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New Studio Lab Centers Mental Health in Filmmaking

With a $1 million grant from the Pritzker Pucker Family Foundation and Jessy Pucker ’19, Northwestern University School of Communication has launched a new student film incubator dedicated to flipping the script on mental health portrayals in movies, television and media. The mission of the Pritzker Pucker Studio Lab for the Promotion of Mental Health via Cinematic Arts is to create, support and examine original narrative screenwriting, television writing and media making centered around mental health.

Dialogue with the Dean: John Leguizamo

When John Leguizamo was a young teen, he commandeered a New York City subway conductor’s intercom and workshopped his first public comedy routine. With impressions of cartoon characters and early glimpses of his signature wit, commuters got an impromptu taste of what the rest of the world was in for. The mediums have changed, but Leguizamo’s style has not: clever, quick, real, and raw. The actor-writer-director-comedian graced the Northwestern School of Communication community with all this and more during the first Dialogue with the Dean of the academic year on November 16 in the Josephine Louis Theater at the Virginia Wadsworth Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts.

Oscar-Winning Iranian Filmmaker Holds Virtual Master Class

Two-time Academy Award-winning Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi dazzled the Northwestern filmmaking community with stories of his creative process during a special virtual masterclass offered to students on November 18. “I made my first film when I was 13 years old,” Farhadi said through an interpreter on Zoom. “I didn’t know what filmmaking was. I read a book that I couldn’t understand, but I did get one part of it, and based on that, I found out how they make movies. I found that when you want to make a movie, take it in parts, and stitch them together. From that moment on, I made one short movie each year.” Farhadi twice won Oscars in the category of Best Foreign Language Film—for A Separation (2011) and The Salesman (2016)—which makes him one of the few directors worldwide who have won in this category more than once. He also won Best Screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival for The Salesman and the Cannes Film Festival’s Grand Prix for A Hero.

Emmy Award Nominations Put Focus on ‘Cats, On and Off Camera

The Television Academy announced on Tuesday the nominees for the 73rd Primetime Emmy Awards, and School of Communication alumni are among many of the high-profile talent on the ticket. In addition to the successful alumni working in the entertainment industry, the SoC this year boasts a faculty member nominated for his work on a televised documentary.

Delayed But Not Down: SoC Class of ‘21 Gets a Memorable Send-Off

Thunderstorms might have delayed the School of Communication Convocation June 12 by a couple of hours, but that wasn’t going to stop the Class of 2021 from walking across the stage at Ryan Field. “The fact we’re here together is nothing short of a miracle, rain be damned,” said School of Communication Dean E. Patrick Johnson who praised the Class of 2021 for all they’ve endured this last year, including a global pandemic. “Your resilience is awe-inspiring. Trailing a year that has taken so much, I’m buoyed to see you as a group so willing and able to give time, give expertise, give yourself space and grace to be and become.”

SoC Alum and Former Obama Advisor to Address Class of 2021

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.

Van Zelst Lecture: Maria Bamford And How Comedy and Mental Health Coexist

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.”

Deciphering the Dangers of Big Tech’s Dominance: A Dialogue with Safiya Noble

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.

Chicago Journalism Legend Discusses the Black Northwestern Experience with Dean 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.

On the Heels of a Celebrated Book Release, a Writer Returns Home

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.

Dialogue with the Dean and Ruha Benjamin: Technology’s Race Problem

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.

MFA Design Students Chosen for Winning Special Virtual PQ Studio Contest

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.

“Hamilton” Chicago Director Shares Insight During New Speaker Series

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 Partners with the National Theatre in Washington, D.C. for Special Virtual Children’s Series

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.

Northlight Theatre Offers Online Reading of NU grad’s play, Mercy, directed by NU alum, Harry Lennix

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.”

Professor Noshir Contractor hosts new podcast series “Untangling the Web”

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.

HCI+D Center Hosts Inaugural Roundtable

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.

Remote Data Collection Study Offers Promise for Continuing Research During the Pandemic

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 named chief diversity officer

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.

Professor Named New President of the International Communication Association

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.

Dean E. Patrick Johnson Screens Documentary; Discusses Film in Live, Virtual Conversation

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.

SoC Launches New Early Faculty Mentorship Program

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.

New Center for Latinx Digital Media

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.

Grant for Digital Mental Health Research

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.

New Dean Announced

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.

E. Patrick Johnson to be Inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences

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.

Trump’s Latest Musings Carry Significant Danger, Faculty Says

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 Graduate Programs Rise in National Rankings

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.

RTVF Associate Professor Jeffrey Sconce Awarded Guggenheim Fellowship

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.”

Kuzmanic on “Eurydice”

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.

Alumni’s Musical Adaptation of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” Opens at Wirtz

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.

Wirtz Blackbox Dedicated

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.”

Berlanti Endows Professorship

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.

MFA Documentary Media Alumni Film Shortlisted for Oscar

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.

Communication Studies Professor Noshir Contractor Elected 2019 AAAS Fellow

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.

‘Aesthetic Emergency’: New Series Explores Intersection of Art and Politics

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.

Meet the First Class of MFA in Acting Students

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.