Published: April 17, 2024

By Joe Arney
Photos by Kimberly Coffin (CritMedia, StratComm’18)

As an undergraduate student, Emily King Kinsey most enjoyed professors who brought work experience to the classroom.

That’s not the only reason she sought professional experience before enrolling in the doctoral program at the University of Colorado Boulder’s College of Media, Communication and Information. But when it comes to the impact her work is having, especially as a researcher, that professional experience is every bit as valuable as she expected it would be.

“I like being able to share those connections I’ve developed—to be able to show some of my own work and talk about my own experiences, and to help students as they prepare for their own professional journeys,” she said.

“I got to see this whole other decision-making component that has to do with how you set policies, how you get people on board with them, how you get the public to understand why these advancements and policies are important.”
Emily King Kinsey

Her own scholarly journey is rooted in the intersection between political science and public relations. After completing her master’s in communication at the University of Tennessee, King Kinsey worked at a prominent materials science research group, where she got to see up close the technical advancements needed to create things like lightweight cars or recyclable wind turbines that could help stabilize climate change.

But those developments weren’t the whole story.

“I got to see this whole other decision-making component that has to do with how you set policies, how you get people on board with them, how you get the public to understand why these advancements and policies are important,” she said.

Creating meaningful impact

As growing public pressure mounts on businesses to take a more active role for their responsibility for the changing climate, King Kinsey is interested in understanding how corporations and governments can effectively set policies to create meaningful impact. Finding that intersection of environmental matters, corporate governance and public diplomacy will help her create the impact she seeks, according to her advisor.

Headshot of Jolene Fisher.“Emily has a sense of certainty about herself, what she’s interested in and why it’s important,” said Jolene Fisher, associate chair for undergraduate studies and associate professor in CMCI’s advertising, public relations and media design department. “She has a lot of passion about her work, and while we don’t always agree, she’s able to stand up for her ideas and why she wants to try a particular direction.

“In a grad program, you shouldn’t just be a replica of your advisor. You should be your own person, your own scholar, and she is able to do that because she has that dedication and sense of direction.”

King Kinsey made her program her own by taking political sciences classes outside of CMCI, which helped her bring an international flair to her public relations focus in a way that PhD programs elsewhere didn’t readily offer.

That focus has helped her build on her experience in materials science and innovation to do research with global impact. Her dissertation incorporates renewable energy and climate change as it’s playing out in larger competition between the United States and China.

‘Saying things just to say them’

Both states, she said, are investing in renewable energy development worldwide; in Indonesia, both have poured billions of dollars—China significantly more—into these projects. King Kinsey looks at the consistency of messaging being shared around such investments to better understand the role communication plays in influencing public diplomacy around climate change.

Emily King Kinsey standing on the trail at Chautauqua Park, with the Flatirons in the background.“A lot of the communication around climate change is hand waving and saying things just to say them,” she said. “So, it’s worth looking at the messages being shared around these projects—are you making an impact, are your messages being received, is this how we should be spending public diplomacy money?”

Fisher said mentoring students is her favorite part of being a CMCI professor, and she said King Kinsey’s experiences beyond work—including pursuing a PhD during COVID-19 lockdowns and having a daughter part way through her degree—will make her “a fantastic role model for her students.”

“One thing I admire about Emily is she is figuring out how to find balance—she’s a great parent, she’s doing this intensive research work and she’s navigating a job search,” Fisher said. “That’s so hard for PhD students, especially women, and her experience navigating these things and staying true to herself will make her a great mentor one day. I’m excited to see where she goes and what she does—and I’m excited to keep learning from her.”  

Becoming a parent while pursuing a PhD is a daunting proposition. Spend a few minutes in her company, though, and it’s clear that when King Kinsey sets her heart on something, she’s going to achieve it.

In her case, it will be getting to hug her daughter after she is hooded at commencement in May.

“My advisor and the faculty at CMCI were really supportive of me and advocated for me throughout my journey,” she said. “I’m very motivated to get things done, and they matched that, were supportive and helped me get things done.”