Shawn Long Remembered For A Joyous Life Of Leadership, Service, Friendship

Shawn Long, a beloved colleague who served UNC Charlotte and the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences (CLAS) for almost two decades as a faculty member and administrator, passed away on Jan. 14, 2021 following a serious illness. Long joined Kennesaw State University in Georgia as Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences in July 2019.

“Shawn impressed everyone he met,” said CLAS Dean Nancy A. Gutierrez. “It goes without saying that he was smart, creative, innovative, and forward-looking. But also, in this human dynamo was a completely joyous person – he loved his work, he was absolutely committed to students and absolutely committed to doing good in the world. And he loved to have fun. He had a great smile and an utterly wicked sense of humor. We have lost a colleague with a big heart, and higher education has lost one of its most visionary leaders.”

Celebration of Life Service Scheduled

A Celebration of Life Service will be held at 1 p.m. EST on Saturday, January 30 at Clark Legacy Center, 601 East Brannon Road, Nicholasville, Kentucky. The service will be live-streamed on the Clark Legacy Center’s Facebook page. It also will be accessible on the Clark Legacy Center’s website by scrolling midway down the landing page to find the Facebook section. Long’s obituary also can be found on the center’s website.

The UNC Charlotte College of Liberal Arts & Sciences will arrange a UNC Charlotte memorial event later, and will announce at that time its plans for honoring Long’s legacy. A group of colleagues and friends is working on this tribute.

Colleagues, Friends Remember Long

Colleagues and friends describe Long as a focused, inspirational leader, teacher, and mentor who made sure people were heard, accepted, and appreciated.

“It is not just what he has done that makes him so incredible, but how he has done it,” colleague Steven Rogelberg said about Long when he joined Kennesaw State University. “He inspires, he does heavy lifting, he engages, he drives, he supports, he leads from the front, and he leads from the back helping to lift others. He is the great combination of achieving excellence, but never by stepping on those around him.  Just the opposite, he helps everyone around him be their best self through his example and support.”

Long came to UNC Charlotte in 2000 as a faculty member in communication studies and the organizational science doctoral program. As one of the first faculty hired in the newly formed Department of Communication Studies, Long was instrumental in shaping both the undergraduate and the graduate programs. He took on the role of graduate program director and, later, chair of the department. He was also affiliate faculty with the Department of Africana Studies and the Center for Professional and Applied Ethics.

Shawn Long (from left) joins the three other people who have served as chair of the Department of Communication Studies: Bill Hill, who hired Long as a faculty member soon after the department formed; current chair and colleague Jason Black; and Rich Leeman, former Communication Studies chair and current Senior Associate Dean.

Long was a steward of the communication community at UNC Charlotte and well beyond, and he never turned down someone asking for scholarly direction or professional advice, said Jason Black, current chair of the Department of Communication Studies.

“He was a loving, compassionate, and selfless mentor who gave so much of himself to students and colleagues; not just his time, but also his emotional labor,” Black said. “Shawn had the biggest heart of anyone folks had ever met. That’s what Shawn was to us: heart. He was a leader for change at UNC Charlotte and in the communication field; he led with heart. He was a brilliant scholar; he wrote and taught with heart. He was a treasured friend; he loved with heart. Shawn’s heart will live on forever in his students and colleagues as a cherished beacon of what is truly good in the world.”

Shawn Long (left) participates in Africana Studies Associate Professor Debra Smith’s class, as part of a systemic focus of CLAS and UNC Charlotte to integrate more project-based and experiential learning into teaching, student research and community engagement – an effort that Long championed.

Long’s commitment to others was legendary. He was developer and the inaugural coordinator of the Organizational Science Summer Institute, which focuses on expanding diversity among students in the field. He served on the University Faculty Council and was founding adviser to Lambda Pi Eta-Nu Lambda Chapter, the Communication Studies Honors Society. He advised undergraduate and graduate students and served on faculty and administrator selection committees, helping to strengthen university leadership and faculty. One of his greatest joys was mentoring, teaching, and gently nudging students along their paths.

In CLAS administrative roles, Long served as Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, and subsequently as Senior Associate Dean. While in the Dean’s office, he created the LEADS program and took leadership over the College’s diversity and inclusion initiatives. He developed a multicultural predoctoral fellows program, streamlined budget processes, and enhanced the College’s messaging, among many accomplishments.

In 2014-2015, Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Joan Lorden chose Long as a Provost Faculty Fellow.

“In addition to being a warm and caring person, Shawn was amazingly creative,” Lorden said. “He brought his knowledge of communication and faculty life to the program and developed a guide for new students and an onboarding program for part-time faculty. He approached everything collaboratively and with great enthusiasm. I am certain that he was an exceptional dean.”

During his tenure at Kennesaw State University, Long continued to demonstrate leadership and commitment. In a signal of his impact, long-standing supporters late in 2020 made one of the largest contributions in the University’s history toward scholarships and other student services in the renamed Norman J. Radow College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Long’s research interests included organizational communication, virtual work, virtual teams, diversity communication, health communication and qualitative research methods. An innovative researcher and accomplished author, Long published three books and numerous peer-reviewed articles, served on editorial boards of journals, and received more than $1.3 million in research funding.

Shawn Long was described by one colleague as “easy-breezy” — and “also so incredibly conscientious.” This comment epitomizes Long, who was a serious scholar and leader, and also a warm, charming, generous friend and inspiration to many.

Within his research disciplines, Long offered service, particularly at the national level. He was the current president of the Southern States Communication Association. He had received a number of awards, including an Outstanding Service Award from the African American Communication and Culture Division and the Black Caucus of the National Communication Association, for extraordinary service impacting the livelihood of African Americans in academia and in the national and international Black community.

Long earned a doctorate in communication from the University of Kentucky and a Master of Public Administration and a bachelor’s degree from Tennessee State. He was a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity. 

Shawn Long and others at awards event
Maria Jones (left, with trophy), Torch Bearer, and Shawn Long (right, with trophy), Torch of Excellence recipient. Also shown between Jones and Long is  Eli Capilouto, President of the University of Kentucky. Image courtesy of the University of Kentucky Alumni Association.

In 2018, he received the Lyman T. Johnson Torch of Excellence Award from the University of Kentucky Lyman T. Johnson African American alumni group, honoring his impact on other people’s lives. “Service to others is an important component of my professional and personal life,” Long said then.

Words and UNC Charlotte images: Lynn Roberson, CLAS Communications Director | Top Image: Jason Getz, Kennesaw State University