Letter from the dean: Hitting the road to listen and make connections

Fall 2017 Edition

Brill, Ann.jpg

I’ve been thinking about summer a lot lately. No, not because the weather has turned colder here in Kansas. I’ve been thinking about the travels we made this summer and fall to meet with alumni, friends, industry leaders and donors.

When we launched “Generations,” our annual fall event eight years ago, we wanted to find more ways to connect students and alumni. We especially wanted students to hear about the careers that our alumni had since their graduations. Generations continues to bring students and alumni together for networking, mentoring sessions, fun and classroom visits here at KU. We thought it was time, though, to go visit alumni in some of your cities.

So, in summer I went “on the road” with Patrick Allen and Nancy Jackson from KU Endowment. We started in San Francisco with our host Dino Dinovitz from the Hearst Foundation.  Even before we met with the group, though, we had a great session with Jim Chastain about listening and asking questions designed to build connections in the group rather than just ask questions. It was wonderful to see that first group come together. We had alumni who work at tech companies, traditional media, political communication, own their own businesses, and work in other professions where they use communication skills every day.

After San Francisco, we traveled to Kansas City, Dallas, Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C. Special thanks to our hosts Tony Berg of the Kansas City Star, Dave Cook of the KU Edwards Campus, Brian Purdy of CBS Radio, Sherry Scott of Gagen MacDonald, Meka White with Legends at the One World Observatory, Jerry Seib of the Wall Street Journal and Barbara Rosewitz of the Pew Center. Each session was insightful, fun and renewed friendships and connections to the School.

So, what did we learn?  We heard about the “timeless” values of journalism as taught at the J-School – excellence in writing, research, reporting and editing, verifying facts and knowing media law and practicing journalism ethics. We heard that the skills of being able to connect with audiences, make presentations, meet deadlines and work in teams have served alumni well throughout their careers.

We also heard some challenges – alumni would like more connections with students and other alumni, employers wanted to be sure our students were educated for the diverse and “big data” worlds as well as maintaining those “timeless” skills.  They urged us to continue to educate innovators who will be able to solve the revenue issues their industries are facing and ensure that they can stay relevant in such disruptive environments. We also heard that they see a strong future for students with those excellent communication skills – as long as those skills are combined with technology skills and strong interpersonal skills. They also reminded us that they have less time to train new employees, so they count on the school to make sure students are ready for full-time employment when they graduate.  As part of that, our participants said that the interdisciplinary nature of their educations has served them well, and they suggested we continue to pursue opportunities to work with other schools at KU.

It was all excellent feedback.  And we wanted to hear more.  With that in mind, we set out again in October to hold alumni gatherings in San Francisco, Chicago, Dallas, New York and Washington, D.C.  Kansas City gatherings will be this spring.

Our message in the fall sessions was to thank all of you who do so much for the J-School and to ask you to participate in our new mentoring program. Please read more about that in the article in this edition of the Jayhawk Journalist. We are excited about this program and are grateful to Mark Mears’ work in bringing it to campus and the school.  Mark is a great advocate for mentoring and will be working with us this spring on launching the program. We hope you sign up!

Finally, in this time of “fake news” and attacks on the media, we want to reassure you that today’s students are learning about the importance of the media in a democracy and how critical it is that they do their work with integrity. We’re teaching a class this fall on media literacy and doing workshops on how to spot misinformation. We partnered with the School of Engineering in November for a workshop on Misinformation in the Age of Social Media. We brought together scholars and media practitioners to talk about issues such as fake reviews, misinformation created by artificial intelligence, privacy, and the digital divide among underserved populations.  Let us know if you have any ideas on how we can do even more and if you want to help us teach media literacy to your communities.

Rock Chalk!


Ann M. Brill