Faculty Profile: Sandra Metts

Dr. Sandra Metts
Dr. Sandra Metts

The moment in a close relationship when one partner acts in such a way that threatens the other’s identity and experiences of being valued, called positive face, is a moment of particular interest for Dr.Sandra Metts, Professor of Communication. “Although it may not be as immediately apparent, the conversation of a couple on a first date, the attempt to gain forgiveness from someone we have hurt, the challenge of dealing with an embarrassing moment, and even the dynamics of a classroom discussion are all manifestations of the human need to know and be known—to create share meaning.”

Metts has dedicated her academic career to the study of interpersonal and social communication. Her research areas include deception in close relationships, politeness, sexual communication, relationship engagement, and facework—face is a social identity that people construct during social interactions. A prolific scholar, Metts has published numerous articles, edited several top journals in her field, and co-authored two books, Self-Disclosure and Facework. She also served as vice-president and then president of the Central States Communication Association from 1997-99 and she received the College of Arts and Sciences Lecturer Award in 1997-98. Her research and scholarship in interpersonal communication offers Metts “the opportunity to move beyond describing how meaning is created. I can actually offer an explanation of how communication functions in relationships and suggest ways that it can be improved.” 

Since joining the faculty at ISU in 1983, Metts has worked closely with two of her fellow ISU scholars: Dr. William Cupach, Professor of Communication, and Dr. Susan Sprecher, Professor of Sociology. Metts affirms that working collaboratively with Cupach and Sprecher has “helped shaped and enrich my thinking.” Her current research focuses on recent developments in her field that recognize the critical role of emotion in the processes of communication. Metts states, “More recently, we have begun to recognize that cognition is intimately linked to affect and both are important in message construction and effects. For me personally, this has allowed me to pursue a current interest in emotion experience and expression. It is a daunting task to map the landscape of emotion but I find it a fascinating area and at the heart (pardon the pun) of personal relationships.”

Her dedication to scholarly research in her field only supports and enhances her commitment to excellence in teaching. Each year Metts instructs undergraduate and graduate students in courses such as public speaking, research methods, interpersonal communication, psychology of language, and communication theory. She has garnered numerous teaching awards throughout her career including ISU’s Outstanding Teacher Award in 2002-03, the College’s Outstanding Teacher Award in 1989, the International Society for the Study of Personal Relationships Outstanding Teacher Award in 2000, and the Central States Communication Association Outstanding New Teacher Award in 1985. Metts’s teaching is motivated by her belief in the importance of understanding the world through “the symbol system we call language and our social and personal relationships.” In her classroom, Metts offers active-learning opportunities to students by making assignments that encourage them to “consider all points of view on an issue or to apply some concept to their own experience.” She states that it is important to her that students understand why they are doing activities in class and how they relate to the course objectives. “I never want students to leave my class wondering why we did an activity or why they were given a certain assignment. I want them to know what is expected of them and how each activity or assignment is relevant to course content.”

Metts views her career as rewarding because she is able “to contribute to our growing knowledge of what makes relationships succeed or fail. Since we all have friendships, romances, and family ties, the relevance of my work is broad and, I hope, useful.” In addition Metts states all her responsibilities as a teacher are of importance, even the tasks that she may grumble through such a grading exams or putting together effective course packets. She finds her work as a teacher very rewarding. “I guess the most meaningful to me is providing students with the opportunity to have better lives, personally and professionally, to be in control of their communication rather than a victim of it, and to be able to appreciate and facilitate the communication efforts of other people.”

Dr. Metts and Lady Bug
Lady Bug and Dr. Metts

During the past three years, Metts often has a companion accompany her to campus: Miss Lady Bug Metts. Lady, as she is often called, is a mixed breed dog, mostly black and tan coonhound with a German Shepard’s tail, who Metts rescued from the McLean County Animal Shelter. Lady often escorts Metts to her seminars and exam sessions. Also, Lady has supported some of Metts’s graduate students by attending their thesis defenses. “I keep trying to find a suitable major for her but she is a slow reader and easily distracted. She gets the scent of a rabbit or squirrel and she’s gone.”

Metts brings a broad and diverse educational background to her roles as colleague, researcher, and teacher at Illinois State University. She has two Bachelor of Arts degrees (English Education and Sociology) from Western Washington University. Her interest in language and creative symbolic expression led her to complete two of her three Master of Arts degrees: American Literature from the University of Washington and Art History from Bowling Green University. While teaching high school in Iowa, Metts was assigned to teach a public speaking course. She found the section on interpersonal communication so fascinating that the experience led her to earn her third M.A. degree in Performance Studies at the University of Northern Iowa and then her Ph.D. in Communication Research from the University of Iowa. While she may have missed the “gentle beauty of a poetry class” while she struggled through four statistics classes during her doctoral studies, Metts states that she “realized that the fundamental similarity that attracted me to all of these areas [of study] was my fascination with human expression.”

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