2020 graduates’ 1-on-1 time with Dean Susan King

UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media Dean Susan King didn’t expect to need to enlist her husband and daughter to haul books, lights and computers to set up a home studio to connect personally with the school’s 2020 graduating students. But with these socially-distanced times, she needed to find a way.

Unable to look them in the eye and shake their hands on the commencement stage as planned this May, King decided to hold virtual office hours for 2020 graduates — enabling graduating seniors, M.A. and Ph.D. students to get individual “face time” with their dean.

The one-on-one sessions have been a big draw for students — so much so that every availability has been filled, with a waiting list. So King is scheduling more time to connect individually with 2020 graduates.

“I’ve missed that daily interaction with students. I miss being able to sit down with them individually and listen to their questions, concerns and career plans,” said King. “It’s been a difficult semester. I am so proud of how our students have pushed through and continued to produce exceptional work.”

King said the students are eager to talk about their experiences and connections at UNC Hussman and to strategize with her about how to position themselves well in a job market left in disarray by the pandemic.

Graduating senior Martha Bennett, who led the school’s student ambassador program this year, said she appreciates how the dean is accessible to students — and how she set a tone of flexibility and durability through this unique semester.

“The school has been great about talking with students, not just about coursework, but how we are managing everything,” Bennett said. “It was nice to have this chance to visit with her individually and to know that her  connection and support lasts beyond graduation. Dean King has an amazing enthusiasm for what she does. I admire her greatly.”

Graduating senior Taylor Doggett echoed the sentiment.

“Dean King invests in her relationships with students and is a tireless advocate,” Doggett said. “I really enjoyed seeing her, if only virtually. Not actually sitting on that leather couch across from her in the dean’s office made me really sentimental for the last two months of my senior year on campus that I lost.”

Doggett said she went from being a nameless student to majoring in media and journalism — and finding a home in Carroll Hall, where she has treasured her personal relationship with the dean. “The magnitude of that and the fact that she is taking time to hold these Zoom calls and make things happen for her seniors is not lost on me,” she said. “I feel that UNC Hussman's connection with the Class of 2020 is special and will always be.”

“I want our students to know that graduation is congratulations, not goodbye,” said King. “The school’s faculty and staff and I will continue to support them, provide career guidance and other resources to help them launch the next phase of their lives.”

Master’s graduate and Roy H. Park Fellow Riley Davis appreciated the dean taking time to meet with M.A. students. 

“COVID-19 has taken away so many of our opportunities,” she said. “The dean gave me insights on how to navigate the media landscape during this crisis.”

Cheyenne Desrosiers — a graduating senior completing her degree a year early — talked with Dean King about her UNC Hussman experience, her classes and professors, and her career plans.

“We also had a great conversation about diversity,” said Desrosiers. “It was great to hear how much she values diversity and is working to ensure that people with different perspectives are included at the school. Diversity and inclusion are important to me, and I'm glad that my voice is being considered.”

Graduating senior Mimi Tomei specialized in reporting but her internships and job have been more in line with strategic communication. Tomei and the dean talked about the crossover between the different disciplines in UNC Hussman. “Dean King shared some of her personal experiences crossing over from reporting to public relations, and really reinforced what many of my other Hussman professors have told me over the years — the foundational skills we learn in reporting classes like writing and editing prepare us for a variety of communications careers,” she said.

“It was an appropriate way to culminate four years of love and support from Hussman faculty, staff, career advisers, alumni and of course my fellow students. Dean King emphasized we’ll always be part of the Hussman – and Carolina – community, even after we graduate. It was almost like getting a personalized, mini commencement address.”

The school’s commencement event, along with all others at UNC, has been postponed due to the coronavirus. King said she is looking forward to giving the 2020 graduates their moment of celebration on stage when the event is held. “Those handshakes — indeed, the event and everything surrounding it — are going to be extra special,” King said.