UFCJC Advertising Professor Brings Diverse Career Experiences to the Classroom
By Claire Grunewald, Journalism senior
From lighting Steven Spielberg movies to creating anti-smoking advertising campaigns, Dan Windels, University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications (UFCJC) Advertising lecturer and UFCJC’s 2022 Teacher of the Year, uses his career experiences to elevate students’ experiences in the classroom.
Windels graduated from the University of Oregon with a degree in telecommunications and film and then worked in film production in Los Angeles for about 10 years.
He became a freelance lighting specialist for film, TV and commercials. He worked on director Steven Spielberg movies such as “The Lost World: Jurassic Park,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “Minority Report” and “Catch Me if You Can.” His favorite Spielberg film to work on was “Amistad” because it was a period piece that was based, in part, on a true story
Windels realized he wanted a career change and had a passion for research and analyzing people, so he went to graduate school at the University of Texas to earn a degree in advertising with a specialty in strategy.
“I think the message that I’ve tried to convey to my students is that life is a long journey, and it’s okay if that road isn’t straight and narrow the whole time,” Windels said.
Windels worked for advertising companies, including Covalent Logic and GSD&M, with focuses on strategy and research. He also worked for the Truth Initiative’s quit-smoking campaign.
He taught advertising at DePaul University for three years before moving to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where he started Stadium Lane, an online photo decal company that included an iPhone photo app and photo wall-graphics business for the collegiate market. He left Stadium Lane for Covalent, and then moved to Gainesville in 2018 with his wife Kasey Windels, a UFCJC Advertising associate professor.
“I think there’s a lot of pressure on everybody to get started on that one career,” Windels said. “When in reality, there’s going to be lots of doors that open … I encourage students to just find your first job.”
At UFCJC, Windels teaches classes on branding, cultural branding and account management, and runs the advertising internships program. He also advises three student organizations at the College.
Windels draws on his variety of professional experiences to teach and advise advertising students. One of the most valuable experiences from his professional career is the importance of knowing how to collaborate with others, a skill he transfers to his classroom.
He integrates collaborative group work into his classes to simulate real-world scenarios occurring in advertising agencies or any professional settings. “Group projects are critical because you’re going into advertising. You’re going to work on a team, and you’re going to need to figure out how to effectively communicate with that team,” Windels said. “Not only does it teach students how to interact, but it brings them into the classroom. More group activities bring more energy.”
One of Windels’ favorite group exercises is asking students to pick a new primary or secondary font for a famous brand. Once students pick the new font, they then have to defend their recommendation to the class based how that font addresses each hypothetical branding goal included in the group exercise. “I hope they walk away with the ability to know that every decision they make is dependent on the supporting evidence they bring to the table,” Windels said.
He encourages any students looking to pursue a career in advertising to take a process-oriented approach to solving problems. It’s important to interrogate all angles of a problem before arriving at a solution, he said. “It’s hard to convince the CEO of a client who’s writing the check for your account that your recommendation is right, unless you have a deliberate process behind you that helped you arrive at that recommendation.”
Windels integrates new teachings in the classroom as the business of advertising changes with technology developments and social media. With the rise of artificial intelligence applications like ChatGPT, Windels tries to integrate AI into his teaching instead of avoiding it. He recently created an assignment that allows students to learn how the technology can help, as well as where it can be problematic.
“Understanding how to best leverage existing AI technology is the challenge. While current AI platforms like GPT-4 have the ability to make some workplace tasks more productive, that efficiency comes with results that often contain wildly inaccurate information,” Windels said. “The best way to understand AI’s potential benefits and limitations is to start using it.”