Innovator in Residence to help accelerate change at FIU and in media

Communities / Article

Raul Reis is dean of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Florida International University. Below, he writes about the creation of the Knight Innovator in Residence program at FIU. Above: Multimedia labs and experienced faculty at the SJMC help educate the communicators of tomorrow. Photo credit: Ivan Santiago FIU.

Here at Florida International University, we know a thing or two about innovation. That makes it fitting that we’re launching a Knight Innovator in Residence program with a $1.25 million endowment from Knight Foundation.

In a little over 40 years, we have grown from a two-year college to a high research activity university offering 34 doctoral programs and with an enrollment of more than 50,000 students. These accomplishments were possible because of an entrepreneurial spirit that embraces change, technological innovation and a “can-do” attitude.

The same applies to FIU’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication, one of only four accredited journalism and mass communication programs in Florida, and the only one in South Florida. With more than 2,000 students, spread in five undergraduate majors and three graduate programs, the school is one of the largest journalism and mass communication schools or colleges in the country.

Innovation for us is not an afterthought; it’s part of our DNA. Technological innovation is one of the cornerstones of our programs, and one of the pillars of my strategic vision for the school. In the past two years alone, we have hired several multimedia/social media professors, created a new undergraduate program in digital media, and are developing a digital media master’s program.

We established last fall a new Media Innovation Incubator Lab, and have involved the students in project-based initiatives, including prototype development (funded by MasterCard), skills development, and hackathons (with Hacks/Hackers and other groups). In addition to making multimedia production (basic and advanced) a requirement for all majors, we are developing new courses in data visualization, geographic information systems and media app development, among others.

The new Knight Innovator in Residence program complements these initiatives. This rotating position will give a talented individual the opportunity to create and lead activities that will have a lasting impact on our curriculum, and on the professional and academic practices here. We will fill the position for terms of up to 12 months, most likely by professionals from the media tech world with recent industry experience. We’re also open to timelines that don’t conform to the traditional academic year.

We envision three main roles for the Knight Innovator in Residence: educator, catalyst and scholar.

As an educator, he or she will identify and work on gaps in our curriculum, developing seminars, projects, workshops and traditional/nontraditional courses that will target those curricular challenges.

As a catalyst, this individual will dream up and implement innovation projects at the school, such as the programs associated with the Media Innovation Incubator Lab. Those may include partnerships with the industry or professional and community organizations.

As a scholar, they will have the opportunity to develop research projects rooted in real-world problems and questions, helping to solidify the school as a solutions center for the community and media.

Because of this grant, the speed of change at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication will accelerate. Students will have access to fresh ideas, and will learn new skills and technologies that will have a lasting impact on their careers. Faculty, community and industry will also benefit from their interaction and collaboration with the Knight Innovator in Residence, through workshops, seminars and other programs offered at the school.

The technological and cultural changes affecting how people consume and contribute to information are happening at breakneck speed, and the Knight Innovator in Residence program is one of the tools we’ll use to help our community pace.