Kathryn Ann Meier, who earned her doctoral degree in English in 2016,
has received the 2017 Outstanding Dissertation Award from the Association for Business Communication
(ABC), an international, interdisciplinary organization committed to
advancing business communication research, education and practice.
The award recognizes the top dissertation in the field in the past
two years, based on significance to scholarship, research and/or
pedagogy of business communication, and demonstrated originality of
thought and careful investigation. Meier is the first doctoral student
from the University of Delaware to receive the award.
James Dubinsky, executive director of ABC, presented the award to
Meier at the association’s international convention in Dun Laoghaire,
Dublin, Ireland, on Oct. 21, calling it “one of the most prestigious in
the field and awarded by the organization.”
John Ernest, the Judge Hugh Morris Professor of English and chair of
UD’s Department of English, said the department “is very proud to be
associated with the work [Meier has] done in this vital area of
“This is important work for us, and we’re thrilled that one of our
doctoral students is so clearly prepared to be a leading scholar in this
field,” he said.
Meier’s dissertation, “Deconstructing DuPont Discourse: How
Storytelling Shaped the Identity and Reputation of an American
Enterprise,” examines through archival research, employee interviews and
public record analysis how the DuPont Co. used storytelling for over
two centuries to communicate the business of science and engage with its
stakeholders in meaningful ways.
By analyzing such venerable corporate story frameworks as “Better
Things for Better Living” – one of the longest running advertising
campaigns in business history – and the more modern “The miracles of
science,” Meier’s research reveals how storytelling can move beyond
stakeholder engagement to shape business approaches to communications
and public relations strategy, particularly in counteracting and
overcoming negative perceptions.
Her adviser, Stephen A. Bernhardt, the Unidel Andrew B. Kirkpatrick
Jr. Chair in Writing emeritus and professor emeritus of English,
nominated Meier for the award.
“Dr. Meier made excellent use of the archives at Hagley Library, a
treasure store for scholars interested in industrial U.S. history,” said
Bernhardt. “She wove together complementary literatures from business
and speech communication, professional writing and narrative theory to
create a compelling account of how a large company manages (or attempts
to manage) its public profile through creating and adapting stories
about its culture, its products and its customers. Her accomplished and
engaging prose style made the dissertation a pleasure to read.”
Connecting corporate resources to campus
Gaining access to company records was essential to Meier’s study, and
she turned to the Hagley Museum and Library to conduct much of her
archival research on the DuPont Co.
In particular, she examined a few hundred issues of the DuPont
Magazine, a publication first produced by the company in 1913 that ran
through the early 2000s.
While the magazine is available digitally, reading the print versions
was crucial to understanding the genre and the publication’s role in
engaging employees and stakeholders in the company’s story, said Meier.
Spending time at Hagley also enabled Meier to speak with other
archivists who were knowledgeable about the company’s history and who
had connections to current and former DuPont employees, one of whom
brought about an unexpected opportunity.
In March, Meier was contacted by a retired DuPont employee with whom
she worked closely on her dissertation and alerted to the availability
of a set of the DuPont Magazine. She worked with UD Library staff to
facilitate a connection with the company, and in the spring the
University acquired bound issues of the DuPont Magazine dating back to
“The corporate magazine is a fascinating genre that is not widely
explored, but it was a critical part of my own research in identifying
why and how firms can strategically deploy corporate messaging to
establish an identity and reputation among audiences,” said Meier. “My
hope is that the availability of this magazine set on campus will be a
helpful resource to others who may be interested in exploring the
Meier is director of communications for the College of Arts and
Sciences. She earned her bachelor’s degree in English in 2004, master of
business administration degree in 2006 and doctorate in English, all at
Photo courtesy of the Association for Business Communication