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Memo to high school seniors

Next fall’s JSchool freshmen will differ from previous generations of first-year journalism students in one important respect: They’ll be “journalism” majors.

Let me explain.

In years past, journalism school applicants at OU were asked to indicate a sequence, e.g., advertising, broadcast news, magazine journalism, etc. Sequences have defined the JSchool in the 20+ years I’ve been on the faculty. Even to this day, most faculty members in the journalism school identify with one or perhaps two sequences. That’s likely going to change in the not-too-distant future.

Four years from now Ohio University will make the switch to semesters, so we all know that change is coming. This season of change is amplified by changes we see happening every day in a landscape of converging media, a landscape that begs the question: How much longer will sequences make sense?

As we begin laying the groundwork for our change to semesters, we’re already seeing an embrace of greater flexibility. For example, the faculty voted more than a year ago to infuse our existing sequences with greater choice. Through the advising process we encourage our students to take full advantage of an expanded menu of options, making it easier to acquire a wide variety of skills and ways of thinking.

Which takes me back to my opening comments about our incoming students in 2009. We want all incoming freshmen to think of themselves simply as journalism students when they enter our program. During their first quarter on campus they’ll take “Journalism & Society” (JOUR 101), saturating them with information about the changing world of media, the opportunities and growth areas, as well as the wide variety of invaluable hands-on opportunities and student professional organizations available on campus. Then, and only then, will they select a sequence that makes sense to them.

Students wishing to break out of the remaining vestiges of convention can apply for the Carr Van Anda, which allows third-year students who have maintained a minimum GPA of 3.0 the option of creating their own sequence. The student’s adviser and the director of the JSchool have to sign off on the program to make sure it is coherent and meaningful. But I can assure you that we’re doing far more to bring the CVA option to our students’ attention than was done in the past, simply because we see the great value it offers in injecting flexibility into our existing curriculum.

Even with all of this change, we continue to be committed to providing a relevant curriculum as well as the learning experiences needed to get a job in the field of journalism. These opportunities are available in abundance on campus, as well as through internships. Both are needed more than ever, to ensure that our students are ready for whatever happens in the field of journalism.

NOTE: Jen Evans, Andy Kane, and Angie Weaver wrote in the 2008 edition of our alumni magazine, The Ohio Journalist, a cover story exactly on this topic. I recommend “The Challenge of Change” to all students applying for admission to any journalism program.

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