So it’s official. I’m stepping down as the Founding Director of the Harrington School of Communication and Media. I came to the University of Rhode Island in January 2012 to create a new school of communication and media, one with a focus on the liberal arts and one that could fully exploit the advantages of having graduate programs in three disciplines: writing and rhetoric, communication studies, and library and information studies.
The attraction of the position was obvious: Imagine what’s possible when academic programs use the power of interdisciplinary thought and action to address real-world challenges involving communication. For me, the opportunity to work across the disciplines of journalism, film/media, public relations, communication studies, writing and rhetoric, and library and information studies was truly energizing.
As the Founding Director, I worked with faculty and academic leaders to set high standards. With help from a diverse team, we developed a mission, vision and strategic plan. Our aim, to prepare outstanding graduates for careers, life and citizenship in a rapidly-changing global economy, reflects our commitment to our URI students. Our vision reflects our shared commitment towards improving society using the power of communication and information. And as far as the big picture goes, we aim to be a school of regional, national and global distinction.
I was asked to be a change agent, to inspire the faculty toward bold, creative and responsive change to advance the quality of our academic programs. I was lucky to have guidance from the remarkable Dick Harrington, a master at “leading through change” who helped inspire me to create the momentum our team needed for innovation to occur. As entrepreneurs starting a new business of sorts, we started small, acted fast, and iterated our way forward. The depth of authentic faculty engagement at Camp Harrington was so inspiring to me! But I knew the process would not be easy. My eyes were wide open. Organizational structure and reporting lines can complicate the process of change. And change is hard work for everyone. Inertia is a primal force of (human) nature. But I wanted to prove it could be done.
That’s because bold innovation in higher education is essential if we are going to be true to our promise to students, their families and our communities. I am an education activist. For two years, I have been listening to the needs of our current students and recent alums at URI. We must make a deeper commitment to offering high-value learning experiences and robust and relevant academic programs that lead to good jobs in careers with a future.
And while we have a way to go, we’re off to a good start. In only two and a half years, we have engaged faculty, students and staff in the difficult process of change. Among the accomplishments:
- The Harrington Rangers, our undergraduate student brand ambassadors, who supported over 100 events each year with their positive and uplifting messages about the unique events and networking opportunities available through the Harrington School. Their boundless talent and creativity helped build a sense of pride and identity for our new school.
- The Harrington Hub, centralized equipment check-out center, is stocked with more than 300 pieces of film, sound and video equipment for students and staff. Beginning in September, Tony Balko comes from Chicago to URI to take the HUB to the next level in helping students get the essential technology tools and digital media skills they need for the future.
- The UnClassroom, those new Harrington School courses that use intensive full-semester, project-based learning in partnership with a business, non-profit, government or community client.
- Our new Harrington School website attracts 6,000 new users a month. And web analytics show that, after only nine months, we are competitive with Emerson College for visibility and depth of user engagement among New England schools of communication. New Harrington School applicants to the class of 2018 are 70% out of state, suggesting we are becoming a first-choice destination.
- Curriculum innovation including a major update of our ALA-accredited GSLIS program; a newly approved Graduate Certificate in Digital Literacy, and plans for a Social Media certificate and an Integrated Media major.
- We cultivated external relationships and made numerous friends across Rhode Island, building collaborative initiatives with the Rhode Island State Council for the Arts, the Greater Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce, the Rhode Island Foundation, GTECH, AS220, the Rhode Island International Film Festival, Newport FILM, VSA Arts RI, Newport and Narragansett School Districts, Providence Pictures, the Providence Children’s Film Festival, Providence WordPress and Drupal Camps, the Rhode Island Office of Library and Information Studies and others.
There will be challenges ahead for the next Director. But the new leader will be lucky to work with the amazing current Harrington School staff, including Cynthia Weller, Jonathan Friesem, Tom Zorabedian, Kaylen Shimoda, Rebecca Santagata and others. And I must acknowledge the support of Kelsey Greene, Julianna Kurucz and Kerri Lukovics. I deeply appreciate the kindness I have received from so many people at URI. The University of Rhode Island is blessed with many talented teachers, researchers, scientists, activists, poets, artists, librarians, students, support staff and creative colleagues of all kinds. It has been a privilege to collaborate, work and play with you.
But for me, it’s time to pivot into the next phase of my career, where I can keep learning and growing. I am looking forward to advancing digital and media literacy here in Rhode Island through teaching, community service, and keeping up my research agenda.
But also in 2014 there will be time for some summer inertia at the beach and laughs and love with new and old friends and family out on our porch.
Mastering the pivot turn? Yep, I will be. This summer, at home in Newport, is the summer of learning how to tack into the wind, make a pivot turn, and sail.