Students learn best when faculty members use their experiences to illustrate concepts taught in the classroom.
By James Forkan
Students learn best when faculty members use their experiences to illustrate concepts taught in the classroom. The College of Arts and Sciences Department of Communications is armed with award-winning journalists and professionals who made an impact in the field.
Heather Salerno, for example, was a prolific and award-winning writer for The Washington Post. She has written for major publications, such as USA Today, People, Glamour and The Journal News. In Fall 2014 the adjunct professor taught Arts and Entertainment Reporting.
The course allowed Salerno’s students to write about anything in the arts, entertainment and pop culture (some covered Comic-Con). Her knowledge and experiences, especially covering politics—such as when she trailed former President Bill Clinton in his move from Washington, D.C., to Westchester, New York—proved to be of great value.
“I try to share my personal experiences as a reporter and writer with my students so they get a real sense of what the life of a journalist is like,” Salerno said. “I recently told them about how I once interviewed the late, great comedian Joan Rivers at her incredible Manhattan apartment. She was one of the most professional, gracious celebrities I’ve ever encountered—not to mention a complete riot!”
While Salerno has recently focused on arts and entertainment, Assistant Professor John Drew brought stories from the U.S.–Mexican border to his classroom. In 2008, Drew received a $25,000 grant to produce a multimedia project along the border in an effort to help humanize relations with our southern neighbors and portray the human face of this politically and emotionally charged region.
Drew traveled all 2,000 miles of the border in search of subjects. The result was Border Stories, two dozen short videos documenting his experience. The Online News Association nominated it for the best in online video journalism.
“The fact that four independent journalists built a website on the fly and produced video content that ultimately put us in the same awards room as some of the most powerful media companies of our time [including award winners like The New York Times and The Washington Post] makes for a very exciting proposition among students looking to enter the world of digital media,” said Drew, who hopes to take students to Cuba to report on climate change. “I am constantly trying to inspire my students to become as digitally literate as possible and to start producing their own content that they can later market as evidence of their abilities.”
Inspiration can also come from experience. Mark Grabowski, J.D., uses his legal experience to teach his students how the law affects journalists. He also encourages his students to have their work published in local news media, such as Garden City Life, Newsday or on patch.com. One student wrote an op-ed that ran in his hometown newspaper in Alabama and another student wrote a front-page story for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
“Being a professor is great because I get to combine my journalism and law skills, do what I like and make a difference,” Grabowski said. “Journalism is essential to having a great society.”
This article appeared in the Spring 2015 edition of The Catalyst, the College of Arts and Sciences newsletter.