By Freddie Morgan —
The Journalism and Media Studies (J/MS) department is unlike any other. With dedicated, experienced faculty and an ambitious student body, J/MS prides itself on providing real-world knowledge to budding professionals. But the secret to the department’s success is its alumni.
“Our alumni make us look so damn good,” said Steve Miller, coordinator of Undergraduate Studies and active in alumni outreach. Miller’s job is to “let alumni know that they’re not removed upon graduation.”
According to Miller, students should actually be more involved after they graduate than during their time at Rutgers.
“Grads have a better understanding and knowledge of what they learned on campus,” he said. “What they learned assisted them in becoming who they are today.”
However, alumni outreach was not always a priority within J/MS. When Jack Bratich became department chair in the fall of 2012, he realized the department had not done enough to maintain contact with its graduates.
“My task was to look at how to strengthen alumni relations,” he said.
He knew he had to do something to build on the department’s relationship among alumni, staff and students. To further the department’s network with alumni, Bratich worked with Miller to coordinate several events, among them the J/MS Annual Tailgate Reunion, which took place at
Homecoming on Oct. 26. Additionally, Bratich and Miller created mixers for the alumni who live
and work in New York City.
“It’s for recent alums to network and share the same space [to talk] about what’s out there,” Bratich said. At the fall event, around 20 alumni met in the Lower East Side to share drinks and socialize.
The two believe that a sense of community is paramount to the department’s success.
“What we’re trying to do with the tailgates and alumni mixers is to open our door, put down the welcome mat and say to alums, ‘You’re family and you always will be,’” Miller said.
The passionate faculty and staff prove that the J/MS family is invested in helping each other, providing alumni opportunities to socialize, network, and even work with fellow graduates and current students. The hope is that one day, alumni will give back to the department.
Miller is quick to note that giving back does not necessarily mean writing a check.
“The best way to pay it forward is by donating, whether it be with money, time, or willingness to share knowledge,” he said.
Indeed, Miller agrees that money is generous, but the most valuable gift an alumnus or alumna can give is time. He believes visiting classrooms, providing mentorship and even offering internships or entry-level positions are all equally generous ways to show the department gratitude.
“Giving time and knowledge can last a lifetime,” he said.
“Donations should come out of generosity, plentitude and abundance,” Bratich added.
Conversation with alumni
SC&I Director of Development Linda Christian believes contributing should be a conversation with alumni about how they want to give back.
“There are varying levels of ways to support,” she said, citing volunteering as a charitable use of time and an effective way to engage young alumni.
Recent graduates do not need to contribute a significant amount in order to advance the development of J/MS.
“Every dime counts,” Christian said.
“The majority want something to do with student support,” Christian said. “Some help provide scholarships and fellowships or faculty support.”
Scholarships are a fundamental aspect of J/MS. Currently, the department offers more than 15 awards and scholarships to defray the cost of tuition.
“There has been an abundance of good will from alums,” Bratich said.
Among the many generous donors is Paul “Pete” Jennings, an 88-year-old cardiologist from Piscataway who still works part-time in administration at St. Peter’s Medical Center. In 1986, he and his family gave a gift of significance to establish a scholarship named for his late father, Kenneth Q. Jennings, Rutgers College 1924, who taught journalism at Rutgers for almost 40 years while working at several New Jersey newspapers, including the Home News.
When Jennings’ mother died, Pete Jennings had her name added to the scholarship, which is for juniors who intend to make a career in print journalism. Viola Weiss Jennings, NJC 1923, was women’s editor of the Home News for 36 years.
“I thought it was a nice thing to do,” said Jennings, who has been a member of the Rutgers Board of Trustees for more than 30 years. “My father and mother always believed in the importance of education.”
His parents also felt strongly about newspapers. “My parents were traditionalists who believed in print journalism,” Jennings said. “I am, too. When my kids ask why we need newspapers when you can read them on the computer, I tell them if there are no newspapers, what are you going to read on the computer?”
Other J/MS alumni over the years have contributed to the Jennings Scholarship, including a graduate from California who took a course with Kenneth Jennings.
“She had a great experience with my father as a professor,” Jennings said, “and wanted to honor him.”
Another scholarship the department offers has been developed recently. Last summer, Bratich and Miller worked together to create a transportation scholarship for interns who commuted into New York City. They raised almost $2,000, primarily from alumni contributions.
Alums drawn to scholarship
Bratich believes alumni were drawn to this scholarship because it reminded them of when they were student interns.
“They were helping a student do the things they did,” he said. The department plans to continue this scholarship for the following year.
While alumni fund many scholarships, they are not the only way to contribute to the department and get something in return. Naming rights are applicable both in the current SC&I building and in the future building SC&I plans to build across the street.
“Donors can ask for naming opportunities right now,” Christian said, specifically for seminar rooms and for labs.
Ultimately, Bratich would like the department to create a hyperlocal news site, not just for students to use for instruction, but also to work on-site both virtually and in a newsroom. “This is a challenge for the future of news,” he said.
Miller has a broader goal for the department.
“I’d like to see the expansion of all programs with J/MS,” he said. “The department and SC&I have grown exponentially in five years. We need to increase the number of resources to students in order to meet growing demands of the industry.
“If we are fortunate enough to receive donations, it would benefit students now and for years to come.”