The School of Communication Welcomes New Faculty for 2017-18

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September 20, 2017

The School of Communication this academic year welcomes a host of innovative, exciting new faculty members. Their areas of expertise include documentary film, computational journalism, theatrical directing, debate, aural rehabilitation, and much more. Here is a brief introduction to a few of our new faces.

Shana Cooper

Shana Cooper joins the Department of Theatre this fall as an assistant professor. She received her MFA from the Yale School of Drama and, at Northwestern, will work closely with students in the MFA Directing program. Cooper, a theatre director and company member at Wooly Mammoth Theatre Company in Washington, D.C., has directed The Nether and HIR, as well as Romeo and Juliet for Yale Repertory Theatre, and Straight White Men for Studio Theatre in D.C.

Cooper worked as the associate artistic director of the California Shakespeare Theater and cofounded New Theater House with Yale School of Drama alumni.  

Cooper said she’s committed to fostering new methods of artistic collaboration and inquiry in theatres that “break open ‘top down’ structures.”

“Audiences and artists are hungry for new and surprising journeys. But how can we expect to make innovative works if our methods of collaboration stay the same?” she says. “I believe that artistic innovation within our production processes and our organizational structures is possible, vital, and necessary for the growth of our field as a whole. This commitment infuses every project I direct as well as my teaching philosophy and has inspired me to develop a deeply collaborative rehearsal process.”

At Yale School of Drama, she developed her core artistic method, “Essence Work,” that asks directors, actors, and designers to work together to create non-verbal performances that explode the physical, visual, and aural landscapes of a play.

“Directors and designers perform in rehearsals, and actors actively participate in the vision and creation of design. Creating this way liberates actors from the confines of their traditional role as interpreters of, and vehicles for, the director’s vision,” she says. “For designers, this method allows the visual world of the play to evolve organically over the course of the rehearsal process while in collaboration with the actors and the director…Essence Work seeks to empower each artist to operate from instinct and impulse, to access and viscerally express essential moments in the text and to unlock the play in a uniquely personal way. Most importantly, it gives each artist responsibility for and ownership of the project as a whole.”

Cooper said she is excited to create a community at Northwestern.

“I have been working as a freelance artist, creating rich and intimate working relationships with collaborators for intense but brief stints of time around a single production,” she said. “I am looking forward to making discoveries and building the kinds of deep relationships with students and faculty that grow out of collaborating over a longer period of time within an institution like Northwestern that fosters experimentation and risk in our art form.”

Nicholas Diakopoulos

Nicholas Diakopoulos joins the Communication Studies faculty as an assistant professor. He was formerly an assistant professor at the University of Maryland, College Park and maintains an affiliation as Tow Fellow at Columbia University School of Journalism and as Associate Professor II at the University of Bergen Department of Information Science and Media Studies. His research is in computational and data journalism and emphasizes algorithmic accountability and social computing in the domain of news media.

Diakopoulos said he plans to focus on the interface of computing and communication, “particularly in studying how algorithms now permeate the news media, from information production to dissemination, as well as how we consume news via platforms like Facebook and Google.”

He’s currently finishing a book manuscript for Harvard University Press with the working title Automating the News: How Algorithms are Re-writing the Media.

Diakopoulos hopes to teach a course on computational journalism and algorithmic news media in the spring quarter, but he’s also thinking about other fun courses to teach, such as storytelling with data and conversational user-interface design.

“I’m very excited to work with the amazing faculty and students at Northwestern. I’ve been really blown away with the caliber of the programs and students — the interactions and conversations have already been stimulating, and I’m looking forward to engaging with the intellectually rich community on campus,” he says. “Northwestern is already a national and international leader in the area of computational journalism and I’m looking forward to helping to expand and deepen the scholarship and teaching in this area for the university.”

Diakopoulos co-authored the 6th edition of Designing the User Interface, and is also co-editor of a forthcoming book on data-driven storytelling. He received his Ph.D. in Computer Science from the School of Interactive Computing at Georgia Tech, where he co-founded the program in Computational Journalism.

“The most transformative thing that I’ve done for my career was the shift I made from being a pure scholar to being a scholar who also participates in public intellectualism,” he says of his work. “As I began to write for media outlets that had larger and more general audiences, like The Atlantic and Slate, it helped me to both frame my research in interesting new ways and also to broaden my understanding of my work’s potential impact in society. I feel I’ve gained a lot personally from writing for broader audiences and by engaging in public debates about topics like algorithms in the media. My hope is that I can contribute not only to educating my own students at Northwestern, but also to informing society more widely about the research that I find important and consequential to the way the media works.”

Jennifer Novak-Leonard

Jennifer Novak-Leonard joins the Communication Studies department this fall as a lecturer working largely in the MS in Leadership for Creative Enterprises program. Her work focuses on understanding cultural participation and the personal and public values derived from these experiences. Novak-Leonard is Principal Investigator for one of four inaugural National Endowment for the Arts’ Research Labs, focused on researching arts and creativity.

Novak-Leonard said one of her most transformative works involved developing a new survey to broaden the measure of how people identify their involvement in the arts.

“For a long time, conversations about public policy matters focused on a narrow set of artistic traditions, which were driven in part by what information was available,” she says. “But that is changing as we produce more data and research relevant to policy stakeholders that accounts for the diverse and evolving ways people engage with arts in contemporary society.”

Novak-Leonard’s work was so groundbreaking, she was asked to improve the 2017 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts for the National Endowment for the Arts. She currently serves on the editorial advisory board of Cultural Trends, a peer-reviewed journal committed to the principle that cultural policy should be rooted in empirical evidence. Novak-Leonard worked on many national research projects, including the National Archive of Data on Arts and Culture, DataArts, the Association of American Cultures, and the National Art Education Association.

Before coming to Northwestern, Novak-Leonard worked as the associate director of the Curb Center for Art, Enterprise, and Public Policy at Vanderbilt University. She also worked at NORC and the Cultural Policy Center, both at the University of Chicago. Novak-Leonard spent some time as a senior consultant at WolfBrown and as a policy analyst at the RAND Corporation. She earned her MPP from the University of Chicago, and her doctorate from the RAND Graduate School. 

At Northwestern, Novak-Leonard will teach a course addressing art and artists in current matters of public policy in the United States and beyond. She mentioned the United States is one of the few industrialized nations that does not have a government department or cabinet position dedicated to the arts, and that four federal agencies that deal with art are currently under threat of being completely defunded.

“There’s an enterprising energy at Northwestern,” she says. “It cuts across traditional academic lines, especially at the School of Communication. I’m looking forward to harnessing some of this enterprising energy to work with colleagues on the ways art and artists are working in entrepreneurial and civically-minded senses, within other disciplines and across sectors.”

The School of Communication additionally welcomes the following lecturers:

Britni Carnes
Emadeddin Tayefeh
Ariel Freuendt
Stephanie McCabe
Jack Scott
Jonelyn Langenstein
Randall Bush
Stephen Schellhardt

And joining us this winter are the following tenure-track faculty:

Danielle Beverly
Marco Williams

We extend our warmest welcome to all new faculty joining us this fall, as well as those slated to join us later this year. We will provide updates upon their arrival.

- Cara Lockwood