Meet Adonnika West, a passionate Ball State senior majoring in interpersonal communication in the Department of Communication Studies. She is also double minoring in sociology and women and gender studies.

Throughout her time at Ball State, she has been involved both in and out of the classroom with immersive learning projects and organizations like the Ball State Speech Team and Byte.

How did you originally figure out communications was something you were interested in?

I think what made me realize that I would be interested in communications was my original idea of what I wanted to do with my life, which was something to do with acting. I’m not sure that’s what I want to do now, but I still really like performing, and so one big thing about communication is that you can presentationally speak. I really like that aspect of comm, and so I was actually able to do a BSU big talk; it was like a mini TED talk, and you gave it to a bunch of people in the comm department. It was just a little taste of how you can kind of present and act in your own way through an academic lens. Then, I noticed that many comm majors actually did go into acting, so that could still be something that I could go into in the future while still going into a career.   

Donnie presenting in Pruis Hall with a picture of Beyonce on screen behind her.

Can you tell us a little bit about your journey to Ball State?  

I spent most of my high school career in North Carolina, so during my senior year of high school, I moved to Indiana, and all of my college options were thrown out of the window. I found Ball State and looked into their communications program, and it looked like something I wanted to go into career-wise. It dealt with a jack of all trades; you could put your skills into any market, which was helpful because I didn’t know what I wanted to go into. So, the skills they taught you, such as presentation, communication, and networking, all seemed tantalizing. And I heard their comm department was really good. 

When you arrived here, did it live up to your expectations? 

So, I feel like what delivered for Ball State was indeed the communication program. It lived up to its expectations because originally, when I came into the program, I didn’t know what it all pertained to. Still, through the comm program, I feel like my presentational skills have skyrocketed. My skills in talking to other people have definitely helped as well. I think my writing skills have also really helped. It doesn’t sound like it’s a research-based major. Still, I’ve done a lot of research-related papers, so it has gotten me passionate about doing research projects in the future that I didn’t even know was an opportunity.  

Donnie and classmates working on a project. Donnie is holding up a large printed photo of herself.

What has your research has been about? 

Besides my research about women in poverty and women of color, I also really enjoy researching now that I’m in women and gender studies and sociology as minors; looking at how gender affects us as people, I feel that I’ve really been playing around with my gender identity this last semester. And so I’ve been trying to see how specifically women have to perform their gender because I feel that there are a lot of pressures to perform a certain way in gender. Even people that are gender non-conforming face the pressures of heteronormativity every day. So something that I’m really passionate about is trying to open up the door to educate people that those kinds of people have been around forever. So I love researching how individuals that are gender non-conforming and LGBTQ have existed for pretty much all of the time because I feel like when people argue against it, they think it is such a recent development when, in reality, we’re just starting now to like to talk about it. That’s really the only difference.   

I’m actually, for my feminist theory, we have to make manifestos, so my manifesto is about how women should shave their head, and if they don’t want to do that, then maybe just doing something that feels to them as not feminine. There are plenty of women who do that already, but I feel that there is a stunted idea of beauty associated with traditional attractiveness in women; for example, whenever I’m at work, and I talk to someone, and I’m like, “Oh I kind of want to cut my hair,” and its usually just a guy who means well, he’ll be like, “Oh but you look so good right now.” Then, I immediately feel seen as someone who is strictly attractive or an object instead of a being with my own thoughts. And so I feel like that is something that I want to tap into my manifesto just to go crazy, to abandon that idea that you are just an object, you are your own person with your own thoughts, and you are just as beautiful without hair as you are with.  

How have you benefited from pairing your major in Communication Studies with your minors?

So, I think my presentations in the Women and Gender Studies program have been bangers because of communication. I think communication has helped me so much with how I present my information, which is why I genuinely think that you can take communication anywhere. When you’re presenting research in another department or you’re presenting maybe like some studies you found, you find that some people don’t know how to communicate to all audiences, and so I can do my research but also know that there’s going to be different people, different backgrounds and include that intersectionality when I’m communicating. And so I feel like they really mesh well together. 

Are there any common misconceptions about your major?  

I think when people hear comm, they think it doesn’t really mean anything. Or that it’s a really easy major, and while it’s not the hardest major, I still think that it gives you so many tangible skills that you can use in a career path which is why I think so many people find comm or originally go for it. I was talking to a grad director, and she was talking about all the different paths that people took. Some people work remotely in California for non-profit organizations, others are in HR departments or doing strictly research-based projects, or they’re professors. So, I feel that comm is just something that can be applied to everything.   

An animated Donnie doing during a group project.

How have you changed since your freshman year?   

I think when I first got here, I was much more reserved as a person. While I liked performing and being outgoing, it was on stage or in front of a camera. And I feel like through comm, I’ve come out of my shell. Especially academically, with communication, especially the professors; they’re so encouraging; it’s hard not to feel like you can succeed academically, so my writing has gotten so much better, and my communication skills have gotten much better. As a student, I can succeed in the career field as well.   

What have been essential resources for you while you’ve grown as a student?

Donnie and team setting up the exhibition.

So, one thing that I think was an essential resource in developing myself was last semester; I was in an immersive learning program with Beth Messner. In that program, I worked with eight other students, and we built up a historical exhibit about the Underground Railroad in Indiana. Something that the exhibit did was not only teach me what it would be like to work with a team in real life but also how to co-lead a group since I was one of the co-leaders with Madi and Brooke. And something that did was it helped me to navigate and speak to people in different ways. It specifically addressed problems differently with one person than another, which I think is something that people don’t recognize, as everyone has a different style of accepting criticism. I think it also helped me in giving criticism. As well as research experience, we went through archives, we went to museums, and I got to connect with the Muncie community like I never have before. I feel like that experience really helped me grow academically, career-wise, and just as a person.  

Have you had any mentors beyond the classroom?   

Funny enough, I haven’t gotten into the huge mentor aspect yet; I feel like COVID in 2020 really affected me. I was a freshman when COVID hit, but these past two years, I’ve been way more social with professors, such as Spencer Coile. I love Spencer; he’s a coach for the Speech Team. I see him occasionally, and I feel he’s an equal to me, which all the professors do — make themselves equal to you.  

I’m thinking about going into the Grad program, so I’ve been talking with Kathy Denker, and she’s really, really cool. I think Beth Messner has been an excellent mentor; I feel out of all the communication professors, just because we spent so much time together. She recognizes me as a student. 

Donnie and Beth Messner standing with a group of students.

I think another person was Laura O’Hara, one of the first comm professors who made me believe that I could succeed as a comm student; her critiques on my papers were supportive and detailed. Mary Moore helped me; her whole class on listening just as a baseline was so interesting.  

Ashley Coker definitely helped me with my presentational style; I think she helped me so much because my PowerPoints were nothing without her. I know many people were a little frustrated with her class, but the frustrations were what made our presentations better. I feel that my presentations never would have been the same without her.   

Specifically, in her class, she would lead us through exercises on how to get these presentations the way that they were supposed to be; so one thing we learned in high school and middle school was that your presentations had to be bulleted, lots of words and you realized that in the academic and career world that that’s not really how it works, and no one wants to read what’s on the board. And so you had to rethink/rewire what you were taught, which I feel that many communication classes do already. So, with her class, there were many times when I would feel frustrated or stumped on how to properly communicate an idea without showing the words on the screen. But at the same time, having those challenges now has helped me to where I can express what I want through my words and not what’s on the board.   

How has CCIM and the Department of Communication Studies helped you push yourself and grow?  

I believe that to grow, you have to be uncomfortable. I feel like there’s no way for you to truly change academically, career-wise, or really as a person without going out of your comfort zone. Something that the communication department did was get me out of my comfort zone, and it made me challenge myself. And I feel like those challenges led me to who I am today.   

Donnie at work.

Are you in any extracurricular organizations right now?  

Right now, I’m a part of Byte BSU. I love Byte BSU. I was on the speech team, and I loved the community of the speech team, but I just realized it wasn’t for me. For Byte BSU, I’m a part of the videos department and social media. I used to be an anchor for the Byte BSU videos, but now I do video editing and more like personal interviews with people. We’re trying to do video essays, which I think will be really fun. I love video essays, and then for social media, I help publicize the work being done by the other departments; there are so many departments, reviews, features, social media, photos, and videos.  

How did you get involved with Byte BSU?   

So the CCIM and communication department holds this little fair, specifically for clubs that are concerned about that major, which I think is really cool because I think you can get a little overwhelmed at the big club fair because there are so many options. So I originally went there with a past partner of mine, and they joined initially, and they were telling me how fun it was and all the people they were meeting, and I was like, “You know what, I’m going to slip on in there.” And everyone was just so welcoming from the get-go. They have so many workshops to help you understand what you’re going to be doing because, I mean, no one really knows how to work Adobe Premier right off the bat, like maybe you’ve done Movie Maker, but it’s just so different. I just joined social media this past semester, and we had a workshop on how to work Photoshop, so I was able to become familiar with all the tools that we’d be using through the resources the students were providing. As well as the fact that it is all student-led, it already feels very welcoming because everyone is just around your age, so I think that made it easy to transition into Byte BSU.   

How has the change in your interests impacted what extracurriculars you’ve pursued? 

I feel that the speech team probably would not be too bad of a fit for me now, but at the time, I think the way we had to perform information, it felt less like I was passionate about it and more like I was doing it out of obligation. So, I learned through my academic career that I should be doing things for my educational growth, but if I’m not passionate about it, then it’ll just feel like homework. I think one thing about being in my major is that most of the essays and presentations that I’ve done haven’t really felt like homework; they’ve more felt like research and studies that I would do anyway. So I feel like with Byte BSU, that’s just where it landed. I’m still doing speech-related things, but it’s not as strict. I still really think the speech team teaches you so many valuable skills, such as how to properly present yourself and professionally dress but in a performative way, and they have so many different things you can research. I really think it’s an incredible club.  

How have extracurriculars helped you in preparing to achieve your future goals?

So besides grad school, because I do think I want to go towards grad school as my next step, I believe Byte BSU is closer; I’ve always loved the magic behind the camera as much as being in front of the camera. I love seeing how everyone works together as a team to build something together. And like with social media, we’re all communicating on what is going to be most effective, how this design is going communicate better to audiences than another design, and with videos. I’m also learning so many skills on Adobe, such as Photoshop, Premier, and then Adobe audition which is strictly sound. So, I feel that I definitely would want to go into that realm of filmmaking. Honestly, my dream job would be to work at an animation studio, not animating because I can’t draw, but maybe in their HR department or maybe as an actor/director communicator or something like that.   

Donnie in class.

Are there any awards that you’ve won or other projects that you’re particularly proud of that you’ve worked on?  

I’ve been on the Communication Dean’s List since sophomore year when they presented it to me, and I’ve really enjoyed being on the Dean’s List. It’s a nice little shoutout, and they have a little celebration for you, which just makes you feel good. I was nominated for BSU’s Top 100 Students; I’m just waiting on my recommendation letter to apply for that, which is exciting. I was recommended for the immersive learning program, and then I was able to do that, which I think was a reward in itself to be a part of that. In the sociology realm, I feel that my research has been something that I’ve been really proud of. I did a policy brief when the recent abortion ban happened. I highlighted how it affects not just all women but women of color and women in poverty more, which is something that I was really passionate about; as well as being asked to do the BSU Big Talk; I think that was probably one of the favorite things I did. The fun thing about that was that you just presented a speech that you already did for Ashley Coker’s 375 comm class, and so all you were doing was presenting in front of a live audience, which was something that I’d never done before in a public speech. And so that was probably my favorite thing to do.  

What do you feel makes your experience in CCIM and the Department of Communication Studies unique?

Donnie and team setting up an exhibition.

One thing that is unique but may relate to other people is that when I came into the school or the communications department, I didn’t have much of a support system from my family. Not that they weren’t supportive; still, none of them were really from college. My grandma went into nursing — that was when she was younger — and now she’s retired. My parents are more into straight career jobs, so I feel that it helped me discover myself and support myself in my accomplishments. I feel like there may be a few people who may not feel motivated because their family isn’t as supportive as they’d like them to be, but I feel that the department is so encouraging that I’ve felt utterly welcome. Sometimes, I’d beat myself down about a paper I wrote even though I got a perfectly fine grade or I did a speech. I was like, “Hmm, it wasn’t that good,” but the absolute support from the students and comm department, it’s kind of hard not to feel supported and welcomed in your academic career.   

Are you a first-generation college student?  

I think I am, at least from my parent’s perspective. Neither one of them finished college; I believe they might have gone, but I don’t believe either of them graduated college, so I’m the oldest of my siblings, so I might be, yeah.   

How has that changed your journey?  

I think it made me realize how much information is out there because I come from a family that went straight into the career field and wasn’t familiar with the college setting. When I came here, I was completely shocked at how much information there is, and it just made me so inspired to learn more. I don’t feel like I’ve ever been so inspired to keep learning; there is always more to know, to do, and different people to interact with, and so I feel like that really inspired me, and it inspired me to convince my brother to come to BSU as well. I was like, “Oh my gosh, this community is so welcoming,” and I think that’s another thing I really like about Ball State. It’s big enough to where you can meet so many different people, but it’s also small enough to where the classes feel personal, and I just really like that.   

How many siblings do you have?   

Altogether, I have about six siblings. I could definitely get a lot of them to come here.   

Do you have any advice for them or other students?  

I think when you first come to Ball State, don’t do what I did; don’t hang out in your dorm the whole time. Go out and socialize even if it is super scary. Join a bunch of clubs that you wouldn’t think about joining. I forgot to mention that I joined the Martial Arts club this year, which is so fun. It’s just a random club that gets me active, but I’ve met so many people from different majors that I wouldn’t have met otherwise. They’re all younger than me, but it’s also fun; I’m the only senior, but it’s also fun to punch the air with them. So, my biggest piece of advice is to get out there and socialize; even if you don’t feel like it, even if you think you won’t make any friends, you will. There are just so many people, you just have to find them.

Is there any advice that you would give your freshman self today?

One piece of advice I would give my freshman self, besides being more social for sure, is getting a campus job. I feel that it helps you socialize so much more. I remember that I met my future roommates in my first house by working at the Starbucks at North Dining. So you’re going to meet people that you are not even going to think about how they’re going to impact your life later, and so I would tell myself to integrate myself earlier than I did. COVID obviously was a cause of that, but because of COVID sophomore year, I didn’t do anything either. And I would’ve forced myself as a little sophomore just to go out there and join as many clubs as I could.  

Donnie giving a presentation in Pruis Hall.

Is there anything that you are willing to share that people don’t usually know about you?    

Man, it sucks that I’m kind of an open book sometimes. So people who really know me might know this, but I’ve shaved my head two times, and I’ll probably go through it for a third in my life. This is something that I think every woman should do. I think every woman should drastically cut their hair, especially shaving their head. Not every woman will do it, but it helps you with body image and your perspective of your own beauty. Every time I shave my head, I never focus on my physical appearance as much because, for some reason, hair is attached to femininity and beauty. I feel that shaving my head has made me more passionate as a feminist, so I guess that many people don’t know that I love shaving my head and that I’m passionate about other women doing it, too.

How did you get the idea to do that?

My hair used to be really, really long — it was huge. I believe I cut it freshman year of high school and let it grow out, and then before I went to college I cut my hair super short, but I didn’t shave it. And then I went back for fall break to my home and told my mom just to shave my head, and she was like, “But why – what if you don’t like it?” and I was like, “Well, it will grow back, Mom.” So I shaved it, and oh my gosh — I’ve seen women do it, I’ve seen women shave their heads, and I’m like, that is just so cool. How are they just so confident enough to do it? And so I did it and just immediately felt like there was a weight off my shoulders, even the fact that my hair is a lot to upkeep, that’s why I’ve cut it short now; I feel like I also helped inspire other women to cut their hair super short, I feel like you just need someone else to convince you to do it.   

Is there anything else that you would like to add?   

One thing I think needs to be said about the comm department is just how super nice everyone is. Maybe that’s for every major, depending on how passionate you are, but I just feel like I’ve never had professors who have been so passionate about your success in classes, and I feel like the comm professors just work so well with you. I feel like especially in their grad program — I’m not in it yet, but I have grad friends, and just their passion for the grad program is just so palpable just because of how connected they are with the teachers and the fact that you get so close to them, and I feel that the support they give is really wonderful.   

Donnie and Beth Messner with group.