The Virginia Tech Honors College is pleased to welcome Dr. Katie Walkup, who will serve as the Collegiate Assistant Professor in Communication for Sociotechnical Systems in the Calhoun Discovery Program (CDP). Dr. Walkup is affiliated with the Virginia Tech School of Communication and the Department of English. In her career, Dr. Walkup focuses on teaching courses in technical communication, visual design, and digital rhetoric. Her research interests are in technical communication, disability studies, and mental illness stigma.

Dr. Walkup earned her Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Composition from the University of South Florida, where her dissertation focused on mental health policy and the health disparities caused by stigma. Her work on technical communication in health and medical contexts has been published in Technical Communication Quarterly, Communication Design Quarterly, and in the edited collection Citizenship and Advocacy in Technical Communication: Scholarly and Pedagogical Perspectives.

The CDP, which was made possible by alumnus David Calhoun’s $20 million gift to the Honors College, is an innovative learning platform that combines a structured disciplinary education with an open-ended, collaborative, and transdisciplinary discovery process. Students collaborate with one another across disciplines, as well as work alongside our faculty, industry, and non-profit partners.  

 “I really like how interdisciplinary the program is. It’s a really ambitious premise to work with students, industry and non-profit partners, and humanities,” says Dr. Walkup. “[The program] also speaks to some of my strengths as a teacher and as a scholar.” 

Dr. Walkup’s investigative and thorough work as a scholar connects often with her teaching methods. Generally, Dr. Walkup uses a “case study” approach, where her students examine policies and protocols, or the technical documents behind complex issues. 

“Case studies are really good for having students sort through an ethical situation that really has no ‘right’ answer,” Dr. Walkup says. “It’s a good way of understanding how technical documentation impacts real-world situations.”

Another way Dr. Walkup combines her interests while teaching technical communication is through problem-solving. Students in Dr. Walkup’s class will collaboratively work on solving or thinking through common workplace problems and document the process. This method of teaching involves heavy collaborative teamwork, a core value of the Virginia Tech Honors College.

“Many employers say that they would like students to be better at collaborating with each other or working in project-based teams. Students say that they would like more training in that as well,” says Dr. Walkup. 

In her new role, Dr. Walkup will continue to expand on these teaching methods and use her expertise to revise the communication modules in the CDP. One of her goals as the Collegiate Assistant Professor in Communication for Sociotechnical Systems is to develop unique communication pathways for students to pursue such as visual design, communicating data, or professional presentation. In addition, Dr. Walkup plans to expand the role of communication within the CDP, and therefore, grow the program in promising ways.

“I really enjoy the opportunity to work with people from different disciplines... It’s super exciting and one of the affordances of being in a very interdisciplinary program within the Honors College,” Dr. Walkup says. “I’m also excited about the opportunities to work with industry partners to figure out how we can create programs that are going to make students at Virginia Tech into very competitive candidates on the job market.” 

Dr. Walkup’s broad passion for communication stems from her interest in social justice. From her dissertation to teaching courses in technical communication, visual design, and digital rhetoric, Dr. Walkup emphasizes the importance of studying these systems in order to use them to promote both equity and equality in various social structures. 

“I’m always interested in the documentation of it all – whether that is visual design, advertisements, or public relations – and how it’s impacting people and their actions,” she explains. “I’m very interested in social justice. Who’s being harmed by bad technical communication – or how can technical communicators be advocates for people to protect precarious groups?”

Currently, Dr. Walkup is studying how early warning systems in public schools link academic achievement to mental health (MH) to threat assessment. Her prior projects include: methods for funding MH interventions, corpus analyses of depression writing, examination of usability claims in electronic health records, and theorizing addiction treatment as an ecological process. Dr. Walkup’s dissertation, defended in March 2021, traces how MH stigma may be deployed through policy documents in order to identify, survey, and stigmatize individuals with MH concerns.  
Learn more about Dr. Katie Walkup and her impactful work on her website.


Written by Michelle Fleury