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Want to see what the new dean of Moody College is all about?

Want to see what the new dean of Moody College is all about?

Want to see what the new dean of Moody College is all about?

Five things we found in Dean Mersey’s office that tell the real story

Moody College of Communication Dean Rachel Davis Mersey is an academic at heart. She grew up in a family that prized education — so much so that she went to two kindergartens, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. She has a vibrant personality and an active Instagram account, but the self-identified introvert admits that, on hard days, she likes to retreat alone with a something to read or watch. Growing up, Rachel had dreams of working at a lifestyle magazine, back when she used to pick up issues of Vogue and Martha Stewart Living at the airport and tear out pages of her favorite clothes and recipes. After journalism school, she took a job at The Arizona Republic, where she was a features reporter, making her way to broadcast TV before leaving to pursue her doctorate.

Rachel has always been interested in why audiences connect to certain stories, why they read what they read and watch what they watch, and particularly, how they psychologically attach to spaces — their hometowns and communities. She said perhaps this interest came from growing up in a Navy family. Home changed a lot, and she was curious what it meant to be tethered somewhere. Rachel researched this topic while working at Northwestern University and even wrote a book about it.

In 2020, she came to The University of Texas at Austin because of a desire to be at a public university, to work in service of the state, and to be exposed to the expanse of communication disciplines within Moody College. Rachel said she never expected at the time that she’d end up as dean. When she moved into her current office as the interim last year, however, she began setting up shop. Not because she thought she’d get the permanent gig, she said, but because she likes things to feel like home. That sense of place is reflected in her now-permanent office — filled with orange and white candies, a bright orange computer, notes she’s received and a wall of books. It also features a few very special tokens she shared with us.

Her dean “go bag”

Rachel married her college sweetheart, a D1 athlete, and has always had a respect for student-athletes who balance their education and their sport. Now she enjoys cheering on Moody’s student-athletes across UT teams. Since she never knows when a meeting might run long, forcing her to swing out of her chair and run to a game, she keeps a clear “go bag” by her desk with a towel from the Sugar Bowl in case she has to wipe off a wet seat. She doesn’t want to get caught in a situation where she shows up to the stadium with a regular purse. “I learned quickly, you always have to have a clear bag,” she said.

A sneaker made entirely of Legos

Rachel likes to wear sneakers. If you know anything about her, you know this. But it wasn’t always that way. She searched for years for nice, comfortable shoes, and thankfully, she said, the culture changed so it’s now OK to wear sneakers with just about anything.

Her love began in a YouTube wormhole, watching makeup tutorials to fall sleep at night. Somehow her algorithm started showing videos of people painting sneakers, and she became fascinated. “There was a real skill to it, how you treat the leather to get it ready for the paint, how you do the airbrushing,” she said.

Rachel ended up going to the London Sneaker School online to learn to make sneakers herself. One day, she said, she’d like to go to LSS in person. For now, she just has a closet full of sneakers (mostly Nikes, but she doesn’t discriminate). Many of them are gifts from her husband, family and friends. High-top denim Nikes with a Velcro strap that were a gift from her in-laws when she was named permanent dean. Red and pink Nikes for Valentine’s Day. A special pair of vintage Jordans that a friend bought her for the Sugar Bowl. “A lot of my old uncomfortable shoes have gone to Goodwill,” she said. “I filled that space up with sneakers, and it makes me happy.”

So why the Legos? That’s another story altogether. Rachel started putting together Legos during the pandemic — much the same way many people started doing puzzles. She said she likes the order to it. Maybe it’s a military thing. “When I started getting into it, I realized all the things I could build,” she said. “Why not build a sneaker?”

Today, a Lego Adidas sneaker sits on her bookshelf. She said she doesn’t have the time for Lego building much anymore. Quarantine is over and, well, she’s dean now, and it’s a big job. But she’s always thinking of a new Lego idea. Right now, it’s flowers. Maybe Bevo next?

Her book, “Can Journalism Be Saved?: Rediscovering America's Appetite for News”

Rachel never expected she’d write a book. It came about rather sporadically. She was early in her career, teaching at Northwestern University, and met the chair of the tenure and promotion committee one day for lunch. “She told me, ‘Write a book,’ and I had no idea how to do that,” Rachel said. “I talked to everyone I knew who had written one, and I figured it out.”

Can Journalism Be Saved?: Rediscovering America's Appetite for News” was published in 2010 and examines the critical declines in newspaper circulation and the shifts in mindset journalists need to save the industry. She proudly keeps copies on her bookshelf. 

Rachel did get tenure after she wrote it. She credits that chair of tenure and promotion, who became a mentor to her. “I am really grateful she was honest with me,” she said. “I appreciated that.”

A picture of baby Bevo

This is a new one for Rachel — a custom painting of the smallest baby Bevo, complete with a bowtie and tiny horns. She’s still deciding where to put it on the wall. It’s a gift from one of her advisers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she earned her doctorate. “She sent it to me in the mail with a note that said she was proud, which means a lot, to have your adviser be a part of this story of becoming a dean of an institution,” she said. “I think of her when I see it. I think of Chapel Hill when I see it. And I certainly think of the beauty of Moody when I see it. She could have just sent me an email, and that would have meant a lot, too. But I was super touched to receive it, and it just is so darn cute.”

Baskets of Mr. Potato Head figures and their parts

Because no one should take their job too seriously.

“It’s intended to say to visitors, ‘Not everything that happens here has to be so consequential,’” Rachel said. “You might grab a pair of shoes or some eyelashes and put them together, and it makes you giggle. I've just always thought it was good to have something that reminds people that what we do here is a lot of fun.”

Mary Huber
Communications Coordinator
Lizzie Chen
Assistant Director of Digital Media