Background information

  • Originally established as a School of Oratory in the nineteenth century, the School of Communication has grown into the leading program in higher education offering a comprehensive curriculum in the communication arts and sciences.  In studies of communication and performance, its academic programs rely on the most advanced biomedical and design methodologies; analytical and quantitative methods for the study of communication networks, systems, and institutions; historical and cultural analysis of texts, images, organizations, and communicative practices; storytelling and its projection into many diverse forms of human interaction; and forms of human expression involving acting, dance vocal performance, design (scenic, lighting, costumes), directing, composing and orchestration, capturing and editing still and moving images, and designing interactive experiences (both live and digital).
  • The School of Communication--with roughly 1200 undergraduates,  130 doctoral students, and 300 professional graduate students--is a mid-size school at NU.  It has 100 tenure-track faculty and 60 non-tenure track faculty on its instructional staff. 
  • The school currently has five departments:
    • Theatre, which offers two undergraduate majors (theatre and dance), an undergraduate certificate program in music theatre, minors in theatre and dance, and two professional degrees, an MFA in Theatre Design and an MFA in Theatre Directing.  Faculty from this department also provide the core faculty for the Interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Theatre and Drama.
    • Performance Studies, which offers an undergraduate major in this area.  Faculty from this department also provide core faculty for the Interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Theatre and Drama, the Ph.D. in Performance Studies, and the MFA programs housed in the School of Communication.
    • Radio-Television-Film, which offers an undergraduate major (RTVF); undergraduate certificate programs and minors in creative writing for the media, sound design, and film.  It provides core faculty for an MFA program in Writing in Screen and Stage and a doctoral program, Screen Cultures, that focuses on the history and analysis of visual culture.
    • Communication Studies, which offers an undergraduate major, a professional degree program, the Master of Science in Communication, and a doctoral program in Communication Studies, with a focus on Rhetoric and Public Culture.  It also provides core faculty for an interdisciplinary doctoral program in Media, Technology and Society, which focuses on study of media institutions, producers, audiences, and effects.
    • Communication Sciences and Disorders, which offers an undergraduate major, a professional MS program in Speech, Language, and Learning, a professional doctorate in Audiology, and an interdisciplinary doctoral program in communication science.
  • The school also partnered with the Medill School of Journalism Media Integrated Marketing Communications to design and implement degree programs in communication and journalism at a new Northwestern campus in Doha, Qatar.  NU-Q students in the “Media Industries and Technologies (MIT)” major receive a comparable education to that offered in Evanston in RTVF and Communication Studies.  In 2012 the first MIT graduates were awarded diplomas along with the other 2012 Evanston-based graduates of SoC.
  • Since its inception, the most important attribute distinguishing the school from its competitors is its success in achieving the integration of professional education with liberal arts-style programs for undergraduate and doctoral students.  This is reflected not only in degrees and curriculum, but also in a robust set of co-curricular activities that provide students with opportunities to apply their learning in practice.  These include:  student-organized theater as well as mainstage theatrical productions directed by faculty; student organized media groups (WNUR, Studio 22, Niteskool, NSTV, Inspire Media); Debate and Speech Team; and grant-funded student research and creative arts projects.

Ongoing initiatives

  • Rebuilding the faculty:  Since 2000 the SoC has experienced a rapid generational change in its faculty:  70% of the tenure-track faculty have been hired and/or tenured since 2001.  This has created the opportunity to shift hiring to a new model, in which interdisciplinary impact, diversity, international background, and entrepreneurial skill can play a significant role in hiring.  This process of faculty renewal is ongoing, since many more faculty losses to retirement are expected in the next 5-10 years.  Its result is that SoC has a genuinely 21st century faculty, with specialties better aligned with contemporary priorities.  Our faculty are more global, more diverse, and incredibly productive and dynamic; they represent a new generation of leaders in their areas of study.
  • Rebuilding and expanding doctoral education:  Since 2000 SoC has reworked its narrow, departmentally based doctoral programs as interdisciplinary programs governed by boards appointed by the dean.  The number of students we admit each year to doctoral study in SoC each year has expanded, from fewer than 25 to around 35; this has helped to create stronger cohorts in each program.  As the faculty has improved and programs have been redesigned, we have also attracted better quality students, done a better job of retaining and preparing them, and placed them more successfully.  Each of our doctoral programs has become a dominant force in its area.
  • Improving undergraduate education:   Each year SoC collects feedback from its undergraduate students to guide ongoing program improvement.  This has led to:  improved access to popular classes for majors and non-majors; improved advising, including a dramatic expansion of advising staff; ongoing programs to identify poorly designed courses and struggling instructors and improve their performance; expanded research opportunities and co-curricular activities; and expanded professional development opportunities delivered by the new Office of External Programs, Internships, and Career Services (EPICS).  SoC now leads in many areas of student satisfaction and recruiting.
  • Rebuilding and expanding professional education:   In 2000 our suite of master’s degree programs was out of step with new professional realities, and we began reworking them as well.  We created a new Doctor of Audiology degree; we merged two distinct programs to create a new MA in Speech, Language, and Learning.  We merged two separate Master of Science in Communication tracks to create one new, up-to-date program; the new program can be completed in 4 quarters rather than six and is now growing rapidly.  We retired a struggling MA program in Film and created a new, interdisciplinary MFA program in Writing for Screen and Stage.  The new program was an instant success.  We have maintained the high quality of our MFA in Theatre Design while rebuilding a moribund MFA in Theatre Directing—the Directing MFA is arguably now the strongest in the nation.  Our professional programs are now uniformly successful and state-of-the-art, with outstanding profiles of student quality, diversity, retention, and placement.
  • Expanding the SoC research enterprise and its impact: To promote its new initiatives in global media and culture studies, SoC created two new research centers, the American Music Theatre Project (AMTP) and the Center for Global Culture and Communication (CGCC).  AMTP has organized an exciting program for the development of new work  in music theatre; CGCC brings faculty together to study the effects of globalization on public culture and democratic processes.  To support and expand its externally funded research program, SoC created a new Office of Research; this office provides both pre-award and post-award support for SoC investigators and has been a major factor in the explosive growth in SoC proposals and awards over the past decade.  The result of these investments is an explosion of external funding (growing from around $3 million in FY 2001 to $9.5 million in FY 2012) and high impact research and creative activities.
  • Improving outreach to alumni and industry.   SoC helped to establish the Northwestern University Entertainment Alliance (NUEA), and it has helped to sustain and promote its chapters in New York and Los Angeles by giving free memberships to graduates as well as direct grants to meet special needs and by supporting NUEA programs.  The new EPICS Office also provides a bridge to alumni and industry.

Goals and strategies

We see three great opportunities to position the School of Communication as the global leader among communication programs.  First, its new Modular Curriculum promises to create a new standard for interdisciplinary and experiential communication education.  Second, its comprehensive strength in media and entertainment studies and early expansion into global education create the opportunity to emerge as the leader in global studies of communication, media, and entertainment.  And third, the school can leverage its investments in studies of communication sciences and disorders and media interfaces and effects to quickly build a leading program in communication and health, an area of rapid expansion in the field and with great potential impact.

Goal:  Prepare students for a life of learning, leadership, and innovation. 

We plan to refocus the SoC curriculum away from preserving and transmitting disciplinary perspectives and toward helping students develop problem-based knowledge and skills. In addition, we will help students master new technologies for learning and communication and use them to create and share new solutions.  Finally, we plan to integrate in-class and out-of-class learning opportunities to help bridge the gap between theory, research, and application. 

Strategy: Implement a “Modular Curriculum.”  To achieve these goals, SoC has adopted a new pedagogical model, the “Modular Curriculum,” which is designed to create pathways through Northwestern’s curriculum (“modules”) that lead to measurable learning outcomes and certification.  It is also designed to (1) help students assemble tailored, interdisciplinary educations, (2) get the most from their co-curricular activities, and (3) use both social media and on-line learning to supplement face-to-face interactions with peers, faculty, and other mentors. 
Each module focuses on a distinct topic and “knowledge network,” but all modules share a common pedagogy that takes students from dependence to autonomy as they master skills and subject matter.  The goal of the common pedagogy is to help students become lifelong learners who are both adroit at navigating the multilayered networks in which we now live and disciplined in organizing, evaluating, and applying what they learn.

Goal:  Become the global leader in education for the creative economy.  SoC already enjoys a solid reputation in the entertainment industry, largely based on the success of its Theatre program in educating successful actors and writers.  However, in the past decade the school has built on those successes to create broader initiatives which are now coming to fruition.  These include building its music theatre program, improving its programs in theatre design and directing, significantly expanding both graduate and undergraduate study of dramatic writing, developing a nationally visible new play development program (the American Music Theatre Project), strengthening its program in screen arts and culture, and building an innovative program in Communication Studies focused on media innovation, networks, and design.  Our Center for Global Culture and Communication, headed by Dilip Gaonkar, has nurtured an international research community studying networks and cultural circulation.  We have also partnered to create an undergraduate program at Northwestern University in Qatar and are working to create a graduate program in Hyderabad, India.

Strategy:  Leverage interdisciplinarity, innovation, and leadership.  As described above, we have many new strengths to draw on, and we plan to improve our  impact, visibility, and brand recognition by:

    • Using our interdisciplinary graduate programs and modular undergraduate curriculum to create a broad and flexible approach to education for the creative economy.   In educating students broadly to meet the challenges and opportunities of this century, most of our peers are hampered by narrow and rigidly defined programs in areas like theatre, film, media, writing, and media management.  With our commitment to interdisciplinary education and success at implementing modular programs, we are uniquely positioned to educate students not for a particular industry but for many possible roles in the creative economy.  In addition, our comprehensive and global reach in the communication arts and sciences allows us to assemble, in one community, a diverse and geographically distributed community of alumni who, supported by our strong alumni networks, are in an excellent position to assist our students and each other.
    • Using our strength as a creative community to nurture innovation and innovators.  We build on a long history of innovation in communication industries and education.  Our faculty have been chosen for their ability to understand and lead change and so serve as outstanding models for our students.  We have systematically developed two areas (writing and creation of new works; studies of innovation in communication industries) that together promote a culture of innovation and tools to understand and guide creative processes.   And we support (and are expanding) co-curricular and outreach activities that serve as laboratories for the creation of new solutions (e.g., the American Music Theater Project; our new “Sitcom Project”).
    • Promoting collaborative research on communication, media and performing arts across Northwestern.  In addition to building interdisciplinary graduate programs, we are building two new centers in this area:  the Center for Global Culture and Communication (mentioned above) and a new Center for Media and Human Development.  These two centers foster collaboration in teaching and research, provide hubs around which international networks can be built, and create frames for our activities, giving them greater visibility and impact.
    • Systematizing education for leaders in the creative economy.  The school also has a history of educating leaders in media and entertainment.  Both in classes and in co-curricular activities, SoC students acquire skills at team building and leadership, strategic thinking, entrepreneurship, marketing, pitching, etc.  As we build our Modular Curriculum, we plan to enhance this dimension of our program, adding classes and co-curricular experiences that are more explicitly focused on helping undergraduates develop business skills.  We also plan to implement a new Master’s degree program in Leadership for the Creative Economy.
    • Promoting our brand more aggressively.  As noted above, SoC (and its partner schools) already possess many of the programs and attributes that would make Northwestern the global leader in education for the creative industries.  We believe that because the market (and marketing communication for our programs) has been fragmented by industry (film, television, live entertainment, interactive, music, etc.), our comprehensive strength is less visible than it should be.  We plan to promote our program much more aggressively in a broad range of venues,  focusing on stories that exemplify the global and cross-industry impact of our faculty, students, and research.

Goal:  Become the global leader in studies of communication and health.   Applications of communication studies to problems of improving health and health care are increasing, creating new areas for research and new areas of professional education.  This represents an extraordinary opportunity for SoC to establish a position in a growth area for the communication arts and sciences and to nurture work of global importance, and we propose to integrate our expertise in the study of disparities in communication, interface design, and media studies to create a powerful new program in communication and health. 

Strategy:  Leverage expertise in studies of information and entertainment technologies, communication disparities, and media effects in a program focused on improving interfaces to health information and health care. This is another area in which the comprehensiveness of our program and our commitment to interdisciplinarity confers unique opportunities to advance a critical new area for teaching and research—the challenges are to promote application, collaboration, and visibility for the problem area. 

    • Recruit more faculty with interests in applying communication research to promote health.   In recent years we have added a number of faculty with interests in applying media research to studies of health outcomes, and in FY 2012 we recruited three new faculty in Communication Studies who study the design of new media technologies to promote health and/or improve health care.  This has created a nucleus of faculty to which we will add in the coming years.
    • Build a Center for Communication and Health to stimulate faculty and student interest, promote collaboration, and create leadership and visibility for this important initiative.  Because we hope to engage faculty and students across Northwestern in collaborative activities, we need to create an intellectual space in which they can meet and work together.  The Center will provide such a space, and, in addition, frame their work so it has greater visibility to external communities. 
    • Develop a new master’s degree program in Communication and Health to meet needs for communication professionals who are prepared to manage health communication processes.   We are currently in the process of designing this new program and plan to implement it within the next two years.

How the SoC plan relates to Northwestern:  We Will . . .

In setting our goals for SoC and designing strategies to realize them, we have also tried to maximize our contribution to the new university strategic plan, Northwestern:  We Will . . .  In this section we describe the role we see SoC playing in advancing Northwestern.  We first discuss the four pillars of the plan, and then conclude with a discussion of outcomes and metrics we hope to influence.

  • Discover creative solutions.  Ten topics are highlighted in the university plan, and our new plan positions SoC to make enhanced contributions to all but two of them.  For some time, SoC has been pursuing its strategies for becoming the global leader in communication, media, and entertainment studies, which includes initiatives in writing and oral expression, digital and interactive media, the performing arts, design, and international studies.  However, when we did a gap-fit analysis to identify additional areas where SoC might make a contribution, we realized that an initiative in communication and health could also contribute to design, biomedical sciences, global health, interactive media, international studies, and markets, social structures, and public policy.  Hence, as we make new faculty appointments (including the thirteen appointments we made for FY 2013) and as we develop new instructional and research programs, we expect to dramatically increase the alignment between SoC priorities and those set for the university as a whole.
  • Integrate learning and experience.  In developing our Modular Curriculum, we will be providing a key exemplar for integrating in-class and out-of-class learning, one that is mentioned explicitly in Northwestern:  We Will . . . It is designed to promote leadership, entrepreneurship, creativity in problem-solving, and life-long learning—all student outcomes given a high priority in the university plan.
  • Connect our community.  An appreciation of diversity and the strengths it brings to the study of communication is fundamental to each of our initiatives.  SoC has been a leader in recruiting a diverse faculty, staff, and student body and helping them to work together as an extraordinary creative community.  The Modular Curriculum is based on building strong learning communities that integrate our Evanston based learners with alumni and friends who will participate remotely using social media.  And we have developed and continue to support the Northwestern University Entertainment Alliance, which in turn creates important opportunities for students and faculty.  
  • Engage with the world.  SoC has been a leader at Northwestern in developing external partnerships, whether they are based in Chicago (as are many of our theater partners) or in other cities (such as the many film and media companies with which we work in New York and Los Angeles).   We are also growing and supporting our network of research and creative partners through the activities of our research centers, especially the Center for Global Culture and Communication, the Center for Media and Human Development, the Knowles Center for Hearing Science, and the American Music Theater Project.  The activities of our Office of External Programs, Internships, and Career Services is expanding opportunities for our students through its internship program (national, soon to be international), its speaker programs, and its Leadership Journeys (encounters with media industries and institutions, including extended trips to Prague, Paris, and Hyderabad).  And, of course, we are helping Northwestern build global hubs of activity in Qatar and (we hope) India.

The new university plan is designed to advance Northwestern’s standing among the great research universities of the world, and if our initiatives are successful, we should help achieve this goal.  Specifically:

  • We expect to help raise the estimation of Northwestern in the higher education community by hiring, nurturing, and retaining faculty who build highly successful and visible programs of research and creative activity.
  • We expect to help raise the profile of Northwestern among U.S. citizens and around the world through our participation in:  (1) highly visible media and entertainment projects as well as discussion of media policies and effects; and (2) highly visible projects designed to improve public health, improve health care delivery, and reduce the costs of health care around the world.
  • We expect to improve the undergraduate experience by making learning more effective and efficient, making curricula serve student needs rather than disciplinary histories, increasing student and faculty engagement in learning communities, improving advising and mentoring, and ensuring that students can learn creatively and autonomously.  Concretely, we expect student satisfaction to increase along with placement, alumni satisfaction, and all those variables that are dependent on student and alumni satisfaction.
  • We also expect to continue tuning our marketing and communications to improve graduate and undergraduate student recruiting, with attendant improvements in total applications, selectivity, yield, and student quality.
  • We have selected for future emphasis areas—specifically, media and entertainment studies and communication and health--in which it is relatively easy for communication researchers to secure external funding, and we have placed a high priority on hiring faculty who are entrepreneurial and whose research programs are highly fundable.  Consequently, we expect our externally funded research to continue to grow at a steep rate and contribute (albeit modestly) to Northwestern’s standing in the research community.

Alumni engagement

To realize our goals, we need more than funding from our community—we need the active participation of a large group of volunteers.  We have therefore designed a set of engagement opportunities to attract volunteers as well as donors.

  • A new speaker series, “Innovations and Innovators,” will bring industry experts to Evanston to talk with students and faculty about leading edge developments in the creative economy.  We will reach out to members of our community for nominations, and the lectures in this series will be open to the public and broadly publicized.
  • Each year SoC will organize a half-day meeting to showcase work being done by its students and faculty in media, entertainment, and health.  It will be offered as a continuing education opportunity for friends and alumni of the school.  The first of these will be held in fall 2013.
  • The SoC Office of External Programs, Internships, and Career Services will work with Faculty Committees and Advisory Boards to create career development programs to serve each Module.  This will include identifying relevant career pathways, organizing “Leadership Journeys,” bringing outside speakers, and finding appropriate internships.  The EPICS Office will recruit alumni and friends to support this work as well as to help build partnerships between the school and institutions with which alumni and friends are involved, e.g., cultural institutions, non-profit organizations, corporations, government agencies, professional associations.
  • The Dean will appoint a 6-10 person Advisory Board for each Module.  Advisory Boards will consist of experts in the Module’s area of focus, and Board members will assist faculty in teaching and mentoring students and in evaluating student projects.