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Ruhnke Named Chief Communication Officer at The University of Southern Mississippi

Thu, 04/04/2024 - 08:35am | By: Van Arnold

Chief Communication Officer

Nicole Ruhnke, a communications professional with more than 15 years of experience serving organizations throughout the Pine Belt, has been named Director of University Communications/Chief Communication Officer (CCO) at The University of Southern Mississippi (USM).

Ruhnke, a Pine Belt native and USM graduate (2008), has been serving as Interim Chief Communication Officer since October 2023.

“It is a great honor to serve my alma mater as Chief Communication Officer under the leadership of Dr. Joe Paul,” said Ruhnke. “Over the last few months, I have experienced a renewed zeal for the future of Southern Miss and look forward to positively impacting the institution for years to come.”

In her role, Ruhnke serves as USM’s official spokesperson, advises University leadership on issues impacting stakeholders, and directs senior-level communications. She will oversee the Office of University Communications, which includes staff members on the Hattiesburg and Gulf Park campuses.

“Nicole has demonstrated a remarkable vision for elevating Southern Miss communication and public relations. I am confident her strategic leadership will enhance collaboration across the institution as we align marketing and communication efforts and raise the profile of the University,” said University President Dr. Joseph S. Paul.

Additionally, Ruhnke will be responsible for the development and oversight of a comprehensive communication plan designed to advance institutional priorities. As CCO, she will collaborate with the leadership of admissions, academic affairs, external affairs and other units to align and integrate all marketing content with University messages.

“It has been such a pleasure working with Nicole and I am thrilled to see her named to the position permanently,” said Dr. Lance Nail, University Provost. “I am so impressed with her ability to integrate multiple channels of communications into branding and marketing of the university that aligns with our mission and demonstrates our positive impact. Nicole brings a strategic mindset and passion for Southern Miss to the role that makes me ever more excited for our future.”

As Director of the Office of University Communications, Ruhnke will lead a team of strategists and practitioners who execute marketing and public relations functions through brand strategy and management, web strategy and development, advertising, social media, design and video production, digital and multimedia communications, news and media relations, and crisis communication.

Dr. Kristi Motter, Vice President for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management, notes Ruhnke’s diverse background in communications and marketing will enhance USM’s strategic goals.

“Nicole brings a wealth of talent and passion to this new position that is sure to benefit all branches of the Southern Miss community,” said Motter. “We know that her commitment to the University’s mission and her insights as a communications specialist will have a positive impact in our student outreach efforts.”

Prior to taking over as interim CCO, Ruhnke worked for the Southern Miss Alumni Association for eight years where she served as Assistant Director for Communication (2015-17) and Associate Director for External Affairs (2017-23).

“For the past eight years, Nicole played a significant role in enhancing the communications efforts of the Southern Miss Alumni Association. Under her leadership we saw unparalleled levels of engagement among alumni and friends,” said Jerry DeFatta, Southern Miss Alumni Association Executive Director. “Nicole’s strategic leadership ability coupled with her unique passion for Southern Miss will be a tremendous asset for University Communications. I am grateful for her willingness to take on this opportunity and wish her the very best in the new role.”  

Prior to the Alumni Association, Ruhnke served as the Communication Director for Baptist Medical and Dental Mission International and Communication Manager for the Hattiesburg Convention and Tourism Commissions. Her professional career began as Communication Coordinator for Cooperative Energy.

Ruhnke is actively involved in several area organizations. She currently serves as Co-Chair of Leadership Pinebelt, a program of the Area Development Partnership, and is a member of the Pine Belt Chapter of the Public Relations of Mississippi (PRAM). Ruhnke is a 2012 graduate of Leadership Pinebelt and the recipient of that year’s Susan Walker Community Leadership Award. She is also the recipient of the 2018 Pine Belt PRAM Bud Kirkpatrick Practitioner of the Year Award and was an inaugural member of the 2022 Class of Pine Belt Top 20 Under 40.

Ruhnke and her husband, Timmy, reside in Hattiesburg and have one daughter, Indie.