From advertising to Star Wars, Gary Kayye's award-winning teaching is all about storytelling

Story and photos by Hannah Kaufman '24


Assistant Professor Gary Kayye realized he loved storytelling 47 years ago when he was in line for the movie theater. It was May 1977 and Kayye was giddy as he chatted with others who were also waiting to see the first Star Wars movie. When he finally made it in and sat in front of the big screen, his passion was cemented. 

“It was sort of a family of people, and then you go inside, and you see this amazing story, on a gigantic screen — it’s literally bigger than life,” Kayye said. “Once you realize that sort of thing exists, it takes you down a rabbit hole. It’s never ending.”

From then on, Kayye knew he wanted to be a storyteller.

Kayye has taught advertising classes at UNC since 2009. His classes include everything from introductory advertising and public relations courses to more advanced courses. This year, he was nominated and selected for a Chancellor’s Award for his teaching. 

Before coming to teach at Carolina, Kayye was working in advertising and marketing for technology companies. Then, in 2008, Jean Folkerts, the UNC Hussman dean at the time asked him to lunch to explore the possibility of teaching an advertising class that incorporates technology. From that lunch came a class that Kayye still teaches today: “MEJO 477: New Media Technologies.” 

As technology has changed over the last couple of decades, MEJO 477 has changed with it. This year, Kayye assigned the class to advertise two free Duke-UNC basketball tickets by creating and branding an original advertising campaign — without using any money.

The resulting campaign was a student-led rock paper scissors tournament called Dook It Out, which attracted a significant crowd of participants who had heard about the tournament through social media, launch videos and other avenues of storytelling. Not only was the campaign a success, but the assignment helped students explore the fun of advertising, Kayye said.

“Advertising is about a lot of fun things, like storytelling,” Kayye said. “I think the kids grew up being told stories by their parents — they don’t think of advertising that way, they think of advertising as trying to convince you to buy a product. But what’s interesting is that advertising works when it connects with you emotionally and tells you a story.”


Kayye teaching "MEJO 137: Principles of Advertising and Public Relations."


That’s why the concept of Star Wars was so compelling to Kayye all those years ago.

“The whole idea that this one guy, from his brain, could create those stories from scratch and literally do anything he wants,” Kayye said. “That's what's great about advertising. If something doesn't exist, you can totally make it up and build on it.”

In addition to being a storyteller, Kayye is also a proud collector. You can see it from the moment you walk into his Carroll Hall office: the assortment of Star Wars memorabilia, the wall of framed pictures of him and his daughters that stretches from the floor to the ceiling.

The Chancellor’s Award is also something Kayye is glad to add to his collection, but he’s most proud of how the award reflects the quality of UNC Hussman as a whole.

“I was excited just because it brings exposure to our school,” Kayye said. “And so anytime you can bring exposure to our school, it's going to be good for everybody.”

"Gary Kayye brings much passion, expertise and innovation into his classrooms and has inspired countless students over the past 15 years,” said Raul Reis, dean of UNC Hussman. “He was recognized last year with the school’s prestigious Edward Vick Prize for Innovation in Teaching, and this Chancellor’s Award — selected by students — demonstrates the degree to which his excellent teaching resonates with our students."

Kayye said teaching all comes down to being intentional with the time he gets with students in the classroom.

“All the drama in and around campus, in the world, I like to compartmentalize and make the classroom sort of its own little microcosm for advertising,” Kayye said. “And just kind of free their brains for an hour and 15 minutes so they can be creative by being inspired by good creative.”

He also enjoys keeping up with students after they graduate. Some might thrive in advertising, some might go into marketing, and some might explore other storytelling paths. One might even invent the next Luke Skywalker. 

“I love seeing what they do, what they produce and what they become,” Kayye said.