Dean's note
I walk through the College Avenue campus most days. It is not completely deserted and silent, as it was last spring during the lockdown. However, very few students and staff are out and about, showing we are very far away from normal times. When working from the almost empty SC&I building on Huntington, or from my home office, it is easy to think that the university has somehow frozen with nothing happening. In fact, the opposite is true. A huge amount of outstanding research is being done. Some of it is COVID-related and some of it isn’t. The various staff groups are working at full capacity managing finance, advising students, sharing important news, marketing our programs, helping faculty with teaching materials, keeping IT going, supporting research, and more. Often, they are working at extra capacity to deal with the mountain of additional responsibilities that have come with Rutgers’ pandemic response. And the extra work has been combined with furloughs, so people are doing more for less, and in many cases, they are also balancing child-care, or other caring roles, and far from optimal office arrangements.

At the center of this is teaching. I was gratified by how well our teaching operation worked last semester. I wasn’t surprised, though. We are a great teaching school with a strong track record in delivering online instruction. This semester, the quiet on the physical campus belies the intensity of the effort behind the huge, distributed network of online SC&I teaching that is happening across New Jersey and further abroad. Invisibility does not mean a lack of intensity. In the midst of this, Mary Chayko’s promotion to Distinguished Teaching Professor is emblematic of the quality to which we aspire. And it reminds us that as a land-grant institution, the delivery of top-quality teaching is at the center of our mission. The fees paid by students and their parents provide the largest part of Rutgers’ income, outweighing state appropriation and other sources. I believe that we reward our students’ commitment and trust with a truly excellent learning experience that sets them up to attain high-level career success.

Finally, we look forward to another successful Rutgers Giving Day on March 24, 2021. This is an opportunity for all of us to support our students during these uncertain times. In advance, I thank you for remembering our school.

If ever there was a time when the importance of reliable, accessible, and valuable communication, information, and media has come into focus, it has been during our turbulent present. We are all living amidst a raging pandemic, when complex questions need to be addressed, such as: How can health campaigns succeed in persuading doubters to wear masks, observe social distancing, and receive vaccinations? How can underserved communities overcome living in information deserts? How can local journalism serve communities during crises, amidst the popularity of social media? How can private health information be stored and retrieved safely, protecting individuals from misuse? These are just a few of the challenges addressed via our Master of Health Communication and Information (MHCI) degree, launched in January 2021. Drawing upon school-wide expertise in health communication, information, and media, this degree is timely and urgently needed.

In launching this degree, we see more than an opportunity: We seek to fulfill a responsibility to our communities to harness and share knowledge from years of comprehensive study and research at SC&I for the betterment of society and to bridge scholarship with the needs of individuals, organizations, and society as a whole. To realize our potential, we designed a master's degree that offers a unique multi-disciplinary perspective on how communication and information can affect outcomes of illness and well-being; offers strategies that support wellness in interpersonal, community, organizational, and public settings; and cultivates employable skills for a wide range of professions and organizations from medical institutions to community centers, from federal institutions to municipalities, from big health and pharmaceutical corporations to small businesses. Overall, we understand that healthcare and wellness are growing and dynamic fields in which communication, information, and media play major roles.

Our new MHCI degree is also unique because it ties directly to SC&I’s commitment to diversity, inclusion, equity, and accessibility. Located in the heart of New Jersey, our curriculum seeks to engage real-life challenges of health disparities and unequal access to information by providing real-life paths for social change. Students will engage in collaborative capstone projects that benefit communities around us while learning from them about their strengths, uniqueness, and challenges. Despite the difficulties imposed on us by COVID-19, our first cohort of students have embarked on this unique path for professional advancement, and we are eager to see many more who follow in their footsteps!

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