Three Questions for the “Distinguished” Deb Pierce ‘87

Deb Pierce headshotBy Emily Knepple

Name: Debra Pierce

Title and Organization: Distinguished Faculty Associate, University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication

Graduation year and degree: 1987 BA in Journalism and Mass Communication, 1991 MS in Marketing

Deb Pierce is a strategic communication instructor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication as well as a J-School alum. Pierce is a core contributor to the department’s curriculum, with a focus on digital communications, strategy, public relations and campaign management. Pierce is also one of the founders of the Digital Studies Certificate. With more than 20 years of experience in the industry at places like Burson-Marsteller and Procter & Gamble, Pierce offers students real world, hands-on experience, as well as the chance to better understand the principles of strategic communication. Pierce has a background on both the client and agency side, offering a unique, enriched perspective on what hopeful professionals should know. 

Pierce serves as the advisor for the UW Ad Club and is also on the Journalism school’s Undergrad Scholarship Committee. She is a recipient of the L&S Mid-Career Award, which recognizes “outstanding performance, leadership and service beyond her position, substantial professional competency, and promise of continuing contributions.” With both a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism (Public Relations) and a Master of Science Degree in Business (Marketing) from UW-Madison, Pierce is a true Badger who is actively helping the future creative thinkers of tomorrow.

Pierce recently earned a “distinguished” prefix to add to her title of “faculty associate”, a designation reserved for staff whose performance “[requires] extensive experience and advanced knowledge and skills.” We caught up with her to learn more about this honor.

A screenshot of a Zoom meeting with six participants from the Public Engagement Committee clapping and smiling.
Members of the J-School’s Public Engagement Committee celebrate upon hearing the news of Deb Pierce (bottom left) receiving the distinguished prefix. She joins Pat Hastings (top right), another Distinguished Faculty Associate in the department.

What are you most proud of from your time working in the J-School?

I’m proud to be one of the first instructors in our department to create original courses for the Digital Studies Certificate when it was first launched on campus. Over the last several years I created different advanced level strategic communication courses, which helped expand our course offering in this important area of our curriculum, and all of those classes are digital heavy. But what really fires me up is simply helping students as they navigate their first career and job paths. I’ve helped hundreds of students network to find positions, and now, some of my earliest students are hiring my current ones. It’s a great way to “pay it forward”. As a prior UW student myself, my own instructors did that for me, now it’s my turn to do the same for our students.  

What advice would you give to current J-Schoolers?

My biggest piece of advice: Use all the great resources we have here at UW-Madison! From career courses to student orgs, advisors, instructors and professional guest speakers — or even LinkedIn Learning videos and training certificates — there are a lot of ways students can explore all the great advertising and PR career paths that are available. 

When we say J-School, what do you think of?

Our community. The J-School isn’t just a department or a building on campus. It’s a community of supportive students, friends, faculty, staff and alumni who are passionate about their experiences here at UW. #OnWisconsin!