Lisha Dunlap: “The world is made for people who aren’t cursed with self-awareness”

You can learn more about where you live. In fact, I met most of my neighbors! In a time where people rarely talk to neighbors anymore, I’ve seen so many people outside, and I’ve gotten to know people that I normally wouldn’t have even waved at as I hurried off to work. This has helped […]

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You can learn more about where you live. In fact, I met most of my neighbors! In a time where people rarely talk to neighbors anymore, I’ve seen so many people outside, and I’ve gotten to know people that I normally wouldn’t have even waved at as I hurried off to work. This has helped my son as well, giving him people to talk to when he didn’t have his friends to play with. Even my husband has gotten some real friendships out of it.

This too shall pass. I believe that. And like all difficult situations, we WILL be stronger, smarter, and hopefully more understanding of each other.

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place.

As a part of my series about how busy women leaders are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lisha Dunlap.

Lisha Dunlap is currently the Sr. PR Assoc., Media & Influencer Relations, at the University of Advancing Technology in Tempe, Arizona. She has been a communications professional for 12+ years, with experience in higher education, advertising, nonprofits, government contracting, radio, and the oil and gas industry. Ms. Dunlap received her B.A. from Washburn University in Mass Media, with a Public Relations Emphasis and minor in Military Studies.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

I’ve had a strange and exciting career that has pieced together in many fun and surprising ways. I actually started my career in radio. Throughout college, I was a local on-air personality and promotions director. Before I was old enough to buy a drink, I was putting together events in bars. It always seemed that my job help pushed me one step ahead of my time.

While in school, the September 11 attack happened. Already consumed by the media world, I turned my educational focus to military studies, where I felt I could learn more about what was going on with the world, obtaining a minor in the subject.

After college, I had a variety of jobs that allowed me to use my writing and PR skills, but eventually landed in a position uniquely fit for me, leading writing and communications for a publishing company that focused on military and federal contracts. There, I also had the opportunity to work with PR in many diverse settings, including traffic safety, Veterans organizations, the BIA, and a variety of other agencies. Eventually, I learned full content management at an oil and gas training company.

When the oil and gas industry started its downturn, I turned my focus to the advertising world, combining the skills that have made me a jack of all trades and a natural fit for advertising and social media management. The work was exciting and challenging, yet I found myself taking every opportunity to guide my job back into PR. I wrote our agency press releases for my own agency and all our clients, as well as organized and promoted charity events whenever possible.

Throughout my career, each of these positions has been the perfect puzzle piece in the grand scheme of my professional life — which leads me to today. Almost a year ago I decided that it was time to find my passion. I applied for positions across the country where I could use my PR skills, and I landed in Arizona at the University of Advancing Technology in Tempe, Arizona. This is my place, and I have found my dream job doing exactly what I love to do — telling stories about others that are uplifting and encouraging. I have also become the campus photographer, which was another passion I was looking to pursue.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?

Last year, I stumbled upon a campus tour that had gotten a little derailed. I started talking with the group and found out that it wasn’t just any tour — it was a group of homeless students who had raised money to come and see our campus. The kids were amazing, and so were their group leaders. UAT allowed me to get more involved with them, and we arranged a movie day on campus a short time later. It was just a fun day to let them know that they are cared for, and it was incredible. Students and staff pitched in, bringing them snacks and gifts to take with them. Since then, we’ve continued working with the group, helping with their website and PR. It’s such a wonderful feeling to know that your employer supports — and encourages — working with charities and others in need.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Right now, we are focused on the fall semester and making sure that our students feel safe in coming back to campus. As serious as that is, we are also trying to create an experience that is fun and uplifting. At UAT, we pride ourselves in being thinkers, so “geek” is a preferred term. With that, we’re kicking off Episode 2020: Return of the Geeks as our theme for fall. From cautionary measures to costume contests, we’re making sure that students and parents are physically — and emotionally — ready to go back to college with confidence.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My husband is the reason I am here. I’ve had a hard time finding my perfect fit in the workforce, and for 20 years he’s been along for the ride, encouraging me when I felt hopeless. From notes in my purse to my favorite coffee waiting for me after I finish yoga in the morning, he has consistently been the Jim to my Pam (we watch The Office almost daily!).

When I wanted to take my current job, it meant relocating from Oklahoma to Arizona. It’s almost comical to see people’s reaction when they ask what brought us here, always expecting it to be because of my husband. I love it when he confidently says, “Oh no, we came here for her.” It gives me so much pride to be seen as his equal, and my son sees that, too.

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family related challenges you are facing as a woman business leader during this pandemic?

I have a 10-year-old son. Josh is amazing, but he is definitely not the norm. He is obsessed with military history, the Beatles, and cassette tapes. When we moved here, I knew it would be difficult for him because he’s very social and yet doesn’t have similar interests as others his age. It started out alright, but Covid-19 quickly destroyed his progress. Parents didn’t know us well enough to continue interaction outside of school, and we have no family or support system in this entire part of the country. Josh had just started baseball, which we convinced him to try, and it was cancelled after one practice. Next, classes were cancelled. And in his mind, life was cancelled.

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

It hasn’t been easy, but we have pushed through by reminding him every day of what matters. We have slowly started jogging as a family — which is certainly not easy in the Arizona summer heat — but we’re doing it anyway. We hike, go for walks, play games, watch movies, and try to bring as much joy as possible. We read, pray, and pray for others, always remembering that we are still very lucky and don’t have it so bad. It’s also very important to remind my son that this situation isn’t permanent. I’m hoping he will come out of it stronger as an individual, and all three of us stronger as a family.

We’ve also tried to create space in our home. With only one child, that may sound silly, but the walls close in tighter when we all have a daily agenda. We turned our spare bedroom into an office, created a school space for Josh in our bonus room, and we alternate locations frequently to keep from getting too stir crazy. I work wherever I need to be — whether that’s near my son to help with schoolwork, outside to have some quiet, or locked in the office for a presentation. I wouldn’t say we stay out of each other’s way, but we do respect each other enough to allow for work and school to get done.

School has started back this week, and for now, it’s fully online. Although I appreciate the school district and teachers for doing a great job to make it as smooth as possible, it will never be smooth. It’s just not possible to be a teacher and an employee at the same time, during the same short hours of the day. Fourth graders are not used to typing out every answer, and it takes about three times as long for my son to peck out his answers. To help, we’re going to find some fun typing games, but it’s not an easy sell — hey kid, go ahead and learn something else now, okay?

I think, as a mom, the hardest part is giving my son enough time and attention. In fact, he just brought me a Coke Zero, with ice… and grapes and blueberries… to make it a heath drink. This is the type of thing that happens when almost every time I need to focus, and he needs a snack. The good thing is, he is learning a little independence, and while we have a long way to go on his beverage choices, he has learned to scramble his own eggs.

Can you share the biggest work related challenges you are facing as a woman in business during this pandemic?

My profession is Public Relations, at a time when the public is told to stop all physical connections! On any other normal day, I would be running around campus, looking for moments that make the perfect photos and stories. But when that all stopped in March, I had to quickly find new ways to talk about a campus I couldn’t even step foot on.

It’s also pretty difficult to manage the reputation of a place when you can’t be present. Getting media in a major market is hard enough at any time, but how do you tell the story of a university during a pandemic? And what do you share on social media to keep the conversation going?

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

Thankfully, the University of Advancing Technology (UAT) is a 100% STEM college. We were able to fully transition to virtual learning in a matter of hours. This response, and the inventiveness of our students and faculty, has provided for many encouraging PR pieces. I have my plate full of stories I’ve yet had time to tell, and we’ve had more positive press than I ever could have imagined.

Turning to the right medium for the right audience has been the key. We talk to students through Discord and Canvas, faculty and staff through Teams, and outsiders through Zoom. We write tons of blogs and seek out others to help us share their experiences. And for me, I’ve learned to seek out the news only when I’m confident that it will be a great story, benefiting both parties.

I still chase student stories, but I do it through Discord. I follow the headlines, and I insert UAT wherever possible. We are small, but significant, and my job is to remind people of that.

Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?

You can’t hear me, but I just let out a long sigh. It’s so difficult. I want to tell you that I have created the perfect solution, but that’s just not true. Today was the first day back to school for my son. Within an hour, there were tears and fights. I’m his mom, but I was never meant to be his schoolteacher.

The only advice I can truly give is to practice patience, and just go with it. My son wants to be perfect — a trait he learned from both me and his dad. But perfect really isn’t attainable in an imperfect situation, is it? I encourage, and step back when my encouragement has run out, and then my husband steps in. We are a team, the three of us, and we need each other. It will work as long as the three of us commit to it, but none of us can give up.

In addition to my son going to school from home, my husband is currently going to school online to finish his degree. It’s good for my son to see that education is valuable, even when difficult and inconvenient.

Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place, or simply staying inside, for long periods with your family?

I’m not sure I would call my family sane right now! We are very fortunate to live in a place that is sunny all the time, and we live near a big, open area, so frequent walks have helped tremendously. I bought a Fit Bit, and I try to keep moving. I love yoga, and my family lets me escape to the other room to do short routines; that really helps me with anxiety.

My son — remember he loves military history — just asked me if he can watch Platoon. Seriously? It’s almost comical what he asks me sometimes, when he knows for sure that I won’t say yes. We miss museums and places for his eager little mind to wander, but we do help him research cool things online and order fun toys to encourage his imagination. We play games, have dance parties, and watch movies. I love showing him things I liked when I was a child, like Operation. He fell in love with Back to the Future, and even watched most of Teen Wolf.

But honestly, we try to give each other space when we need it. He can play video games, as long as he breaks it up with other things. We don’t put pressure on ourselves to be The Brady Bunch — we just want to come out of this healthy and still loving each other.

Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

  1. You can learn more about where you live. In fact, I met most of my neighbors! In a time where people rarely talk to neighbors anymore, I’ve seen so many people outside, and I’ve gotten to know people that I normally wouldn’t have even waved at as I hurried off to work. This has helped my son as well, giving him people to talk to when he didn’t have his friends to play with. Even my husband has gotten some real friendships out of it.
  2. We all have so much more time, and we can choose how to spend it. Since I’m not spending almost 2 hours a day in my car, I have devoured a stack of books. I also get to eat lunch with my family and am at home to cook more meals. I’m not going as far as learning to bake bread, but I’m pretty confident that my pancakes are fantastic. Time is something we always complain we don’t have enough of, but now we have more than we know what to do with it — so find what you love and do it.
  3. Nature — how much have we missed by being in such a hurry! Although I’m not always happy to be home, I see the sun rise and set almost every day, and it’s not from a car. That alone is a gift.
  4. Working from home will hopefully no longer be taboo for more old-fashioned employers. This work from home situation has forced many employers to change with the times. How often have you regretting “not being there” at any point and time for your kids? The climate has shown that we can still get the job done from home, and although I doubt many will prefer that we do that all of the time, it increases confidence that we can when we need to.
  5. This too shall pass. I believe that. And like all difficult situations, we WILL be stronger, smarter, and hopefully more understanding of each other.

From your experience, what are a few ideas that one can use to effectively offer support to their family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

Get help. I made a big mistake during this time; I decided to stop taking anxiety medicine, convincing myself that I no longer need it. That wasn’t true, and my family will quickly back that up. There’s nothing wrong with getting help when you need it, whether through medicine, therapy, or whatever it is that centers you.

Don’t be embarrassed to reach out to others. When Covid-19 cancelled any possibility of a big birthday party for my son, I reached out to the neighborhood moms. They put on their masks and showed up at our house with gifts and well wishes for a boy they had never met. I was overwhelmed at the kindness they showed, and I have even made a couple friends out of it.

Aside from that, it’s amazing how much you help when you just listen to others. Don’t offer advice; just be an ear when someone needs to talk about their frustrations and fears. I think this is especially true for kids right now — we can’t really fix anything, but we can support them by listening when they need to let their feelings out, even though it’s very difficult a parent to hear a problem you can’t solve.

Most importantly, remind your family that even if you can’t do it all, do as much as you can, because you don’t have to sacrifice your job or your family — you CAN have both.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“The world is made for people who aren’t cursed with self-awareness.” This line from Annie Savoy in the movie Bull Durham has stuck with me for years. As a PR professional, I am overtly aware of how things are perceived almost all the time. It is a blessing for my career, but a curse as an individual. It’s exhausting to have to put every situation into perspective all the time, and it doesn’t turn off when the workday ends. It would be a gift to not think about how I am perceived, and to operate life on autopilot once in a while. But that’s not me, and that’s OK. Being aware of my strengths and weaknesses makes me a better employee, mom, and wife, because at the end of the day, none of us are perfect. And we’d all be a little better off being alright with “good enough” during this time. If you’re reading this, remember, if you’re doing your best, IT IS GOOD ENOUGH, as long as you don’t quit.

How can our readers follow you online?

Twitter: @LishaDunlap and

Instagram: @uat_lisha


Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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