Pam Lutgen-Sandvik, Associate Professor

NDSU, Department of Communication


I joined the faculty at NDSU in 2013. I was born in Anchorage, Alaska; earned my BSW (bachelor of social work) at the University of Alaska Anchorage; and lived in south central Alaska until moving to Arizona in 2001 for doctoral school. After earning my PhD, I researched and taught at the University of New Mexico for 8 years. I moved to Fargo-Moorhead in the summer of 2013. Prior to graduate school, I worked in social services where I served as a nonprofit executive director in two organizations in Palmer and Wasilla, Alaska. The first was a multi-service women’s and families’ organization that administered a number of programs (WIC, child care assistance, domestic violence shelter, etc.). The second was administering an adult and adolescent outpatient substance abuse treatment center.


Research Areas: I currently study destructive and constructive communicative processes at work. In terms of destructive communication, I have been researching workplace bullying and employee emotional abuse for over a decade now, and my current interests include how bullying bleeds into family communication, how social support works when a partner is bullied at work, and bystander groups where bullying is present in workgroups. My past work focused on the impact of abuse at work on targets and the ways in which employees resist bullying, effect of bullying on image and identity, and how people make sense of the experience. My approach is social scientific and interpretive/critical, predominantly focusing on employee-advocacy rather than organizational productivity, although these certainly are not mutually exclusive.


A new area of my research focuses on constructive communication processes at work. I have examined the best job experiences of nearly 1,000 working Americans and identified the peak experiences at work. I am also interested in positive managerial communication and how positive experiences with managers develops life-long friendships, contributes to incredible strides in career development, and elicits positive upward spirals in organizations. I believe that looking at what is going well in organizations, even what is excellent, can help us solve some of the troubling issues and problems we face at work such as workplace bullying. I fundamentally believe that our best efforts to make workplaces more humane will be through exploring, underscoring and building upon worker, workgroup, and organizational strengths rather than focusing all our energy on problems or weaknesses.


I support the ideas around collaborative action inquiry and participative action research in which academics work with organizational and community stakeholders to “grow” workplace systems and communication. These sorts of evidence-based partnerships can ease workplace tensions, improve interpersonal interactions, enhance individual and organizational performance, and improve lateral and horizontal communication challenges. As such, I am interested in appreciative inquiry, positive organizational scholarship, and further exploring positive interactions in organizations based on a strengths perspective of improving human systems.


For a full list of publications and works in progress see CV link on homepage


Methods: My perspective is one of pragmatism—I use the method that answers the question. Thus, I use both qualitative and quantitative methods to collect data. I am particularly interested in focus group research, in-depth interviewing, and ethnographic/participant observation approaches. The latter is particularly enlightening for the exploration of employee resistance to abuse, since this type of bottom-up change generally occurs over an extended period of time. On the other hand, I am invested in measuring the prevalence of bullying in the U.S. workplace and exploring the impact of bullying on family dynamics, human health, and social functioning.  There are questions that can only be answered using quantitative approaches such as surveys and content analysis. In other words, I adapt methods of data collection to suit the topic, research questions, and project at hand.  


Teaching Style: My beliefs about teaching, and what makes someone a good teacher, are grounded in my beliefs about how all human beings should treat one another. Teaching necessarily engages the emotions of actors. It means challenging learners to answer questions like: What is the contribution you will make to the world? What difference will you make in the lives of those you touch? How can I, as a teacher, assist in your learning journey? My teaching style is, in many ways, rooted in my beliefs and training as a social worker. Students are most successful when they can focus on and build upon their strengths rather than "work on" their weaknesses. I believe their greatest room for growth is in the area of their greatest strengths. I focus first on what I want students to achieve in class and second on how that can be done with the talents available to students. Last, and equally as important as the rest, I love to laugh and want to have fun during the process.


Favorite Classes: I love teaching courses that allow for a high level of peer interaction, experiential learning activities, and team-based projects. Although lecture is a necessary element of education, it can easily be overused and is the preferred learning style of only a small segment of students. As a result, my favorite classes are group communication, professional communication, and organizational communication. I am also particularly interested in emotional issues at work and enjoy teaching about emotions in organizations, participation action research, and both the destructive and constructive sides of organizational communication.


Why NDSU?  The Department of Communication at NDSU has exceptional scholars and an outstanding reputation in the communication field. I am honored to be part of this group of academics and students and being a member of the Fargo-Moorhead community. There are three central reasons I moved to NDSU: (1) the university is committed to providing high-quality education to both undergraduates and graduate students; (2) the Department of Communication has an outstanding reputation for attending to the quality of life of faculty, staff, and students; and (3) the department faculty and focus on interpersonal and organizational communication provide a rich environment for my own research.


Spare Time: I am a movie addict (although I am now drifting into TV series on Netflix)! I watch movies and series for relaxation, escape, recreation, and for the pure enjoyment of seeing my favorite actors. I love to make jewelry, garden and see things grow, do hand crafts, sew, decorate and remodel, and occasionally cook something (when I'm in the mood). I am also a total bookworm and can spend an entire day curled up with a great story, preferably about vampires, shifters, and other paranormal folks.