A Letter from the Director: Spring 2021

Hernando Rojas headshot
Hernando Rojas, Director, School of Journalism and Mass Communication; Helen Firstbrook Franklin Professor of Journalism

Dear J-School Friends,

At the conclusion of my first academic year as director of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, I wanted to take some time to reflect, not only on the challenges this year presented, but on the achievements, resilience and creativity of our faculty, staff, students and alumni.

First, I want to recognize our alumni community. Alums and former Board of Visitors members, with leadership from Ben Deutsch (BA’85) and Peter Fox (BA’73, MA’82), came together this spring to raise a $10,000 match for our fundraising efforts during Day of the Badger. This allowed us to raise $31,188 in total from 138 donors in support of current students.

While the challenge of switching instruction to a hybrid model of some virtual learning and some in-person classes was unlike anything we’d ever faced before, the J-School found new ways to present course material and engage with one another. Students and instructors not only adapted to new conditions, they found innovative new ways to take their work beyond the virtual classroom.

Students in the magazine class produced “Curb: Pause,” which invited readers to take an intentional pause to reflect on 2020. Students in the broadcast news class rose to the challenge of producing The Badger Report remotely, sharing the latest news via livestream. Both Curb and The Badger Report were recognized for their outstanding work with awards from the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association and the Milwaukee Press Club. Students in the account planning class had the opportunity to work with the UW–Madison Joint Information Center to analyze the university’s COVID-19 communications and provide recommendations for the future.

Although the pandemic has prevented in-person gatherings, our graduate students offered their annual Communication Crossroads Conference virtually, showcasing research on a variety of subjects. Research has also pressed forward, including important projects examining political polarization from the Center for Communication and Civic Renewal, and fact-checking projects to combat COVID-19 misinformation from the Mass Communication Research Center’s Computational Approaches and Message Effects Research group.

Our faculty and staff have continued striving for excellence in research and teaching. I’m proud to share that Professor Lucas Graves received a Vilas Associates Award, providing funding to support his research. Deb Pierce earned the Distinguished prefix in recognition of her outstanding work as a faculty associate instructor. Additionally, Katy Bartzen Culver was named the 2020 Scripps Howard Teacher of the Year, a national honor recognizing her remarkable career as an educator.

The J-School community never ceases to amaze me, and for that I am eternally grateful. Here’s to a happy and healthy summer and brighter days ahead!

On, Wisconsin!

Hernando Rojas

Director, School of Journalism and Mass Communication