School of Communication Dean E. Patrick Johnson will be welcoming Ebs Burnough (C02) as the School’s 2021 Convocation Speaker. Burnough, a filmmaker, writer, producer, and marketing and communications executive, formerly served as the White House’s Deputy Social Secretary and former First Lady Michelle Obama’s Senior advisor. Burnough in 2019 made his directorial debut with the documentary The Capote Tapes, which explored the impact of author Truman Capote’s unfinished novel, Answered Prayers, through new interviews with friends and enemies and never-before-heard audio archives. The film will be released this summer by Greenwich Entertainment.
With sharply funny and deeply insightful stand-up centered on the importance of advocating for one’s own mental health, Maria Bamford, a comedian known for her personal and experimental comedy and her character voice work, gave the annual Van Zelst Lecture in Communication via Zoom on April 30. “I adore Zoom… I’m so afraid to leave this venue. I love the power to mute and to be muted at any point. It’s democracy in action,” she said during the Zoom event, made possible by a generous gift from Louann and the late Theodore Van Zelst. “And I miss the Zoom bombers. I don’t know if it’s happened to you, but it happened to me a view times, and it was so explosive, just like they promised. It stopped at a certain point. I don’t know if the firewalls got too high. I just wanted to give creative support to the Zoom bombers out there. I assume it’s men in their 60s in the suburbs of Denver.”
Despite near-dependance on technology to communicate, work, socialize, and consume, we don’t quite understand what our digital traces are. And given Big Tech’s global dominance and notorious reticence, their exploitation of these gaps poses a serious threat. As much a warning as it was a call to action, Safiya Noble, scholar of technology bias, shared this and more about her research and advocacy during the ninety-minute April 22 Dialogue with the Dean event, hosted over Zoom by School of Communication Dean E. Patrick Johnson.
The School of Communication has a message for those long left out of the dialogue: we’re here, we’re listening, and we’re taking action. In a frank, invitation-only discussion, Dorothy Tucker (C78), Chicago journalism mainstay and the president of the National Association of Black Journalists interviewed School of Communication (SoC) Dean E. Patrick Johnson about his mission to identify and amplify the experiences of students, faculty, staff, and alumni of all underrepresented groups, but in particular those in our Black SoC community. The hourlong April 7 Zoom event, “Elevating Black Voices,” covered much ground, including the story behind the dean’s name, how he wound up at Northwestern more than two decades ago, the challenges of starting his deanship in 2020, the ups and downs of being a Black student at the University, and the central focus of his administration: diversity, equity, and inclusion.
It’s funny how our alumni in comedy want to give back. Case in point: prolific writer, performer, and MFA in Writing for the Screen Stage alum Jen Spyra (GC12) served up inspiration, guidance, and encouragement to the Northwestern community April 9 during a Zoom Q&A session. Sponsored by EPICS and hosted by Department of Radio/Television/Film lecturer, playwright, and performer Eliza Bent, the virtual Q&A touched on a range of topics from Spyra’s time working as a staff writer on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert to her new project, a book of satirical shorts titled Big Time Stories—which includes a forward by Colbert (C86, H11) himself.
Michael R. Jackson, creator of A Strange Loop and the second School of Communication 2020-21 Hope Abelson Artist-in-Residence, spoke about his approach to and inspiration for the semi-autobiographical musical with Dean E. Patrick Johnson, associate professor Miriam Petty, and director Lili-Anne Brown (C95) on February 25 over Zoom.
Dean E. Patrick Johnson was joined on February 18 by Ruha Benjamin, professor of African American Studies at Princeton University, for the second installment of his “Dialogue with the Dean” speaker series. The ongoing series spotlights communication professionals advancing the futures of their fields, challenging paradigms, and promoting social justice. Benjamin’s work examines the social dimensions of science, technology, and medicine—in particular, who pays the cost of tech’s big promise.
Northwestern MFA Stage Design students were among the winners of a special virtual studio version of the Prague Quadrennial, a showcase of the best theatre design from around the world. Third-year students Meeka Postman (costume design) and Joe Johnson (set design) competed in the showcase’s PQ Studio contest alongside entries from around the world, all focused on the staging of 1937 play The White Plague by Czech playwright Karel Čapek. The eerily prescient play tells the story of a pandemic that sends a panic through an unnamed country as it kills citizens older than 45. The government in the play is run by a dictator who uses the pandemic as an opportunity to go to war, rather than to find a cure.
Director and School of Communication alumna Jess McLeod knows well the struggles endured by actors of color. And for more than an hour on Zoom on January 29, as the second featured guest in the new Kelsey Pharr Jr. Speaker Series, she detailed to attendees her artistic mission to correct the errors of flawed institutions.
Imagine U, which for the last decade has staged interactive children’s productions at the Virginia Wadsworth Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts, will partner with The National Theatre in Washington, D.C., to provide a series of original children’s online programming. The new series, a virtual edition of Saturday Morning Live! At the National Theatre, the beloved mainstay of The National Theatre’s family programming, will kick off in January and feature three episodes created by Imagine U, including original songs, stories, and movement by Northwestern alumni and an MFA in directing student.
A recent intergenerational School of Communication collaboration paired fresh talent with a respected industry leader to explore a topical area of social justice.
Felicia Oduh (C20) premiered her play Mercy in a virtual reading on December 13 with Northlight Theatre—an exciting development on its own for a young creator but made more so by the involvement of actor, producer, director, and fellow alumni Harry Lennix (C86), who directed the work.
“I think Felicia Oduh has written a play that’s extremely important, extremely present, and extremely prescient,” said Lennix in a post-reading Q&A. “She has her finger on the pulse of what’s important artistically, dramatically, politically, and socially. I’m very excited about this new voice in American theatre.”
In partnership with the Northwestern University’s Science of Networks in Communities (SONIC) Research Group, the Web Science Trust (WST) is launching a new podcast titled ”Untangling the Web.” This new series is hosted by web science expert and President-Elect-Select of the International Communications Association (ICA), Noshir Contractor. Noshir is the Jane S. & William J. White Professor of Behavioral Sciences in the McCormick School of Engineering, School of Communication and Kellogg School of Management. The podcast features interviews with thought leaders in the technology and research space to help all of us (including non-experts) navigate some of the most burning issues in web science: the study of how the web is shaping and influencing our society just as we are shaping and influencing the web, and how the web is influencing the way we live in the midst of a pandemic—or better or for worse.
All actions have consequences, even unintended ones. That’s especially true for designers who create new computer technologies for the world to use. Their work – intentionally or not – could produce more harm than help. Don Norman, professor emeritus of computer science at Northwestern Engineering and co-founder of the Segal Design Institute’s Master of Engineering Design Innovation program, sounded the warning during the December 4 virtual roundtable, “HCI + Design Thought Leaders Lecture: Pluriversal Design.” The event was hosted by Liz Gerber, assistant professor in the Department of Communication Studies and associate professor in the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science.
The coronavirus pandemic has had profound impacts on the research community, both in terms of who is able to participate and the efficacy of the standard methods of data collection. Yet assistant professor Elizabeth Norton has discovered one advantage in the resulting social separation: gathering certain data via video chats can be just as effective, if not more so, as doing so in-person. This is not only a boon to Norton’s work with children and language development, it’s a meaningful step toward increasing access and equity in researching underrepresented and underserved populations.
Robin R. Means Coleman has been named Northwestern University’s vice president and associate provost for diversity and inclusion and chief diversity officer, Provost Kathleen Hagerty announced today following a national search. Coleman will begin Feb. 1. Coleman will hold a tenured appointment as the inaugural Ida B. Wells and Ferdinand Barnett Professor in the Department of Communication Studies in the School of Communication, and courtesy appointments in the Department of Radio/TV/Film in the School of Communication, and in the Department of African American Studies in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.
Noshir Contractor, renowned professor in the Department of Communication Studies in the School of Communication, will become the president of the International Communication Association (ICA) effective May 2022, the organization announced on October 16. Contractor is a foremost researcher of network science, computational social science, and web science, specifically examining how social and knowledge networks form in business, scientific communities, healthcare, and space travel. He is the Jane S. & William J. White Professor of Behavioral Sciences in the McCormick School of Engineering & Applied Science, the School of Communication, and the Kellogg School of Management and director of the Science of Networks in Communities (SONIC) Research Group.
In his first public event as dean, E. Patrick Johnson screened his award-winning 2019 documentary, Making Sweet Tea, and took part in a live virtual discussion with Miriam Petty, film historian and associate professor in the Department of Radio/Television/Film. The October 1 event was open to alumni and members of the School of Communication community.
An invitation to teach in the School of Communication is a coveted honor, yet for post-doctoral fellows, PhD candidates, and early career faculty, the process can be fraught with questions about resources, pathways to advancement, and research funding. To address these concerns, the School will launch this fall CommFutures: The SoC Mentoring and Development Initiative, a program of conversations and workshops designed to provide guidance and support to graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and faculty just beginning in their fields.
The new Center for Latinx Digital Media launches this fall with an aim to promote and research digital media in Latinx and Latin American communities, all while bringing together students, scholars and practitioners across the world.
School of Communication Professor and Associate Dean for Graduate Education Madhu Reddy is a co-recipient of a National Institute of Mental Health ALACRITY Center grant. It will fund three major projects with area medical centers to explore digital mental health interventions for young people, pregnant women, and older adults.
E. Patrick Johnson has achieved many firsts in his lifetime. He was a first-generation college student and the first African American from his hometown to receive a doctorate. He was the first African American to be hired and tenured in Northwestern’s Department of Performance Studies, and the first to be given a named professorship in the School of Communication (SoC). Today, he was named the next dean of SoC, the first African American to hold that role. He will take over as dean Aug. 1, succeeding Barbara O’Keefe.
Northwestern School of Communication professor E. Patrick Johnson will be inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the prestigious honors society that recognizes exemplary contributions to the pursuit of knowledge, discourse, and advancing the common good. He was among 276 inductees in the 2020 class working across a range of disciplines, eight of whom are from Northwestern.
At Thursday’s daily White House briefing on the coronavirus crisis, President Donald Trump mused that scientists should test the internal use of ultraviolet light or disinfectants like bleach to treat COVID-19 in patients. Sound advice?
“No,” says Bonnie Martin-Harris, the Alice Gabrielle Twight Professor in the Roxelyn and Richard Pepper Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders and Northwestern University School of Communication’s associate dean for faculty affairs. “Cleaning agents are caustic to the mucosa—the lining of the mouth, the throat, the esophagus, the stomach—and in fact can destroy the tissues so much so that, one, the person could die.”
Two dynamic programs in the School of Communication were ranked last month in the top five in their categories in US News and World Report’s latest evaluation of graduate learning.
The Doctor of Audiology (AuD) program is now occupying the No. 4 slot on the list of top audiology programs, up from No. 7, and the MS in Speech, Language, and Learning program placed at No. 2, up from No. 5, among speech-language pathology programs. Both programs are housed in the Roxelyn and Richard Pepper Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders.
Jeffrey Sconce, associate professor in the Department of Radio/Television/Film, is a recipient of the prestigious 2020 Guggenheim Fellowship, one of the highest honors awarded to scholars in the arts, humanities, and sciences.
“I am thrilled,” Sconce says. “It’s an honor to be included among the many scholars and artists recognized by the Guggenheim Foundation.”
Award-winning costume designer Ana Kuzmanic, associate theater professor in the School of Communication, provides an insight into the creative process of mounting a world premiere opera.
For centuries, the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice has fueled the imaginations of artists, yielding famous adaptations by composer Claudio Monteverdi, filmmaker Jean Cocteau, playwright Tennessee Williams, choreographer Pina Bausch and graphic novelist Neil Gaiman, to name just a few.
David Holstein (C05) and Alan Schmuckler (C05) were frequent and productive collaborators as Northwestern School of Communication students—Holstein majored in radio/television/film and Schmuckler was in the theatre department. But it’s the product of their first professional partnership that is having a homecoming of sorts this weekend.
Their clever, toe-tapping musical adaptation of The Emperor’s New Clothes begins a run at The Virginia Wadsworth Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts on February 21 through March 8. This subversive take, which premiered to critical acclaim in 2010 at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, was written to appeal to both children and adults alike.
On Dec. 3, 2019, Northwestern University dedicated a blackbox theater at the Virginia Wadsworth Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts in the name of three trailblazing alumnae. The Clara, Lu ‛n’ Em Theater was named in recognition of a gift to the School of Communication, which will be used to create a dean’s discretionary fund supporting areas of greatest need. David Berolzheimer made the gift in memory of his mother, Northwestern alumna Isobel Carothers Berolzheimer, and two of her classmates — the trio co-created the first radio soap opera: “Clara, Lu ‛n’ Em.”
Alumnus Greg Berlanti endows a professorship at the Northwestern University School of Communication, which will significantly expand the dramatic writing program. This is the largest ever gift from the Berlanti Family Foundation and is named in honor of Berlanti’s late mother.
Stay Close, a short documentary created by MFA Documentary Media graduates, was shortlisted for an Oscar—the announcement for which came on December 17. The film was directed by Shuhan Fan (G16) and Luther Clement (GC17), produced by Nevo Shinaar (GC17) and co-produced by Ashley Brandon (GC17), and featured music and sound mixing by MA in Sound Arts and Industries graduates Xiameng Summer Lin (GC17) and Lianna Squillance (GC19), respectively. Nominations will be selected from the shortlist and will be announced on January 13. The 92nd Annual Academy Awards will take place on February 9 and air live on ABC.
Noshir Contractor, the Jane S. and William J. White Professor of Behavioral Sciences in the Department of Communication Studies in the School of Communication, the McCormick School of Engineering, and in the Kellogg School of Management, was elected in November a 2019 fellow to the American Academy for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest multidisciplinary science society.
Acclaimed Broadway actress and president of the Actors Equity union, Kate Shindle (C99), will be joining us on campus for a performance of Fun Home followed by a talk-back on Friday, November 22. Shindle is the School of Communication’s 2019-20 Hope Abelson Artist-in-Residence.
The School of Communication’s innovative writing curriculum has taken a scary-good turn. The genre of horror is much more than just slasher gore—it’s an exercise in social commentary, personal reflection, and artistic expression. Students, faculty, and alumni alike thrive in the creepy, crawly, creative work.
A dozen distinguished artists and scholars will be presenting their work on campus this academic year as part of a new initiative that Northwestern launches this month called Humanities on the MAP (Media, Arts, Performance). The theme for the inaugural humanities series is “Aesthetic Emergency,” and the initiative aims to examine issues of urgency and importance in our world today. School of Communication faculty have curated events for each quarter of the 2019/2020 academic year and expect to present a new theme yearly.
The School of Communication welcomes this academic year our first-ever cohort of MFA in Acting students, signaling an exciting expansion of graduate curriculum. Eight talented actors from across the country comprise the brand-new class that began coursework on September 24. The actors join graduate artists in a suite of complementary MFA programs, which includes design, directing, writing, and documentary media. These programs will be housed in a forthcoming performing and media arts center in Abbott Hall on Northwestern’s campus in downtown Chicago.
School of Communication faculty and alumni were big winners this year at the American Alliance for Theatre and Education annual conference and awards ceremony in New York City in August. AATE is the premier professional network for theatre educators.
School of Communication’s Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders launched this summer its first collaboration with the National High School Institute (NHSI), which brought seven Chicago-area high schoolers to campus for a free, weeklong deep dive into Neuroscience and Communication. The program aims to diversify the fields of audiology and speech-language pathology through early exposure and recruitment.
School of Communication alumni once again paint the town purple with a spate of 2019 Emmy Award nominations. Notable among them is Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who has the chance to make Emmy history (again) with a win for her role as Selina Meyer in HBO’s Veep, which she also executive produces.
Aymar Jean Christian, associate professor in the Departments of Communication Studies and Radio/Television/Film, was awarded in June a Field Foundation of Illinois grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, honoring him as one of the 14 inaugural Leaders for a New Chicago. Christian is the founder of OTV | Open Television, a Chicago-based distribution platform for web series made by emerging intersectional artists.
During a boisterous, heartfelt, and often funny speech, producer, director, and writer Greg Berlanti (C94) addressed the School of Communication’s 2019 graduates during a historic convocation in the Welsh-Ryan Arena at Northwestern University on June 22. For the first time in recent memory, the Theatre, Radio/Television/Film, Performance Studies, Communication Studies, and Communication Sciences and Disorders students shared a joint convocation rather than being split into two smaller back-to-back ceremonies.