Denise Solomon headshot in dark suit.
Published on: Sep 11, 2019

Denise Haunani Solomon, professor and head of the Department of Communication Arts and Sciences in the Penn State College of the Liberal Arts, has received the 2019 Distinguished Scholar Award from the National Communication Association (NCA). She will receive the award during the association’s 105th annual convention, which will take place in Baltimore in November.

NCA is a scholarly society whose mission is “to advance communication as the discipline that studies all forms, modes, media, and consequences of communication through humanistic, social scientific, and aesthetic inquiry.” The Distinguished Scholar Award, the association’s highest accolade, honors a lifetime of scholarly achievement in the study of human communication. Recipients are selected by their peers to showcase the best of the communication discipline.

Solomon was cited for developing “relational turbulence theory” and introducing it as a lens for understanding how people manage changes in their romantic relationships related to both routine developments and traumatic health issues, such as the diagnosis of breast cancer.

According to her NCA citation, “Dr. Solomon’s research reflects a scholar who uses diverse methodologies to ask and answer critical questions about human relationships and the tensions therein. Dr. Solomon’s theory has stood the rigor of peer-review in our top journals and institutional presses, which is a testament to a tenacity as a scholar.”

Solomon grew up in a small fishing and logging town on the coast of Oregon and was the daughter of a first-generation college graduate. When she reflects on her family roots, which include both small family farmers and indigenous Hawaiians, and the fact that only a small percentage of her high school class attended college, she feels especially grateful for her academic journey.

“I consider myself very fortunate to have had the opportunity to pursue the scholarship that ultimately made me eligible for an honor such as this,” she said. Solomon also remarked on the prominence of Penn State faculty among the roster of NCA Distinguished Scholars: “As of this year, 109 distinguished scholars have been named since the award was created in 1991; communication arts and sciences faculty account for 8% of that total.”

"Professor Solomon has been an exemplary colleague due to her leadership at the department, college and university level,” said Clarence Lang, Susan Welch Dean of the College of the Liberal Arts. “As this recent honor from the National Communication Association illustrates, she clearly is a distinguished scholar in her field and in her discipline more generally.”

Solomon’s selection marks the fifth consecutive year that a member of the Penn State communication arts and sciences faculty has received the NCA Distinguished Scholar Award. Previous recipients were James Dillard (2018), Mary Stuckey (2017), Jon Nussbaum (2016), and Stephen Browne (2015).