By Steve Wilson
Brant Burleson, Professor of Communication and Affiliate Professor of Psychological Sciences at Purdue University, passed on Dec. 10, 2010, at his home after battling cancer. With him that day were his wife and faculty colleague, Erina MacGeorge; his children, Jesalyn and Carson; and other family members, friends and colleagues.
Brant was born in Boise, Idaho, on Dec. 9, 1952. He grew up in Boulder, Colo., graduating from Fairview High School in 1971. He graduated summa cum laude with a B.A. in Communication from the University of Colorado, Boulder, in 1975, as well as an M.A. in 1977, and Ph.D. in Communication from the University of Illinois in 1982.
After spending two years on the faculty at SUNY Albany, Brant came to Purdue University in 1980, where he spent the next 30 years of his career.
I met Brant when I arrived at Purdue in 1984 as a new Ph.D. student. Brant agreed to serve as my major professor, a role in which he guided me through coursework and preliminary exams, directed my dissertation, showed me the ropes in terms of publishing peer-reviewed research, and wrote many letters of recommendation when I went on the job market in 1988, and again at different points over the years.
I was blessed to work with many talented faculty members during those years as a graduate student at Purdue, but Brant was an important mentor and remained such to me over the course of my career.
Brant was well-known for being a prolific scholar. He published more than 150 peer-reviewed articles and chapters in scholarly books; he also edited five scholarly volumes, including Communication Yearbook and the Handbook of Communication and Social Interaction Skills (with John Greene).
Along with his mentor Jesse Delia and several colleagues, Brant was an early proponent of the "constructivist" perspective, which focused on explaining individual and developmental differences in communication skills. His primary research focus was on the communication of social support, for which he became recognized as the leading authority in the communication discipline. Brant's research showed that social support matters -- that the support we receive from others during difficult times has consequences for our health and well being, and that specific ways of providing emotional support are more effective at relieving distress and facilitating coping.
Brant received numerous awards and honors in recognition of his scholarship, as well as his role in mentoring young scholars. He was elected a fellow of the International Communication Association, as well as a distinguished scholar of the National Communication Association. He was a recipient of the Mark L. Knapp Award for career contributions to the study of interpersonal communication from NCA, as well as the B. Aubrey Fisher Mentorship Award from ICA.
In 2007, the Department of Communication at Purdue recognized him with the "Outstanding Graduate Faculty" award, and in 2008, he was one of only two faculty members from across Purdue University to receive the Provost's "Graduate Student Mentor Award."
Brant was especially proud of these latter awards as they recognized his work with graduate students. Brant directed 20 Ph.D. dissertations during his years at Purdue. He also co-authored many papers and articles, and helped launch the professional careers of many more students.
Brant was equally passionate about teaching. Those who took his graduate classes will remember receiving course syllabi the size of phone books, with long lists of "required" and "supplemental" readings. Brant had strong opinions about virtually all aspects of studying communication (including how communication itself ought to be conceptualized; see his piece "Taking Communication Seriously" in Communication Monographs, 1992) and he enjoyed engaging students in vigorous debate.
He was one of several faculty members who played a key role in developing COM 600 and 601, the two "Foundations of Human Communication Inquiry" courses that all new Purdue Ph.D. students now take during their first year in the program.
I had the unique experience of working with Brant as his advisee and then again as his faculty colleague. When I returned to Purdue, I realized that I needed to establish some independence from my former advisor, but disagreeing with Brant was never easy given his strong intellect and the force with which he would argue virtually any point. And, of course, we tend to perceive in others some of the same qualities we possess ourselves.
Close relationships often are characterized by both strong positive and negative emotions, and that was true of my relationship with Brant during the past 10 years. But during that time, I continued to learn from him what it means to be committed to one's work and students.
I had the privilege this past November of being part of an NCA panel where Brant was honored for receiving the Mark L. Knapp award. Although Brant was too ill to attend the NCA conference in person, he spoke to those attending the panel via Skype about the incredible joy he experienced in studying communication and being part of the communication discipline. Seeing the passion with which he spoke and the connection he felt with many people in that room was very moving. Like many of you, I will remember Brant as an outstanding scholar, a devoted mentor, and a faculty member who always stood by his convictions.