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Professor Susan Douglas, My Time as Chair

 

Douglas_165On June 30 I stepped down from serving as Department Chair after 11 years.  Many faculty think that being chair is an administrative duty best avoided at all costs, but I have really enjoyed it because we have been able to build and enhance so much for our faculty and our students.   It also helps to have really strong support from the College and the Deans, which we have had.

 

I became chair of the Department in July of 2004.  We were housed in the Frieze Building—the old Ann Arbor high school, built in 2007—where North Quad is now located.  To say that the building was antiquated and falling apart would be an understatement—nothing, the heating and cooling, the plumbing—worked properly and some of the windows were starting to fall out onto the sidewalk.  So we hoped against hope that something might finally be done about the Frieze Building, but we had been told repeatedly that it was low on the priority list of upgrades or replacements.  But then, that fall, President Mary Sue Coleman announced that the Frieze Building would be knocked down and a brand new building, combining academic offices and a new residential building, would replace it.  Over several years of planning, College and University officials determined that the building would house units that focused, in the broadest terms, on communication, media and information. In 2010, Communication Studies, Screen Arts and Cultures, the School of Information, the Sweetland Writing Center and the Language Resource Center all moved into the building now known as North Quad.  During the planning period, the Chairs, Directors and Deans got to play a major role in the design of their departments, from the layout to choosing furniture, which I had never done before and was fun.  We were able to include some small meeting rooms and alcoves which our students use all the time for meetings or to hang out while waiting for advising appointments and the like.  And we established a lab to support the research of our faculty, grad students and honors students.

 

In 2004 we had 11 faculty and hundreds of concentrators because the major was—and remains—very popular.  So we really needed to hire more faculty in a host of areas.  In my first three years as chair, with strong support from the college, I launched a very aggressive hiring campaign that I know tired the faculty out—for each person you hire there are at least three job talks, dinners and individual interviews, which is a lot of work especially for a small faculty.  But during that time, the Department hired seven new faculty, and continued to interview and hire multiple people every year; as of September 2015, the Department will have twenty-four faculty and two lecturers.  We’ve added faculty with expertise in the following areas:  media effects, particularly on political attitudes and participation; on health behaviors, body image, children and obesity; and on attitudes about race and gender; history of the mass and emerging media, including radio, television, the Internet; the uses and effects of social media and mobile communications; media and globalization and comparative media studies; media and the environment; media industry studies; and journalism studies.  By this point the Department had become home to one of the most sought-after majors in LSA.

 

I also wanted to strengthen the connections between currently enrolled students and the Department’s alumni, and in 2005 established the Alumni Connection, which brings in Communication Studies alumni working in a variety of fields—marketing, advertising, public relations, journalism, new and social media—to talk to current students about what they do in their jobs, how they got their jobs, and to offer advice on internships, networking and job hunting.  This event now happens once every year.  In 2006, we established the Entertainment Media Career Forum that, in cooperation with an alumni organization, the University of Michigan Entertainment Coalition, brings in alumni who work in the entertainment industry to talk to students about their jobs, networking and job hunting.   This event happens every fall and these events are enormously popular with and helpful to students as they seek internships and careers.

 

In the late 1990s, the department had begun holding its own commencement exercises so students could have a more intimate and personal experience beyond the giant spectacle in the Big House, and it was typically held in one of the larger rooms in the Union.  But with so many concentrators, we were outgrowing those spaces and had to limit the number of students’ family members who could attend, which was not what we wanted for this event.  So we moved our graduation to the Michigan Theater and redesigned it so that it would include a keynote speaker and two student speakers.  The venue is beautiful and now we can welcome as many family and friends who want to attend.

 

Improvements also came about in the Department’s graduate program, which, until the late 1990s, had been small and managed interdepartmentally. The Department brought the program squarely under its own the management in 2004; enrollment was increased to produce five to seven Ph.D. candidates each year; and a program of study was developed in which students would be well trained in, able to apply and interweave theories and methods from the field’s social science and humanities traditions. Our Ph.D. students have the opportunity to study in Oxford for the summer, or to participate in COMPASS, of which we were a founding member.  The COMPASS program sends Ph.D. candidates to participate in public policy internships in Washington, DC over the summer.

 

U of M Alumni are some of the most dedicated and passionate alums in the country, and they do so much to support our students, our departments and the college.  They have certainly played a key role in the vibrancy of the Department.  In 1997, John Evans (U-M, 1966, in Speech) established the John Derby Evans Chair in Media Technology.  In 2000, Arnold (U-M, 1948, History) and Connie Pohs (U-M, 1949, Spanish) established the Constance F. and Arnold C. Pohs Professorship of Telecommunications to support a faculty member whose research would focus on the uses and impact of mobile communications, with an emphasis on cell phones.  In 2006, the Constance F. and Arnold C. Pohs Research and Technology Endowment fund was established to support research in a variety of areas and to help support the outfitting of new lab space in North Quad.  Mickey Luckoff  (U-M, 1958, Speech) established a scholarship program to support a student doing an unpaid internship in commercial radio broadcasting. Kara Sundlun House (U-M, 1997, Communication Studies and Political Science) established, in 2005, an award to fund a student wishing to do an unpaid internship in the area of broadcast journalism.  Mark Foote Dalton, whose grandfather was an alumnus and longtime leader in journalism, serving over forty years as a national and international news correspondent for Booth Newspaper Syndicate in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Washington, D.C., has been enormously generous to the Department.  The family established, in 2003, the Mark Foote Distinguished Thesis Award for the most outstanding senior thesis in terms of scientific rigor and theoretical contribution. The family also established a comparable award for the best Ph.D. dissertation.  In addition, Mark Foote Dalton has donated annually to our strategic fund, enabling the Department to bring in speakers, co-sponsor events with other departments, and support various related activities.  More recently, alums Adam Mesh (1997, Communication Studies) and Ken Davidoff (1993, Communication Studies and English) established paid internships for our students, and so many alumni—Tracy Wolfson, Jessica Kleiman, David Berson, Val Boreland, Tom Keaney, Peter Jayson and many, many others—have given back through donations or coming back to campus to talk to, advise and inspire our students.

 

In academic year 2014-15, we had an External Review conducted by four eminent scholars from peer institutions.  We were extremely gratified by their assessment that we are “one of the top Communication departments in the country” and “a program that is justly recognized as among the best in the field.”  It has been so gratifying to work together with our deeply dedicated, hard-working and impressive faculty to make our department what it is today.  I will return to teaching and research and am excited about exploring new writing projects.  Go Blue!

Summer Internship Series: Allison Raeck

The Internship Search: What I Wish I Would’ve Known

Allison Raeck picWith the summer flying by, it’s hard to believe how much has happened in the past six months. In January, I was scrambling to find an internship, scouring websites, databases and career fairs for something to do this summer. Today, I’m interning at the Executive Office of Governor Rick Snyder in Lansing, Michigan. Here, I work with the Communications Division, which is responsible for helping craft the Governor’s messages and present them to the state.

When I applied for the position, I thought it might be a lot of busy work (copying, filing, coffee runs, etc.) but, in actuality, my experience has been extremely hands-on. I’ve had the opportunity to tag along and help out with multiple events across the state, including a Criminal Justice special message in Detroit, a sexual assault summit in Lansing and even a royal visit from the Dutch king and queen in Grand Rapids. At the same time, I’ve put to use what I’ve learned in many of my Communication Studies courses while gaining new skills that will help broaden my horizons after graduation.

Still, there are a lot of things I wish I had known a year ago that would have made the internship application process a whole lot easier. Here are some lessons I’ve learned along the way:

Start the search early. While I thought I had all year to work on my resume, I quickly learned that a lot of deadlines for summer internships are in the fall and winter. My application for the Governor’s Office position was due in January and if I wouldn’t have been on the lookout, I would’ve missed it. I’d recommend checking out internships for next summer this summer. (I know this probably isn’t what you wanted to hear. But, if you get your resume and cover letters prepped now while you have some free time, you’ll thank yourself later.)

Apply, apply, apply! Though it may seem like your schoolwork and extracurricular responsibilities are overwhelming enough as it is, don’t forget to devote time to the internship search. To help separate my school and “work” lives, I treated my applications like a class; I would devote an afternoon each week solely to researching and applying for internships. Making a timeline in my schedule also helped me stay on top of application deadlines (and maintain my personal sanity – ha!).

Only consider a job you would actually accept. This seems obvious, but when I was looking around for internships, I was so desperate that I found myself writing cover letters for an array of positions, some of which I wasn’t sure I even wanted. Though I think it’s in your best interest to “apply, apply, apply!” (see above), only do so for positions that you truly believe are right for you and the career path you want to take. If the job description already seems boring or doesn’t mention anything even remotely similar to what you would want to do for the rest of your life, that’s a warning sign. Remember: there are a lot of internships out there. To make sure you don’t waste your (or your interviewer’s) time, only interview for a position you would accept if offered a job on the spot.

Have confidence in your application. When I first started applying for summer positions, I thought I’d be happy if anyone contacted me. Seriously – I was checking my email hourly for any sign that someone out there had read my resume. So, for some reason, when I actually received calls and emails in response, I was shocked. Remember: you are a highly-qualified shining star. Don’t let apprehension and anxiety get in the way of showing hiring managers what you would bring to the table. Internships are competitive, and you’ve got to do what it takes to stand out, so hide the humility for once and brag a little! And when you get that phone call, remain cool, calm and collected (regardless of how many backflips you may or may not be doing).

Be prepared to actually do everything you say you can do. Does your resume claim that you are “extremely proficient” in Excel when, really, you’ve only opened the program twice in your life? Have you told an employer you have “professional experience with graphic design” because you added text to an image on Microsoft Paint that one time? It may be tempting to throw a ton of skills and “power verbs” into your resume or cover letter, but remember: if you’re hired for that position, your boss is going to expect you to deliver on your promises. Stand out, but be truthful.

Don’t be afraid of getting multiple offers; just have an action plan ready. Don’t get me wrong. Getting a few different internship offers is a great problem to have. If that’s you, congratulations! You are capable, confident and qualified. Still, this can be an extremely awkward situation, so be prepared. Last spring, March rolled around and I had a few different people calling for interviews. I was careful to plan out all factors of the positions (such as location, responsibilities and future plans) to help decide which would be best for me. It might break your heart but, chances are, you’re going to have to turn down some great positions. This happens – just realize, however, that having multiple offers awards you the privilege to be picky.

Looking back now, I don’t know what I was so nervous about when I was applying for internships. The professionals I work with at the Governor’s Office are overwhelmingly welcoming and approachable, and I’m sure your prospective employers will be as well. So, don’t be afraid—get out there! You’ll never land a position if you don’t apply. Walk into your interview with the reassurance that your coursework as a Communication Studies student has not only prepared you for this, but made you a strong, capable candidate. Chances are you know a lot more than you think you do and will do great wherever the winding road of internship applications leads you.

 

 

 

Best Student Paper Award – Dam Hee Kim

Kim 1Meet Dam Hee Kim. She is a doctoral candidate of Communication Studies at U of M. Given her extensive background in Communication Studies and Business Administration, one line of her research focuses on media management and marketing communication.  Another field of her research focuses on political communication, with a particular emphasis on the issue of media diversity and democratic citizenship. Dam Hee also conducted research on media diversity at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in summer 2011. And of course, we cannot forget to recognize her most recent accomplishment: the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) awarded the Best Student Paper Award (first-place) to Dam Hee!

Communication Studies: Congratulations on this huge honor!  Can you give some background on AEJMC and its Media Management and Economics division and how you discovered this opportunity?

Dam Hee Kim: Thank you! The AEJMC is a 103-year-old (founded in 1912) nonprofit, educational association of journalism and mass communication scholars and media professionals. The AEJMC holds one of the top national conferences in the Communication field. Its MME (Media Management and Economics) division promotes research, teaching and professional freedom and responsibility in the areas of media management and economics.

In 2013, my paper on the Korean film industry was recognized as a Best Student Paper by the MME division. I found this division’s research both interesting and important; and, its members very welcoming. Since then, I have been involved in the MME division, serving as a Graduate Student Liaison.

CS: Tell me more about your award winning paper.  What did you find? What surprised you?

DK: This paper analyzed all 2,488 films released from 2010 to 2013 in the U.S. to examine what types of films were successful. I focused on two brand extension factors:  sequels and film adaptations, which are transfers of existing work to films. For example, film adaptations from books include The Hunger Games: Mockingjay-Part 1, and comic book-to-film adaptations include Captain America: The Winter Soldier. I expected to find that sequels and film adaptations would generate more domestic box office gross than their respective counterparts due to their established brand power. For instance, people are likely already familiar with the Iron Man film or the Hunger Games novel, and so, they may want to watch Iron Man 3 and the film adaptation of the Hunger Games more than other films with no well-known brands.

Results suggested that sequels indeed generated more domestic box office gross than non-sequels. Surprisingly, film adaptations did not generate more gross than non-film adaptations, but interacted with sequels to impact box office gross. Specifically, film adaptation sequels generated more gross than non-film adaptation sequels. Film adaptations and sequels seem to be a good combination, with the potential to create a continued stream of hit films based on existing materials.

Furthermore, I examined what types of adaptation sequels were successful. First, adaptation sequels with more star actors/actresses generated more box office gross than those with fewer stars. It looks like Hollywood is going in the right direction with its increasingly popular strategy to plan on a series of film adaptations with returning stars.

Second, I looked at the sequels’ titles; specifically, numbered titles (e.g., Iron Man 3) can emphasize the brand power of parent films, whereas newly named titles (e.g., Journey 2: The Mysterious Island) can highlight sequels’ “freshness” or dissimilarity to parent brands. I found that adaptation sequels with new names generated more gross than numbered ones. However, non-adaptation sequels with numbered titles generated more gross than those with new names. When there is only one layer of extended brands, sequels, it may be better to emphasize the established brand on the film titles, so that people can easily recognize it.

CS: Are there additional implications?

DK: Yes, there are practical implications for different players in the film industry. Investors may find sequels as a safe bet, and film adaptations planned in sequels, as an even safer bet. Producers may look for existing work such as comic books in planning adaptation sequels with recurring stars. Marketers may emphasize different layers of established brands – sequels’ parent films, parent work of adaptations, and stars – when planning promotions. For example, to adaptation sequels with a handful of well-known brand layers, marketers may give a fresh new title rather than a simple numbered title.

CS: What motivated you to pursue this subject matter?

DK: In my previous paper on the Korean film industry, I focused on two factors, the “country of origin” (i.e., whether a film was produced in Korea or imported from Hollywood) and sequels as “brand extension,” to explain films’ performance.

In the U.S. film industry, I noted that two brand extension factors, sequels along with film adaptations, were particularly relevant. For example, in 2014, the top 10 films with the highest domestic grossing were all film adaptations from books, comic books, toys, and another animated film, and half of them were also sequels. Interestingly, when sequels are spotted along with film adaptations, often within the same equation are star actors/actresses, a known brand-related determinant of film performance. I became very intrigued to find empirically, how various brand extension factors in the film industry interact to influence domestic gross.

CS: Can you speak to, if you feel so inclined, how the Communication Studies graduate program, faculty, and other resources contributed to your success?

DK: I am very much grateful for the overall support I received from the Communication Studies Ph.D. program. Particularly, Professors Nojin Kwak and W. Russell Neuman have always provided great guidance, support and advice. For this paper, I also had two excellent UROP (Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program) assistants, Bailey and Patricia.

CS: So, what’s next?

DK: My summer will be filled with dissertation-related research and teaching in Ann Arbor, with occasional conference travels. I recently participated in the ICA (International Communication Association) annual conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico, which was an intellectually stimulating and beautiful experience! I also look forward to presenting this study at the AEJMC annual conference this August in San Francisco. As a follow-up to this study, I am analyzing social media buzz around sequels and film adaptations to better understand the relationship between these brand extension factors and films’ performance. In the summer semester, I am excited to be teaching a seminar course of my design, COMM 408 (New Media and the Audience: Social, Political and Economic Engagement).

CS: Very exciting! Can you please provide us with a brief introduction of your COMM 408 course?

DK: Sure! In the new media environment, audiences demonstrate new forms of engagement, for example, through community discussion and participation, and content generation on social media. This course focuses on conceptualizing and measuring various dimensions of audience engagement in social, political, and economic contexts. Topics include cross-media marketing and social TV, democratizing effects of new media, and engagement with digital news and politics on social media among others. For the final project, students will identify and investigate one dimension of audience engagement by analyzing social media data, for instance, posts in a Facebook group or Tweets about certain issues.

CS: Do you have any final remarks you’d like to leave me with?

DK: Thanks so much for the great questions and your time!

 

Undergraduate Course Spotlight

013 blogThe life of a Communication Studies major at U of M is certainly a good one.  The Department of Communications Studies and its distinguished faculty offer diverse courses that prepare students for all sorts of communications-related fields: advertising, public relations, marketing, journalism, television and film production, sports broadcasting, book and magazine publishing, public affairs, you name it!  Each course challenges students’ preconceived notions of the media, pushing them as critical thinkers.  Some courses even change students’ understandings of the media forever.  Communication Studies 261 is one of those courses.

Professor Scott Campbell routinely teaches Communication Studies 261, “Views on the News: What Shapes our Media Content.” As a core requirement of the Communication Studies major, this class is seen as particularly complementary to students interested in journalism, media psychology, politics and government.  From start to finish, this course examines how various aspects of society shape the news.  The news is influenced by more interlocking social forces than you think: a fact the course continually reemphasizes.

Communication Studies 261 is unique in that students are divided into groups in order to conduct a research project using a content analysis research method.  They develop research questions based on a topic of their choosing and execute a research project to examine those questions. Each group submits a research proposal, a completed research paper, and presents their findings to the rest of the class.  The panel of presentations allows students to share their research in relation to class material.  Some previous research topics include:

  • Bruce Jenner and the Fear of the Unknown
  • Social Identities and Presidential News Coverage
  • NFL Domestic Abuse Coverage
  • Media Bias in Student Publications in Big Ten Universities

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Regardless of students’ different career aspirations, the skills they develop from this course will benefit them in both the personal and professional realms.  The course pushes students as critical and analytical thinkers as their writing, research, and presentation skills are refined – skills that never go out of style.  From production, to dissemination, to reception, news is influenced every step of the way.  Thus, this course insists that we cannot afford to be a passive audience.  Be critical.  Be aware.  Upon completion of this course, one thing is clear: students will never look at news the same.

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Ph.D. Program: A First-Year Student’s Perspective

Douglas Brunton is not your average graduate student.  Before enrolling at the University of Michigan for a Ph.D. in Communication Studies, he worked in multiple communications-related positions for a total of 25 years.  To name a few, his roles ranged from advertising creative director to newspaper columnist, from communications manager to television producer.  During this time he also received his master’s degree in New Media and Society at the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom.  Not only did he bring his diverse professional and educational experiences to our graduate program, but also, his unique perspective as an international student from the Caribbean.  In Rackham Graduate School’s blog, Brunton recounts these experiences and more, outlining his successful completion of his first year in our graduate program.

Looking for Student Intern Bloggers!

Summer Internship Series

Calling all Communication Studies students! We know you are accomplishing amazing internships this summer and we want to hear all about it!  We are looking for a number of students to create posts documenting their internships, which will go live on the Department’s blog for our “Summer Internship Series.” 

A few basics:

  • Receive permission from your internship supervisor.
  • Include a headshot of yourself in affiliation with your internship (ex. wearing a company t-shirt, standing in front of company’s building, posing next to company’s logo etc.) – we encourage you to include additional photos as well!
  • Number of submissions vary – some students have chosen to document their journey by submitting a few posts throughout the summer, others write one at the beginning of their internship and one at the end, and some simply write one post at the time of their choosing.
  • Writing format is fairly open-ended – ultimately, we would like to get a sense of your internship experiences and in turn, what you learned!

E-mail: comm-studies-frontdesk@umich.edu if you’re interested and/or have any questions.

Sample posts from previous years: Example 1, example 2, and example 3

Bonus: If you choose to write for us, you will receive a free Comm Studies t-shirt! Free swag? Yes, please. 

Wolverines Around the World: Caroline Shao

caroline shaoHola y Bienvenidos!

 
My name is Caroline Shao and I am a rising senior at the University of Michigan, studying Communication Studies and Law, Justice, and Social Change. Currently, I am interning in Madrid, Spain with a program called Cultural Vistas. When I originally began to think about my summer plans, I knew that the traditional path to Chicago or New York wasn’t for me. I wanted to get out of my comfort zone. I looked to other students’ experiences abroad and after hearing overwhelmingly positive reviews about Madrid, a couple of months later, I hopped on a plane to begin my internship in Spain.

 
I have been working as the Marketing and Communications Intern at Fundacion Madrina, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping pregnant women, mothers, and families in need. My responsibilities include compiling a list of international organizations and channels of communication with similar goals that would be suitable for future partnerships, and doing the legwork for a crowdfunding campaign. Thus far, I’ve attended an awards ceremony with the president of the foundation, met the Mayoress of Madrid, traveled to a church where I received a blessing from a Catholic priest, spoke to a nun in a monastery, and am looking forward to an upcoming badminton fundraising event!

 
The best part of working with a small non-profit is seeing how everyone’s role with Fundacion Madrina is absolutely crucial to the success of the organization. Despite the struggle to understand Spanish during the first company-wide meeting I attended, it was immediately clear to me that everyone’s contributions are respected and given consideration. Thinking back to my corporate internship last summer, my experience as an intern with a non-profit has felt completely different, and I am definitely enjoying it!

 
As far as life in Madrid goes, the city has welcomed me with open arms and a kiss on each cheek! Madrilenos have been overwhelmingly friendly and accommodating. They are always willing to help out when yours truly can’t locate shampoo in the supermarket and even more so when she accidently orders four cheeseburgers – ha! Culture shock hasn’t been an issue and in fact, I’ve truly embraced the cultural differences that Spain has to offer. For example, the pace of life is more relaxed. I’ve rarely seen people rushing anywhere besides to catch a metro, the bill never seems to arrive to your table so extra time is spent chatting, and arriving 10 or 15 minutes late to something is not just normal, it’s expected (*ahem* Michigan time, anyone?).

 
This past month has flown by! My time in Madrid has been filled with hard work, but also, lots of play. From museums to tours, bull fights to weekend trips, I have strived to take advantage of everything the city has to offer. Madrid’s beauty has continued to amaze me. There is so much to be said for being able to walk down the street at a leisurely pace, soaking up the view in a way that I rarely get to enjoy at home. Simply, Spain has been magnifico! It’s hard to believe that I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface. I couldn’t have asked for a better international internship experience!

 
Hasta la proxima!
Caroline

Introducing Assistant Professor Muniba Saleem

Post developed by Olivia Avery and Muniba Saleem

Muniba_HeadshotAfter working for two years as an assistant professor in the University of Michigan-Dearborn’s Behavioral Sciences department, Muniba Saleem will be joining the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor as an assistant professor of Communication Studies this fall.

Saleem began her studies at the Ohio State University, graduating with a degree in Psychology, and went on to earn a M.S. and Ph.D in Psychology at Iowa State University. Upon completion of her Ph.D, Saleem completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Carnegie Mellon University.

Throughout her career Saleem has explored the intersection between Media and Psychology. “I am motivated to understand how different personality and social factors can reduce interpersonal and intergroup conflict. Among social factors, media is one of the most important socializing agents in terms of its reach and influence. Thus, many of my research projects explore how media can influence interpersonal and intergroup conflict. Within the interpersonal context, I explore how media violence can influence aggressive cognitions and tendencies. Within the intergroup context, I explore how media portrayals of minority groups influence intergroup relations domestically and internationally.”

In her own research, Saleem has found inspiration in the concept of Social Learning Theory, and the ways in which it has improved through an understanding of how direct and indirect forms of observation can influence schemas and behavioral intentions. “It is fascinating to me that we form such strong perceptions, attributions, and expectations for outgroups that we have never met personally but have been exposed to through the media.”

Saleem is planning on starting a new line of research exploring the role of media in influencing U.S. immigrants’ perceptions of their ethnic and national identity and the extent to which these perceptions influence their acculturation, interest and trust in the government, and relations with the majority group members.

As she joins us as a faculty member in Ann Arbor, Saleem also enjoys much of what the city has to offer. “I love how intellectually stimulating and diverse Ann Arbor is. There is an interesting academic talk, cultural, or social event taking place almost every day.”

While Saleem brings to Ann Arbor her breadth of experience and expertise in her field, she also brings her presence as an effective mentor and teacher, “I think that students should have a goal to learn rather than to achieve a certain grade or accomplishment. The former will usually result in the latter but the latter doesn’t always result in the former.”

Get to Know Julia Sonnevend

Julia  photograph

For Julia Sonnevend, Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at the University of Michigan, success looks like the opportunity to explore and create. In her words, “Success is dedication and freedom. The possibility that with passionate work you can fly to new ‘planets.’ I feel the happiest in settings where there is a lot to learn and a lot to reach. I cannot imagine a life without ambitions and I have a hard time handling intellectual spaces that are limited; where there is no place to ‘move’.”

To reach the success Sonnevend has achieved, she has traveled the world and adopted a global perspective throughout her work. Sonnevend studied German literature, aesthetics, law and communications in Budapest, Berlin, New Haven and New York before starting teaching at the University of Michigan in the fall term of 2013. After completing her Master of Laws degree at Yale Law School, Sonnevend went on to earn her PhD in Communication Studies at Columbia University in the City of New York

“Exploring new spaces and especially spaces of ‘in-betweenness,’ I believe, are essential both for me and for my work. Frequent intellectual and geographical travels or relocations strongly shape my thinking,” said Sonnevend. As a result of these academic and geographic shifts, Sonnevend’s research has emerged as focused on the cultural aspects of globalization with a special interest in media events, rituals, icons and performances.

Jerusalem pic

Sonnevend in Jerusalem

Sonnevend’s approach to research connects disciplines and institutions from multiple countries in order to achieve a unique global perspective. Sonnevend expanded on this idea, explaining, “For the first half of 2014, I was in Israel as a Lady Davis Postdoctoral Fellow at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, working on a book entitled Stories Without Borders: The Making of a Global Iconic Event. My book examines how we can tell the story of a news event in a way that people remember it internationally and over time. Focusing on the fall of the Berlin Wall as central case study, I show how the confusing events of November 9, 1989 gradually condensed into a simple phrase (“fall of the Berlin Wall”), a short emotional narrative of freedom, and a recognizable visual scene. I argue that this “package” of phrase, narrative and image now travels across multiple media platforms and has currency from China to Hungary to the United States, providing us with a contemporary myth.”

It seems only fitting that with Julia Sonnevend’s interest in intellectual cross-pollination, the inspiration for some of her best work comes from some unexpected sources. Sonnevend explains, “Somehow, I get the best ideas when walking around in art museums because the visual representations from various centuries speak to me. I think the best ideas come when you do not focus on finding them. For instance, a few months ago I was walking around in Jerusalem and suddenly saw a digital sign at a bus station: “Communication Failure.” And I thought: what if I write a book on why communication (often) fails in families, in international relations and in media? Well, will this playful idea become a book, an essay or a paper? I am not sure yet, but I have certainly found this project at the least expected moment.”

Communication Failure sign in Israel

When not working or traveling, Sonnevend enjoys much of what Ann Arbor has to offer. Her favorite aspects of to town include, “The vibrant classical musical scene – I have just received an email about the fantastic 2014/2015 season! And conversations with friends in The Last Word also add to my Ann Arbor experience… The city quickly felt like home. I find the place culturally exciting and whenever I have to be abroad at a conference, in half an hour I can be at the Detroit airport. I also like visiting the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Art Institute of Chicago.”

When asked what advice she would give to incoming Communication Studies students, Sonnevend bequeathed some very valuable advice, “Do not go with the trend! Try to find your own interests, your own niche. I strongly believe that if your ideas are exciting, the world and the job market will be interested in them. This advice, I believe, is useful for all disciplines, but especially for communication studies, which tends to focus only on things that are happening right now.  But the past and the future are just as important as the present. A successful academic discipline has to include careful historical writings and imaginative grand theories of the future.”

Get to Know Katie Brown

As 2013-2014 Howard R. Marsh Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow, Katie Brown brings a fresh perspective and a diversity of experience to the position.

By creating her own major centered on filmmaking, film history, and business, Brown’s undergraduate studies at Rice University fueled her fascination with the power of the mass media. After graduating from Rice in 2006, Brown entered the Ph.D. program in Communication Studies at the University of Michigan. Since finishing her Ph.D. in the Fall of 2012, Brown has gone on to create and teach classes within her field of expertise. As a lecturer within the Communication Studies department, Brown has taught for a number of classes, including Arab-American relations in the Media, Media & the Politics of the Extreme, and Satire, Media & Politics. READ MORE »