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Beloit College introduces new Media Studies major

Beloit College is now formally offering a Media Studies major as of the start of the spring 2019 semester. The college has offered a plethora of media classes through other departments in the past, but students are now able to declare Media Studies as their intended major.

The proposal for creation of the new major was submitted to the school last semester by Professor of English Shawn Gillen, who has taught media-related classes previously, and Assistant Professor of Media Studies Joe Bookman, currently Beloit’s only professor who specializes specifically in media studies. Planning for the major has been in the works for “about three years,” according to Gillen.

“[Media studies] faculty basically decided together that they wanted to create a department of their own,” Gillen said in an interview with The Round Table. “The reason being for that is there were little chunks of media and journalism being studied, little bits of it all over the curriculum, and so this program really brings it all together.”

Previously, media studies at Beloit was primarily accessible through the conglomerate Theatre, Dance and Media Studies– often shortened to “TDMS”– Department. The new media studies program will break away from the TDMS designation; media studies classes being offered in the fall 2019 semester are for the first time using the “MDST” class code.

The proposal, penned jointly by Bookman and Gillen, highlighted Beloit’s status as having long been “a curricular leader among its peers in the ACM [Associated Colleges of the Midwest] and GCLA [Great Lakes College Association] in media studies and journalism.”

“[Beloit College] was the first ACM school to offer a Journalism minor and among the first to offer majors in Communications and Media Studies as tracks in our Theater and Dance department,” said the proposal, to which The Round Table was granted access. “It is also the only liberal arts college in our consortia to own and operate a television station and recording studio, and its student-led radio station and newspaper are among the longest operating student media enterprises in Wisconsin.”

Bookman and Gillen argued in the proposal that the college already had the necessities to create the program, which would not require significant spending on outside resources. The proposal contested that the new major in Media Studies “will become one of the premier programs of its kind among our peers and help the college attract and retain students. The new major draws on existing resources and does not require new faculty lines or additional resources; it brings together what is already in place at the college.”

The new major, the proposal said, is “the result of a series of developments and efforts initiated in 2015 and 2016 to synthesize media-related courses, talent and equipment and to better serve students interested in pursuing a major in Media Studies at Beloit.” The proposal also outlined the previous state of affairs of media studies at the college, which served students through the TDMS Department as well as the minor program in journalism, primarily staffed by Gillen and Chris Fink, both professors in the English Department. Other media-related courses have been offered in departments such as Art & Art History, Classics, English, Modern Languages, Political Science, Religious Studies, the Center for Entrepreneurship in Liberal Education at Beloit (CELEB) and the Writing Program, according to the proposal.

The process for creating the new major began in 2016 with former Beloit College Provost Ann Davies, who urged the assembly of an interdisciplinary task force to explore ways “for [Beloit College] to inventory and integrate media offerings and resources,” the proposal said. “After several months of meetings spanning the summer and fall of 2016, the task force recommended… a multi-year plan for the creation of a new major in Media Studies, a media lab (similar to the Writing Center), and the purchase of new digital recording equipment. The Academic Strategic Planning Committee, Provost Davies, and President Scott Bierman all accepted the proposal.”

It was also during this time that a search committee– which consisted Gillen, Associate Professor of Theatre Amy Sarno, Professor and Department Chair of Modern Languages Amy Tibbitts, Director of CELEB Brian Morello, former Director of Digital Media Melissa Dix, Associate Professor of Art Scott Espeseth, and students Devon Pruitt’17 and Will Tomer’17– formed in hopes of hiring the college’s first Professor of Media Studies. This resulted in the addition of Bookman.

The goal of the task force was to propose the new Media Studies major within two years of Bookman’s hiring, at which point the TDMS media studies track would be “phased out,” according to the proposal. Bookman and Gillen received feedback on their proposal from Espeseth, Registrar Mary Boros-Kazai, Associate Professor of Anthropology Lisa Anderson-Levy, Professor and Department Chair of English Chuck Lewis, Morello, Sarno and Tibbitts. Bookman and Gillen– as well as Assistant Professor of Modern Languages Michelle Bumatay, who will play a role in the Media Studies Department– then met with “approximately 25 faculty, staff, and administrators” to discuss the proposal; the proposal also noted that “numerous students have served on components of the Media Studies initiative since 2015 and contributed to aspects of this proposal.”

“The proposed Media Studies major is an interdisciplinary program that brings together theory and proactive, analytical thinking, creativity, and the liberal arts and its practice,” the proposal said, “into dialogue through a sequence of courses and programming designed to help students become active producers and thoughtful consumers of media.”

The Media Studies major requires 10 units: two units of introductory media studies; two units of media production; three units of advanced media studies coursework; two supporting units of media studies coursework chosen in consultation with a media studies advisor; a one-unit capstone approved by a media studies advisor; and “one media internship or applied experience in media (which may include creative projects completed over the summer), chosen in consultation with a media studies advisor.”

The proposal included descriptions for 13 potential courses, including Introduction to Film Art (MDST 100) and Introduction to Journalism (MDST 125), both of which are being offered this fall.

According to the proposal, the core faculty of the Media Studies Department consists of Bookman, Gillen, Bumatay and Professor of English Michael Dango, who is starting at Beloit in the fall. Faculty who are considered to be “affiliated” with the department include Fink, Lewis, Sarno, Tibbitts, Assistant Professor of English Nahir Otaño Gracia, Associate Professor of Political Science Rachel Ellett, Assistant Professor of Political Science Phil Chen, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Classics and Writing Matthew Taylor and Professor of English Tamara Ketabgian.

Gillen, who is the chair of the Journalism Department at the college, will also serve as chair of the Media Studies Department.

“We think it’s going to be a very popular program for the college,” Gillen said. “I would say there have been at least a dozen students who have declared a major in Media Studies since we opened up shop in January. The classes [being offered in the fall] are strongly enrolled and are all almost full already.

“I think it’s going to be a very healthy program for the college,” he continued. “I imagine that in five, six years, it could be one of the most popular departments at the college.”

Gillen also mentioned the opportunities media studies students will be able to access.

“One of the great things we’ve done, I think, with the features of this program is that [Bookman] bought camera equipment that any student can check out, or any faculty member or anyone on staff with a library card,” he said. “They can check the equipment out, they can get really high-quality film equipment, microphones, to create a movie or shoot a video, and that’s brand new. That’s pretty unique, I think, to colleges like ours.”

Despite the financial woes and other issues Beloit currently faces, the new major has experienced a smooth transition in the early going.

“There was a three-year process of committees putting work into it,” Gillen said. “One of the really nice things about it is that our college is facing deficits and enrollment challenges, and we’ve been able to launch this new program in a year where there’s just not a lot we can do. Student response has been super strong. I’m getting students coming in all the time and declaring. My concern in the short term is that we’re able to meet demand for it.”

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