My name is Nojin Kwak, and I am excited to begin this academic year as your new chair. Please join me in congratulating Robin Means-Coleman, my predecessor, on her appointment as Associate Dean in the U-M Rackham Graduate School. Dean Coleman’s leadership this past year has put the department on an engaging trajectory toward more a productive, collaborative, and transparent academic community, and on behalf of everyone in the department, I would like to express my greatest appreciation for Dean Coleman’s service to the department.

Among the exciting projects and opportunities happening on campus this year, one that is top priority not only in the college but also in this department is LSA’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Strategic Plan, which you may have read about in an email from LSA Dean Andrew Martin.

The college is offering community forums this month regarding this strategic plan, and I encourage the faculty, students, and staff of Communication Studies to attend at least one or more of these.

  • On Undergraduate Education Initiatives | Tuesday, September 20 | 6:30–8:30 p.m.
    Modern Languages Building Auditorium 3
  • On Graduate Education Initiatives | Thursday, September 22 | 6:30–8:30 p.m.
    Angell Hall Auditorium A
  • On Staff Initiatives | Friday, September 23 | 9:00–11:00 a.m.
    Lorch Hall Auditorium
  • On Faculty Initiatives | Friday, September 23 | 2:30–4:30 p.m.
    Modern Languages Building Auditorium 3

In addition, my door is always open to your ideas, suggestions, and comments about diversity, equity, and inclusion, and ways to continue to improve in these areas. 

With last year’s undergraduate curriculum revision now under the College’s review, in AY 2016-17 we will prepare to implement the revised curriculum and discuss how to make the transition. Outside the classroom, the department will continue our efforts to help our undergraduates pursue internships and other student learning opportunities. This year we will turn our attention to the graduate program, ensuring that it remains cutting-edge, innovative and vibrant, capable of fostering and expanding future scholars and teachers.

A number of exciting research projects are afoot in Communication Studies, and they include faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates. For instance, the Global Media Studies Initiative (Director: Aswin Punathambekar) received a $45,000 three-year grant, “Global Digital Cultures: An Inter-Asian Perspective,” from the International Institute Enterprise Fund.

In addition, there are a number of active research groups/labs in the department, including (main faculty contact in parentheses):

The Evans Chair search committee is already meeting as applications roll in. We are working closely with the School of Information to perform the search, and hope to begin seeing candidates as early as late October. Committee members from Communication Studies are: Christian Sandvig, Stuart Soroka, and Scott Campbell.

I am pleased to have new faculty members and graduate students with us this fall. Jan Van den Bulck joins our faculty as Professor. He and his family arrived in August from Belgium, where he was a Professor of Media Effects at the University of Leuven. As a social scientist, he is fascinated by the impact of fiction on people’s perceptions of the world, especially regarding what we think we know about the worlds of law enforcement and medicine. As an epidemiologist, he is interested in how media use as a behavior affects our health. He is particularly interested in how our media use is affecting sleep patterns and sleep quality.

Will Potter is here with us as the Howard R. Marsh Visiting Professor of Journalism. Potter is an independent journalist, public speaker, and the author of Green is the New Red: An Insider’s Account of a Social Movement Under Siege.

Amanda Cote returns to us as the Howard R. Marsh Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow. Dr. Cote received her PhD here in in the spring, with her dissertation titled, “Changing the Core: Redefining Gaming Culture from a Female-Centered Perspective.”

I would also like to introduce this year’s new doctoral cohort and their research interests:

  • Sarah Bachleda: causes of political dissatisfaction, new technological modes of political communication as it influences civic engagement, and unpacking the construction of being politically informed.
  • Yuval Katz: formulation of meaning and its role in different processes of communication. His research inspects the conceptualization of peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as well as instances in which meanings fail, by looking at nonsense in digital memes.
  • Hailey Kim: the media's role in information delivery during crisis and how the public's understanding of the reality develops in such times of uncertainty. She explores this under the context of contemporary digital mediascape and the transformation of social networks. Her current interest is focused on the information network during infectious disease outbreaks.
  • Fan Liang: political communication, digital politics, and Internet and democratization. He tries to explore how new media shape public opinion, political attitudes and political participation.
  • Ta'Les L. Love: representations of black womanhood on television and social media platforms. More specifically, her Master's thesis focuses on the role of YouTube and its level of influence in the natural hair movement, a cultural phenomenon that encourages African-American women to cease chemically straightening their hair. Currently, Ta'les is interested in digital media and how Black web users use various platforms to challenge or reiterate stereotypes surrounding Blackness.
  • Megan Sara Steiner: dynamics between conversational agents in video games—both human players and programmed characters/artificial intelligences. Her research explores the effects of biases implicit in AI and game design, the construction and inhabitation of virtual spaces, and the human-computer interaction occurring therein on players’ real-world intellectual, behavioral, and social attitudes.

Welcome back to campus for a new academic year, and hope that all of you have a productive year!