Thank you for your consideration of my tenure application. It has been an honor and a privilege to be a part of the Newhouse family for the past six years. Through this application, I am eager to demonstrate my value to this institution by being reviewed using Model 1, the teaching excellence model (i.e. excellence in teaching, satisfactory research, satisfactory service) as outlined in Newhouse Rules, 2018.
For decades, I have worked toward promoting critical thinking and media literacy in my teaching, scholarly and creative work, and service. Since my arrival at Syracuse University in Fall 2013, I have worked to engage, educate, and enlighten our students and change the way we (at Newhouse, at Syracuse University, the media industry, and the public at large) talk about issues of diversity in media. I believe that this is the definition of excellence in teaching: providing dynamic and sustainable tools to engage critically with a world that is perpetually in flux, and inspiring individuals to try harder, be better, and apply these tools in their personal and professional lives, regardless of fear or apprehension regarding difficult topics. From key terms, theories, and readings, to rhetorical strategies and tricks for self-care in the face of discrimination and bigotry, I want my students to have the resources and the capacity to engage deeply around complex issues and feel secure and proud in their ability and willingness to do so.
As a teacher, I emphasize the relationship between psychological trends, business practices, technology, culture, and social justice and remind my students that “media literacy is the ability to see things that you are actively encouraged not to see” (L’Pree, 2017). I love teaching because I love unpacking complex ideas and changing the way people think about and talk about the world and their own lives. I seek to elevate discussions regarding the complex future of media through three key areas: (1) in the classroom, (2) through individual student mentorship, (3) and through public conversations. I see every opportunity, including scholarly/creative work and service, as an opportunity to provide and cultivate the tools for others (and myself) to engage critically in an ever-changing world.
In the classroom, I provide students a wealth of resources and, through conversation and assignments, help them navigate and apply the information to their own life and work; I have been honored to have several guests in my class, from young professionals listening in for my virtual speaker series in COM107 to industry professionals and administrators in COM346, including Chancellor Syverud who “enjoyed being in [my] class and seeing a master teacher at work” (Correspondence, 2015). Through student mentorship, I work closely with students one-on-one to systematically guide them through answering their own research questions, drawing on interdisciplinary research, theories, and methods to ensure they become experts in their own area of interest. This year, I advised my first Ph.D. student who graduated on time and with a tenure-track job and oversaw the publication of two student (1 BS, 1 MA) theses. Through public conversations, I bring these strategies outside of the classroom and office to help foster critical thinking among our entire community, including students not enrolled in my classes, faculty both inside and outside of Newhouse, industry professionals, and the general public. My Conversations on Race and Entertainment Media regularly fill the Hergenhan Auditorium; my pop “trash” podcast with Bob Thompson has been streamed over 2,000 times (criticalandcurious.com); and my 2015 TEDx talk on the Psychology of Selfies has over 28,000 views on YouTube .
This diverse approach to teaching has an enduring impact evidenced by two unique honors. In May 2017, I received the Award for Teaching Excellence from Newhouse’s graduating senior class; students who voted for me were six months to three years out of my class, demonstrating that my course material and conversations have long-term effects and continued to resonate with my students. Comments shared during the ceremony included: “I’ve used what I’ve learned in their class every day of my life,” “[This professor] teaches in a way that makes you want to be better,” and “[This professor] seriously changed my life. Their class made me want to get involved in social justice.” A few months later in August 2017, I was invited to deliver the faculty address at the Chancellor’s New Student Convocation after being nominated by current Syracuse University students, one of only two Newhouse faculty to have received this university honor according to the Office of First Year and Transfer Programs (the other was Hub Brown in Winter 2015). I took this opportunity to share my teaching philosophy with thousands of incoming students and their families and prepare them for a new chapter in their lives.
My scholarly and creative work has also been guided by the needs of our students and is deeply intertwined with my teaching, a distinctive opportunity at Newhouse for which I am grateful. Prior to my arrival, my work was focused on issues of intersectional identity and content reception; however, since working with our students and faculty, my research has shifted to address issues of identity and content production: How do the identity of media creators (both amateur and professional) as well as their attitudes about media technology affect the media that they produce? This work can be clustered into two key research areas: (1) producer identity and content creation and (2) reexamining technological affordances.
While at Newhouse, I have published four peer-reviewed journal articles, six book chapters, and one book review; I currently have four articles under review and two books under contract, one of which will be completed and in publication by the end of the year. I seek to disrupt the academic (and popular) discourse around media, asking researchers and students, professionals and non-professional to reexamine what they think they know about media (including effects and technological affordances), how they came to know this, and how these assumptions inherently limit our ability to advance. Overall, this work has given me fodder for classroom discussions and helps me help my students apply theory and research to their future as media professionals. In doing so, I feel that my research has also helped me become an excellent teacher.
Finally, in the area of service, I seek out projects that allow me to continue a mission of media literacy. I volunteer for opportunities that allow me to have these conversations and promote critical thinking and media literacy throughout Newhouse, Syracuse University, and off campus. I participate in professional and community events promoting media literacy and psychological well-being through media and regularly volunteer at conferences including ICA and NCA to serve as panel chairs and discussants. At the same time, I am often sought out to support our underrepresented students in both visible ways and behind the scenes, from serving as the faculty advisor for the National Association of Black Journalists at Syracuse University (NABJ-SU) to organizing a South Park “watch-in” addressing a racially-charged incident at a dorm because a student approached me in tears. I have been honored to serve our institution and our students and these opportunities, both sanctioned and unsanctioned, required and voluntary, help me better understand our students and excel in the classroom.
As someone who has focused on “pure” research and theory in academia, it is wonderful to know that my students today will be reaching a national and global audience tomorrow, and everything that I have done during my time at Newhouse has been toward this goal. This knowledge that I may be able to make media a little better is beyond gratifying, even if it is just providing one person the tools to produce better content, or to speak up when they see something that is psychologically or socially harmful. It was particularly gratifying, in the wake of the 2014 Eric Garner protests in New York City, to receive the following email from a student who had had just completed COM346:
I’ve been covering protests in the city since I got back to NYC and it hit me yesterday that I definitely would not understand any of the issues going on if I didn’t sit in your class. So, you know, thanks. (Alfred Ng, December 24, 2014)
I am an asset to the mission of Newhouse because I have worked tirelessly to “educate ethical, visionary communicators” through my teaching, scholarly and creative activities, and service. In my six years, I have taught almost 1000 students formally, and affected thousands more through my mentorship, advising, and public conversations. Each of these students have become more thoughtful, critical, and aware media producers regardless of major, and I am eager to continue this work for many years to come.
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