As spring semester is coming to a close, it seems fitting that this week's post is devoted to discussing how I believe the University of Southern California (the famous mascot Tommy Trojan is pictured left) could improve the learning environment at the Annenberg School for Communication. In a time when higher education is calling for change, organizations such as the American Council on Education and the Association of American Colleges and Universities are working to respond to the increasing demands brought about by technological growth, globalization, communication, and insistence on accountability. In 2004 the University of Southern California addressed these issues and developed a plan to “become one of the most influential and productive research universities in the world.” The USC strategy is based on three core tasks: to conduct research and scholarship, to increase international visibility, and to focus educational programs on meeting the needs of qualified students around the globe.
In keeping with the spirit of progress and innovation, the Dean of the College of Letters, Arts & Sciences created the USC College Dean’s Prize. The prize encourages undergraduates to “think seriously about learning, be creative, and daring,” and calls on students to suggest ways that they might improve the educational experience at USC. While so many institutions and are developing grandiose schemes to propel their establishments toward excellence, the Dean’s Prize is unique because it creates a forum for the student body voice . In 1971 Ambassador Walter H. Annenberg (pictured here) founded the Annenberg School at USC. Upon its founding, Annenberg delivered these words in his mission statement; “Every human advancement or reversal can be understood through communication. The right to free communication carries with it the responsibility to respect the dignity of others, and this must be recognized as irreversible. Educating students to communicate this message effectively and to be of service to all people is the enduring mission of this school.” This statement has remained the foundation and guiding principle of the School for Communication.
Annenberg offers three undergraduate degrees: communication, journalism, and public relations, and is divided in to the School of Communication and the School of Journalism. With an undergraduate enrollment of almost 1900 students, I think it would be effective if Annenberg broke down the curriculum into even more specific majors, including advertising, marketing, or publishing. One of the most difficult problems I have encountered as a student at the Annenberg School, much to my embarrassment, is not being able to sufficiently provide an answer to the simple question, “What is a communication major?” This is an issue that I have faced countless times, and one that I know many of my fellow students have come across as well. It is not that we do not learn important and relevant information, rather that we learn too broad a spectrum of information. As a solution to this problem I propose that Annenberg also reduces the size of some of its introductory level classes, which are structured much like the general education courses, and replace them with smaller classes that would be more intimate. This, in combination with the addition of more specialized classes and majors, would foster a more productive learning environment where students could better achieve mastery of his or her specific field of interest.
At the Annenberg School, communication majors take classes ranging from technology, to diversity in the media, to legal issues. With such a wide range of options it is quite a challenge to get a handle on what specific aspect of communication one predominantly wants to study, unlike The Annenberg School For Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, which offers communication as its only major. I understand that the Dean’s Prize encourages students to think outside the box, but I believe that the Annenberg School is one of the most diverse communication programs with an impressive selection of resources, guest speakers, and study abroad opportunities. To make the program more effective, I feel that the school should organize and restructure its already strong foundation before expanding any further.
The USC role and mission statement declares, "The central mission of the University of Southern California is the development of human beings and society as a whole through the cultivation and enrichment of the human mind and spirit." To achieve these goals, as the university notes in their 2004 strategic plan, it must not only build upon the pre-existing foundation, but also “leverage USC’s strengths.” Located in the heart of Los Angeles and and with generous endowments from celebrities such as George Lucas, USC has already established itself as one of the leading schools to study media and communication. While it is important to grow, expand, and improve as an academic institution, I believe that USC and the Annenberg School must be careful not to overlook substance in favor of glamour and flash. At the end of the day, it is the students who must be stimulated and satisfied. To maintain this level academia I believe that USC’s Annenberg School should redirect some of their energy to creating an intimate, comfortable, and challenging learning environment where the students do not feel anonymous in large, echoing lecture halls.