Editor's Note: Dean Check-In is a series in which the Collegian talks to leaders of Penn State's undergraduate colleges about their current operations, what they've accomplished and where they hope to take their colleges in the future.
Since the inception of the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications, everything from a certificate in sports journalism to a summer film camp for high school students has been offered to its students.
But, the college has continued to incorporate new options and aims to keep adapting to the modern world of communications well into the future.
Marie Hardin — the dean of the College of Communications — said throughout the past decade, the college has been aiming to grow its World Campus programs. In the early 2000s, the college didn’t offer many World Campus programs, but now there are three undergraduate degree paths as well as a Master’s degree option for World Campus students.
However, Hardin said this was only one of its objectives.
“We set a lot of goals that we know will take many many years to achieve, and we keep setting the bar higher,” Hardin said.
One goal of the college is to achieve diversity, equity and inclusion for all students, as well as to continue offering a more inclusive learning environment..
“[The college has] to continue to become more diverse in a way that is helpful to our students, faculty and staff,” Hardin said. “That is a goal that I would say [we’ll never] achieve.”
Douglas Anderson, Hardin’s predecessor, served as the dean from 1999 to his retirement in 2014.
Patrick Parsons, a telecommunications professor in the College of Communications, said Anderson laid a strong foundation for the college and influenced its growth significantly.
“With the arrival of Doug Anderson, everything changed. [Anderson] provided both stability, organizational talent and division that provided a path forward for us,” Parsons said. “[Hardin] worked closely with him, has continued and expanded [Anderson]’s work from a very strong foundation, she's made sure [the college] continued to grow.”
Anderson had been a mentor for Hardin before she assumed the position of the dean, helping her get ready for the role.
“When I did take on this role, I [felt] my job was to build on the very strong foundation for the college,” Hardin said. “What I wanted to do was to shore up our resources… and encourage the faculty to update the curriculum and develop strong relations across the university.”
In the future, the College of Communications looks to collaborate with other colleges on campus to develop programs for students. In 2016, the college began offering a minor in digital media trends and analysis with the College of Information Sciences and Technology. It is also currently working with the College of Arts and Architecture to develop a minor in visual storytelling.
“Overall, what’s very important is collaborative degrees with other academic units on campus,” Hardin said. “Various communication fields intersect with other academic disciplines [like] IST, Arts and Architecture, [and the] College of Liberal Arts.”
Hardin said the college “prides [itself]” on the resources offered to students and community members in terms of ethical issues, like the Arthur W. Page Center for Integrity in Public Communication — a research center within the college that studies public and corporate communication.
“Leading experts around ethics [is] always a goal for the college to continue to raise our profile as a place journalists and media practitioners can look to for guidance around the very tough ethical issues in the field,” Hardin said.
The college is also looking forward to opening the Donald P. Bellisario Media Center — a hub for communication students and student media — for the 2020-2021 academic year. The center will be located in the Willard Building.
“[The media center] will be a game changer for us,” Hardin said. “It will allow us to encourage more innovation in terms of storytelling and storytelling forms than we’ve ever done before, giving faculty and students the chance to experiment and innovate.”
After building the new media center, the college will renovate the Carnegie Building.
“[College of Communications staff have] been in [Carnegie] for decades, it has great history,” Hardin said. “[To] keep it updated, fresh and contemporary, we will revisit the Carnegie Building to do updates that need to be done there.”
In terms of future development, Hardin said the college needs to be thinking about more “immersive technologies” like artificial intelligence and analytics since they enable forms of storytelling that are uncommon now.
The college has also worked to keep curriculums up to date, adjusting content in accordance with technological advances.
“Faculty [are] at the cutting edge of knowing how to use [contemporary tools],” Parsons said. “And teaching social media of hardware and software, higher end data analytics… all sorts of blogging and video, public relations and advertising… students are taught contemporary uses.”
Hardin said the college spends time carefully deciding what technology it should invest in; she gave the example of Google Glass, which they did not invest a lot of resources or money in back in 2014 when it first came out. To determine which technology to invest in, the college looks to faculty expertise.
“I think you have to be careful not to chase every new object that comes along,” Hardin said. “[The college chooses] which tools and technology are important enough to invest in [because] others… are ultimately not going to last a long time or they’re just not going to end up with widespread news.”
In 2018, the college was able to add another career fair under its belt — “COMM Careers in the Capital” in Washington, D.C. The fair was established for the same reason as “Success in the City” — employers did not want to come to the university for career fairs, so the college decided instead to go to them.
“It is hard to get Capital Hill out to Penn State,” Assistant Dean for Internships and Career Placement Robert Martin said. “But we can get them to come out [and help students] when we go to them directly.”
Hardin said the current remote learning period caused by the coronavirus has helped the college learn about faculty talent and expertise in a completely new way.
“We have always taken for granted that [the college is] very comfortable in the online environment,” Hardin said. “When [the virus] hit, we all became aware that we as a college have been very well equipped to deal with [the challenges of remote learning].”
As for what will happen if the college operates remotely in the fall, Hardin said they are still committed to giving students experiences beyond the classroom.
“If we continue in remote learning in the fall, I can guarantee you we would put 110% of our efforts toward finding ways to give… experiences to students, even under those circumstances,” Hardin said.
Parsons said in the immediate future, however, the main problem the college has to deal with is the coronavirus. But there is also the problem of creating informed news consumers.
“I think there’s been a long-standing concern across all communications with creating informed consumer[s],” Parsons said. “How students tap into the available resources, [since] the variety of resources is greater [now] and there [is] some garbage. But it’s a good challenge to have.”
Parsons said that although there are other communications colleges across the country, the Bellisario College of Communications is able to keep up with them due to its large size.
“If we are not number one, we are number two or three,” Parsons said.
The college also works with others across departments, allowing it to utilize its strengths and provide helpful experiences to students. Its large alumni network also helps it stand out.
“I’m incredibly proud of the staff in providing the critical support that our faculty needs,” Hardin said. “It comes down to our people, and… our students are winning awards and getting great jobs and that’s a point of pride.”
Parsons said the College of Communications also has a sense of collegiality, since its members uplift each other in their work.
“The college of communications [members]… always tend to support one another and appreciate the individuality that each [person] brings,” Parsons said.
When discussing obstacles the college may face in the future, Hardin said there is only one.
“The only obstacles for us are the limits that we put on our own imagination,” Hardin said. “There are always going to be financial challenges, resources you wish you have that you don’t, but there is no limit to our imagination.”
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