First-year communications professor Lori Merolla had a long career in the private sector as Vice President of Communications at Fidelity Investments before she transitioned into teaching at the University of Rhode Island.
Merolla received her Bachelor’s Degree in Speech Communications from URI in 1983 and a Master’s Degree in Communications from the University of Utah later on. She was an adjunct professor at URI many years ago, served on the Board of the Harrington School of Communications and Media as well as the Board of the College of Arts and Sciences, but has just this year entered into a full-time teaching position.
“I really love working with students,” Merolla said. “I love their energy, their interest in learning and URI students are just really inquisitive and they just enjoy learning and it’s fun to be part of that process.”
Prior to her full-time position as a lecturer for the Harrington School, Merolla served as Vice President of Communications at Fidelity Investments.
Fidelity markets themselves as offering “Financial Planning and Advice, Retirement Plans, Wealth Management Services, Trading and Brokerage services and a wide range of investment products including Mutual Funds, ETFs, Fixed income Bonds and CDs and much more.”
Merolla described the company as a huge financial services company with 44,000 employees. As vice president of communications, Merolla worked in both the internal communications and executive communications departments.
On the executive team, Merolla “supported some of the very senior-level people within the organization, both presidents and C-Suite Executives with talking points, developing a strategic communications plan, presentations, so really, honestly, being a coach as well.”
On the internal team, Merolla “had a team of associates that helped to develop and execute the communication strategy for Fidelity.”
After 19 years as a Fidelity employee, the company offered Merolla an early buyout option to leave. Speaking of her exit from the company, Merolla said “I took advantage of that and for me it was a time to hit the pause button on life and think, ‘Okay, I had this wonderful career at Fidelity and I loved every minute of it, but what else can I do with my life?’ and it was an opportunity for me to get into teaching.”
Currently, Merolla teaches Interpersonal Communication, Event Management and Strategic Media Relations. In her classes, Merolla strives to marry her experience in the real world with academia.
“I try to provide context and examples and situations that I have been through in the private sector,” she said. “Sometimes the way things are laid out in a textbook is not always the way it happens in a real-life situation. So I try to give students the context and real-life situations and say ‘okay, what would you do in this situation?’”
Merolla also tries to emphasize the importance of writing in her classes, “I think that it’s key that students really develop their writing skills. It’s a great need in the workplace; employers are looking for students that are coming out of college that can write well and speak well.”
She also stresses the importance of real-world experience.
“I encourage students to take part in experiential learning, internships because that’s the best way to really learn if you like an area, a field, a certain kind of company,” Merolla said.
“Do you like being at a big company? A small company? Get out there and intern and experience it.”
Adamant that technology will continue to mature and impact communication, Merolla noted that students will face more challenges in the future.
“It’s not just one channel anymore; it’s multiple channels,” she said. “So you have to figure out what’s the best channel for message. Who’s my target audience? What am I trying to receive? And those are the basics, right? Those are the basics you’re learning in school, they don’t change, but I think the technology channels are what will make it very interesting.”