By Mia Kologranic
Serving in the Air Force, developing a communications department and being an educator and mentor to multiple students is a heavy task list, but a certain woman crossed all those items off her list and more.
Elizabeth Desnoyers-Colas, Ph.D grew up in a military family. She was constantly surrounded by members of the military and accustomed to moving around. Everyone in her family served at some point in time. Eventually, she had her time serving as well. But prior to her Air Force days, Desnoyers-Colas wanted to be a journalist.
She went to Central Washington University to pursue an undergraduate degree in Mass Media/Journalism. During this pursuit, she started to realize that journalists didn’t make that much money.
She also had a friend who started to leave ROTC program brochures for her to look at. A few brochures later and the realization that journalists didn’t make too much money convinced her to stop by one an ROTC meeting and see what the program was all about.
“I decided I’m just going to go,” Desnoyers-Colas explained. “They are going to think I’m crazy, but I’m just going to go.”
At the time she attended this meeting, the program had no women involved. After that meeting, she went on to serve as a public affairs officer in the Air Force for 15 years. In her position, she ran a newspaper, wrote speeches for her commander, set up press conferences and everything else PR related. She also served in Operation Desert Storm in 1991.
Desnoyers-Colas was also a master of ceremonies for events held on her base. One event that she helped with was centered around African American Heritage month. Amongst the audience for the event was a provost for the community college on the base. He asked her if she was interested in teaching a speech class. She had never taught any type of classes before, but she said yes.
After her first time ever teaching that speech class, she went on to teach on base for the next 4-5 years. She retired from the Air Force after almost 16 years because while she had great opportunities in the military, teaching was something she wanted to do more.
“Then they really hooked me,” Desnoyers-Colas said. “They told me if I wanted to become a full-time professor that I’d have to go back to school.”
So she did.
Desnoyers-Colas went and got her doctorate from Regent University. She then began as a visiting professor in Washington and exploring with different communications classes.
Eventually, a job opening for Armstrong State University (now Georgia Southern University) was listed. It was a position for someone to come and develop a communications program and to develop courses for the school’s master’s program.
“That was nirvana as far as I was concerned,” Desnoyers-Colas said.
She said she thought of this as the job of a lifetime. So, in 2005 she packed up her bags and moved down to Savannah, Georgia.
From 2005 to the present day, Desnoyers-Colas has been a strong addition to the GS community. Prior to her arrival, the Armstrong campus had a few speech classes and no set communications department. Thanks to the university merger and Desnoyers-Colas, the Armstrong Campus was able to provide more communications courses for the students and offer a communications minor which started in 2017.
Desnoyers-Colas said this was one of her main goals when accepting this job because communication is something she’s always loved and wanted to show people how important it is.
On top of developing a communications department, Desnoyers-Colas is also a faculty coordinator for Men of Vision and Excellence (MOVE), which is a program dedicated to working with and helping African American Males in their first-year experiences and achieving academic success.
Her involvement in this program was motivated by learning that Armstrong had a very low graduation rate amongst African American men.
“I volunteered because I want to see this program excel,” Desnoyers-Colas stated. “Because only 10 to 15% of African American men graduate from Armstrong. I just thought that was horrible.”
This program is a state-wide program and all schools had it to some degree, but the program at Armstrong became the standard for all the ones in the state. Armstrong’s MOVE program became the standard because of Desnoyers-Colas and her position as a faculty coordinator.
Her position made a difference because she developed relationships with students. She took the time to find out what classes these students were taking, who their professors were, and helped these students find academic success in their college journey.
Over her time with MOVE, the low graduation rates climbed higher. She became a person people on the Armstrong campus could trust, a person who was noticed because of all her efforts.
Watching students come in as freshman and crossing the stage with confidence at graduation was a wonderful feeling for her. Another wonderful feeling for her was seeing her love and excitement for communication transfer onto the students she works with.
“As a woman of color, I think that students of color need to see someone that looks like them, sounds like them, has the same issues that they do,” Desnoyers-Colas said. “I think they see me as a successful person in our field and that’s a good thing for them.”