Building on strength
Childhood experiences influence how we face challenges and opportunities. I encountered one of my toughest challenges when I was 12 years old.
In the summer of 1962, my family moved from Greenville, S.C., to Avon Park, in the heart of Florida’s citrus belt.
At first, the move seemed like a dream. After all, I was living in the Sunshine State, with its beaches, warm winters and orange trees. My Greenville friends and family members were envious. But 12 is an awkward age for anyone to move far away from relatives and life-long friends. After a couple of weeks, the dream move became a nightmare. I found myself wondering, “What do I do now?”
Letters helped, and I wrote many. I fished, read books about planets and presidents, rode my bike all over town and played one-on-none basketball in the driveway. But I found serenity atop a shaded and hidden fire escape overlooking downtown on the old Jacaranda Hotel. There, I experienced the meaning of the lyrics, “All my cares just drift right into space” in the classic song, “Up on the Roof.” I realized I had to adjust, seize the opportunity and make the transition.
With a solid assist from the start of the school year, I made great friends, got involved in school athletics and music programs and fell in love with the small town’s friendliness, clear lakes, warm winter, proximity to the ocean and the navel orange trees in my back yard. I was home again.
I also became infatuated with hanging around the family business, WAVP-AM, a 1,000-watt daytime radio station. Under my dad’s expert tutelage, I quickly mastered operation of the old Gates audio board and recorded practice air shifts late into the night, learning from my dad’s critiques. By fall semester of my sophomore year I was on the air. My schedule included school until 3 p.m., football practice until dark, band practice Tuesday and Thursday evenings, and off to the radio station every night to record a one-hour Top 40 radio program that aired the next afternoon – while I was at football practice.
My interest in radio rapidly intensified when I began working in news. By the end of my sophomore year I was re-writing wire copy, anchoring newscasts and covering the local news beats. The following year, I provided my first live network feed while covering a nationally prominent trial of a man accused of murdering a local citrus and cattle baron.
Moving to Florida presented opportunities I could take advantage of only when I ventured forward instead of looking backward. I dove in head first – not just into the town’s clear-water lakes, but into being the new kid in school and starting over. Although I didn’t realize it, I was establishing the groundwork for my career.
This past summer, I became somewhat of a new kid again, taking over as the College’s interim dean. I faced the challenge of following Rae Weimer, John Paul Jones, Ralph Lowenstein and Terry Hynes. So, what did I do? I dove in head first to move forward and build on the strengths of the College. It helps that I’ve been on the faculty since 1982 and an administrator since 1993. I know my way around Weimer Hall pretty well. More important, I am surrounded by excellence. This is the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications – one of the premier programs in the world.
The strengths on which to build are many. In all four departments we have bright and hard-working students who have won national professional competitions. Our graduate students are recognized nationally for excellence in research. Our staff members are dedicated and productive. We have award-winning broadcast stations. Our alumni are making a difference all over the world. And we have an enduring tradition of excellence built by the deans, chairs, faculty, staff and students who have made this the special place it is.
A major strength is our truly accomplished faculty – top tier teacher-scholars with eclectic interests. Faculty members are publishing scholarship related to health science, risk and political communication, gender and diversity issues in mass communication, international and development communication, new media technologies, media economics, history, and media law and regulation.
Accomplishments in creative advertising and visual communications, documentary filmmaking and photojournalism have brought international acclaim to faculty and the College. Current interdisciplinary projects demonstrate our valuable contributions in generating cutting-edge knowledge about the consumption and understanding of messages. Examples include Prof. Mary Ann Ferguson’s News-Eye Track Research in collaboration with the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, Prof. Kim Walsh-Childers’ research on “Breast Cancer Information in Magazines and Websites,” funded by the National Cancer Institute and Prof. Youjin Choi’s, “Reducing Oral Cancer Disparities in Florida” project, a joint effort with UF’s College of Dentistry, funded by a grant from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, National Institutes of Health. Faculty members also are contributing to the internationalization of the College through research, study abroad programs and other initiatives in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe and Latin America.
The Brechner Center for the Freedom of Information and Marion Brechner Citizens Access Project have earned international reputations by providing information about freedom of information and other media-law topics to journalists, attorneys and other members of the public and by conducting and stimulating media law research.
The Documentary Institute has won international acclaim, with two major productions dealing with the U.S. civil rights movement airing on PBS. Its most recent production, Angel of Ahlem, provides a compelling perspective on connecting with Holocaust survivors.
The College’s stations continue to provide invaluable professional training for our students while offering a diversity of cultural, news and public affairs and entertainment radio and television programming to North Central Florida. The Knight Division for Scholarships, Career Services and Multicultural Affairs helps us achieve our goal of being diverse and inclusive and to prepare students to be productive in a global society.
The College administrative team of deans and department chairs, broadcast station managers and division heads shares my commitment to collaborative leadership in a culture of shared governance. We’re listening to faculty, staff and students to find ways to provide support and enhance productivity. This semester, we began meeting to formulate new approaches to initiatives that help maintain our status among the elite journalism and communications programs. We’re planning a new computer lab dedicated to advancing writing skills. We’re exploring ways to provide incentives for faculty members to enhance development of distance-learning courses. We’re discussing the development of professional master’s programs and certificate programs at the graduate level focusing on broadcast and online journalism. To enhance our focus on media convergence and cross-platform training, we’re laying plans for a converged newsroom that would take advantage of existing resources and include print, broadcast, and online media. A faculty task force is designing the layout and preparing the equipment list for the College’s new, state-of-the art research laboratory.
As the role of communication and media in society become more prevalent, powerful and complex, the study of journalism and communications and generation of new knowledge in the related disciplines become more critical. I share the convictions and dedication of my colleagues, past and present, that the College will build on its strengths and remain a world leader in the education of future journalists, other communication practitioners and teacher-scholars in the various communications fields as we move forward in the 21st century.