got to be open to opportunities that you didn't plan for and that you never expected to come your way. If you aren't open, you'll miss out on the best stuff. So I'm going to stick with the form that got me here today, and see what happens.

But my heart belongs to UL, and that won't change. That I know for certain.