An integral part of understanding communication comes through learning from the experiences of real-world professionals. Union College communication professors work hard to provide opportunities for students to connect with the community. Dr. Seth Pierce, a communication professor at Union, often provides these opportunities by inviting local businesses and professionals to share their knowledge and experience with his communication classes. Recently, he invited Chef Derick Gaspard Jr., owner of JuJu’s, to his Intercultural Communication class to share his story and experiences as a Black small business owner in Lincoln.
For Gaspard, JuJu’s has been the fulfillment of a lifelong dream of owning a restaurant. After moving to Lincoln from New Orleans, his family often joked about bringing a taste of their former home to Nebraska. This gave Gaspard the idea of a New Orleans-inspired vegan restaurant. He started experimenting with some of his favorite childhood recipes and began to share them with others. Following a small catering job for a local business, word about his delicious vegan dishes began to spread. Soon after, JuJu’s Vegan Cajun and Creole Cuisine was born.
During his visit, Gaspard discussed with the students some of the challenges that he has faced as a Black small business owner and how meaningful it has been to have the support of the community. He also shared the importance of mentorship and the value of a positive attitude. “You never know who you may impact,” said Gaspard, “So I just try to always make sure I have a good attitude . . . that first impression really does mean a lot.”
As JuJu’s has continued to grow, Gaspard has been able to use his success to give back to the community he loves by partnering with local charities and nonprofits. “Every time I get a bit of success, I feel the need to pour it back into the community. The continued success drives me to give more,” said Gaspard.
Through guests like Gaspard, communication students are given the opportunity to learn firsthand from the experiences of others and connect with the world around them. “Having professionals actively engaged in communication careers, or businesses that effectively employ communication tools, help make the classroom content concrete,” explained Pierce. “They provide networking and mentoring connections, as well as strengthens the rapport of Union College in the community. Plus, it gives us a chance to highlight and promote those who are making our Lincoln community a great place to live.”
“I liked hearing about Chef Derick’s reliance on his mentors. His success and growth as a businessman is because of the people in his life who supported him and answered his questions. He found out things from them that he wasn’t taught in school. I think this is important to remember when transitioning from college to the workforce,” reflected Hannah Drewick, a communication and business administration major. “I learned that people really remember who you are and that the smallest things—things you might not even remember—can make a huge difference.”
“Particularly in courses like intercultural communication, the need to hear from different communities, in their own words, enriches student understanding. It enables organic conversation to emerge in class through question-and-answer sessions which produce stories and insights that can’t be found in textbooks,” concluded Pierce. “I am excited to have many other guests join us in class this semester and hope to be able to share their stories too!”
by Hannah Olin, a sophomore history education major from Illinois