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New Face: Bryan Blankfield

Taking a cue from Gandalf the Grey, this new Honors College faculty-in-residence invites students to say “yes” when life offers unexpected adventures.

People  |  Feb 20, 2018  |  By Daniel Coyle
Bryan Blankfield standing at whiteboard in front of students

Honors College professor Bryan Blankfield (Josh Hawkins/UNLV Creative Services)  

Given his unassuming disposition, you might never guess that Bryan Blankfield loves teaching the class that typically terrifies introverts: public speaking. But eluding expectations seems to be commonplace for this Honors College professor. Just ask him about his solo dance performance in college.  

Why UNLV?

The main reason for coming to UNLV was the Honors College. Having earned my bachelor’s degree at a small liberal arts college (Roberts Wesleyan College) and Ph.D. at a large state school (Penn State), the opportunity here seemed like a perfect blend of my experiences. This role offered a chance to really get to know students in a smaller class environment while having access to the resources of a major public institution. It also helped that a very good friend was already living in Las Vegas.

Where did you grow up?

I was born and raised in a rural community on the outskirts of Rochester, New York. My parents owned seven acres with every variety of farm animal you can imagine – which made for some memorable moments with my four siblings.

What inspired you to get into the field of communication studies?

I initially planned to study history in grad school. But after encountering a dissertation on poodle ownership in Baton Rouge, I wondered if all the consequential work in the field was tapped out. Then a professor I admired convinced me to pursue a Ph.D. in communication studies/rhetoric since I had always been fascinated by the power of words and symbols.

What’s ironic (and funny): After deriding the historical study on poodles, I wound up writing my dissertation on 2,000 letters that were written to or about FDR’s dog, Fala.

Proudest moment in your life?

That’s tough, since I don’t usually get caught up in important benchmarks. If anything, I take pride in small things. For instance, I’m proud to have won a variant of the board game Risk in just one turn. In college I spent all summer learning the Napoleon Dynamite dance to perform at my school’s talent show. I’m also proud of the fact that I always commit my students’ names to memory during the first day of class.

How do you approach teaching Honors public speaking? 

I design my classes to produce as little anxiety as possible by incorporating many short, less heavily weighted speeches. I also demonstrate that I am genuinely interested in what the students have to say, instead of just how they are saying it. By having them speak on topics that are of sociopolitical relevance to their lives, the class becomes less about performance and more about communicating meaningful ideas. 

If you could fix one thing in the world, what would it be?

I’d settle the issue of net neutrality. Because the internet is now so deeply integrated into shaping how we understand the world and make choices, it is absolutely vital that our access remain free from control of special interests.

What would people be surprised to know about you?

I love rap music and sewing.

Who is your hero?

Darren Sproles, currently a running back for the Philadelphia Eagles. I don’t even have a favorite team. I just like Sproles because he’s consistently outperforming the expectations people have of a 5-foot-6-inch football player. I think he has the heart of a champion.

What can’t you work without?

Music and tea. I’m fairly persnickety about tea, ideally topped off with a spot of milk.

Pastime or hobbies?

Many of my hobbies are motivated by an innate desire to out-do family members. For example, I bake to stay on par with my sister, who works as a pâtissière. My brother always enjoyed video games and board games, so naturally I stay sharp enough to best him whenever we play. And I’ve become decent with a needle and thread to compete with my mother’s sewing prowess.  

In that way, I suppose I’m like Mega Man – the iconic video game character – who acquires the special abilities of the enemies he defeats. Just don’t tell my family I said that.

One tip for success?

Follow the example of Bilbo Baggins and embrace the adventures that life offers you. So much of the time we ignore the invitations from the “Gandalfs” in our lives and, instead, choose to stay in the comfort of our hobbit holes — our familiar habits, relationships, and surroundings. Next time you get a chance to try something new (even if it’s small), courageously step out the door.