Being named Mr. Homecoming at Southwestern University is a token of affection and respect for a faculty member from his former students. Southwestern University is a special place where students and faculty forge strong personal connections that often continue for years.

This year’s Mr. Homecoming Bob Bednar, associate professor of communication studies, is a much beloved figure on campus known for his quiet, thoughtful, and intentional approach. His colleagues know him for playing a major role in building communication studies into the robust program it is today at the University.

Bednar is an accomplished educator and a graduate of Southwestern himself. He’s widely published and particularly known for his writings on roadside memorials.

He earned his Bachelor of Science in American studies from Southwestern University in 1989 and his master’s and doctorate in American studies from The University of Texas at Austin. He previously taught at The University of Texas at Austin and Texas Lutheran University before joining the Southwestern faculty in 1995. He was chair of the communication studies department here are Southwestern from 2005–2010 and 2011–2013 and chair of the American studies program from 2000–2011.

What students remember fondly about Bednar is his devotion to their needs, how he spent time with them when they needed counseling or direction. They remember how he pushed them to be the best students, writers, scholars, researchers and speakers they could be. Above all, they know him for his authenticity.

Student Emily Shortt appreciates how Bednar encouraged her as a learner and a thinker. “I didn’t contribute much in the first couple of classes I took with Bednar, but he did not dismiss me as a lazy or unprepared student, and saw through my written work that I was engaging the concepts and that I seemed to enjoy what I was learning. When I eventually found my voice, Bednar made me realize that I hold back in class not because I’m just shy, but because I’m someone whose brain is always thinking, processing, questioning, analyzing, wondering, and that is really worth something.”

Colleagues David Gaines, associate professor of English, and Laura Senio Blair, professor of Spanish, note that Dr. Bednar is something of a Renaissance man. He is a lover of West Texas, particularly Big Bend National park, and his exploration of roadside memorial shrines has turned him into an expert on the topic. He researches, photographs and writes about crash shrines throughout the Southwestern United States and their meaning for both families and the public. Bednar is also fascinated by and has written extensively on tourist photography practices in National Parks. Bednar has also become the “go-to guy” for students working on creative endeavors like the Megaphone and documentary films.

Blair notes that Bednar’s interest in an interdisciplinary approach to education comes through in his collaborative nature. She worked with Bednar through a Situating Place Paideia cluster, and notes, “He has demonstrated a great willingness to work across disciplines and explore how we can become more innovative teachers and offer out students a new model.”

“Some students are initially misled by Bednar’s laid-back demeanor,” says Davi Thornton, associate professor of communication studies. “His reputation as a one of the most challenging professors at Southwestern can take these students by surprise.” Thornton notes that, while a few students balk at the intensive work requirements in Bednar’s courses, they come to appreciate his genuine interest in them and in fostering their own curiosity and ability to think for themselves.

It is for these qualities, and his love of Southwestern University’s mission, that the Southwestern University Alumni Association is pleased to present Associate Professor of Communications Studies Bob Bednar with the 2016 “Mr. Homecoming” Award.