The State of the Department of Communication

On March 7, 2019, UW Communication alumni David Horsey and Nole Ann Horsey hosted the annual Hall of Fame Insider’s reception at their beautiful home.

At this event, Chair David Domke shared how the department has evolved over time and how that relates to the transformation of communication itself. At the outset, the department is committed to exploring and taking steps toward how communication can help solve problems facing us today. Our alumni, and their role in helping us accomplish this goal, is critical. In light of that, events such as these are important and meaningful as they help us establish dialogue and share ideas.

The Department of Communication offers academic opportunities in journalism and communication studies. Our 30 full-time faculty overlap across different areas of expertise, and our undergraduate students receive real reporting experience through endeavors like the Olympia Legislative Reporting Program. The program is an immersive experience where students find paid, full-time reporting jobs each winter quarter with news outlets covering the Washington State Legislature. For graduate students, we offer M.A., Ph.D., and professional programs such as the Natives Voices, Master of Communication in Digital Media, and Master of Communication in Communities and Networks degrees.

Dr. Domke also talked about how the department just underwent its 10-year review and some of the issues it brought to light. In addition to auditing our progress and processes, it helped create a roadmap that David, as he prepares to step down, can share with the new incoming Chair. With the abundance of choice available in career paths and subject areas, one of the current challenges for the department is helping students focus more when they go through the program in both journalism and communication studies. With decreased Washington state backing since the recession, funding is also an ongoing challenge.

After this brief department overview, Dr. Domke introduced our newest full-time faculty member, Dr. Kristina Scharp; she primarily researches difficult family transitions and the ways families cope with the major disruptions to their lives. The research she conducts on distressing family transitions manifests in a variety of contexts, such as parent-child estrangement, (foster) adoption, undergraduate student parents, and managing disability diagnoses (such as hearing loss). The alumni present were fascinated with her research, and among other things, asked questions about the impact of immigration on estrangement, (when a third party breaks up families). This led to a lively discussion about topics ranging from support systems and how some children break out of the victim narrative, to reconciliation, issues of identity and labels that we adopt, and how families can sometimes achieve closeness through distance.

The conversation then shifted gears to more questions for the Chair about how the identity of journalism itself is changing, and how different enterprises are coping. Dr. Domke talked about how students need to be more entrepreneurial in their approach to journalism today. Institutional journalism had resources that are now dwindling and it’s a different world, wherein social media has become an important tool for finding sources and sharing stories. Journalism is also at an interesting juncture, as many factions of society are demonizing it. All of these are challenges that undergraduates have to learn to negotiate, as both students and professionals.

The Department of Communication distinguishes itself through research endeavors that connect to people’s lives in very real ways. Within the humanities, our program is thriving because students still relate to the discipline of communication. We have 1,000+ undergraduates within our diverse student body; our curriculum embraces and celebrates difference. Students take 75% of courses outside journalism to get a more well-rounded education and have a broader perspective on social and political issues. Moreover, ours is the only accredited journalism program in Washington.

Thank you, again, to our alumni and supporters! Your presence and involvement helps us achieve our goals and move to a brighter future together.