When Rudy Pett, ’11, first visited the University of Richmond, he chose to observe a class on interpersonal communication, despite knowing nothing about the topic. Today, he’s pursuing a master’s degree in the field.

From the first day of class at Richmond, Pett said he “discovered a field of study that absolutely fascinated me and that I came to love,” propelling him to learn more about the subject.

At the University of Texas-Austin, Pett is working on a master’s in interpersonal communication and hopes to then earn his Ph.D. in interpersonal communication and relationship studies. He eventually plans to become a professor and researcher.

“[Communication studies focuses on] something you and I experience every single day in our lives,” he said. “Communication between human beings. Interpersonal communication fascinates me because it illuminates the essence of our everyday communication and the everyday relationships that are created and maintained through this communication.”

Pett credits much of his academic success in rhetoric and communication studies to Dr. Mari Lee Mifsud, an associate professor of rhetoric and chair of the department, who encouraged and mentored Pett.

“In every class I have had with her and in our meetings outside of class, she has always challenged me and pushed me to learn, study and think in new ways,” Pett said. “Her guidance meant so much to me.”

In a class on ancient Greek rhetoric and theater co-taught by Mifsud and visiting instructor Kelly Congdon, Pett said Mifsud pushed him to think critically and analytically, which dramatically changed the way he thought about and studied texts.

At Richmond, Pett was a Bonner Scholar and double major in rhetoric and communication studies and Latin American and Iberian studies. Bonner Scholars receive scholarships in exchange for volunteering 10 hours per week in the community throughout their four years at Richmond.

Pett said he initially took Spanish classes to complete his language requirement but developed an unexpected love for the language upon taking a class with Dr. Virginia Talley that altered his entire undergraduate experience.

“It was during that class that I came to love and enjoy studying Spanish,” he said. “Dr. Talley … was a source of encouragement and help throughout my four years at UR. I would have never studied abroad, volunteered abroad, earned a LAIS major or received a diploma from the Instituto Cervantes and the Ministry of Education of Spain had I not taken that class.”

Pett studied abroad in Córdoba, Argentina, where he later returned during the summer for two months of volunteer work. There, he served underprivileged children and the homeless as part of the summer service he performed as a Bonner Scholar.

Pett said his academic experiences as an undergraduate — especially his relationships with professors such as Mifsud and Talley — ultimately helped him decide that he wanted to be a professor and researcher.

“I can’t think of a better career or a better life,” he said.