By: Ilana Kisilinsky | Features  | 

Media Studies Major: Small But Strong

The English department at Stern is constantly changing and evolving, trying to stay up to date so that students can get the best chance of getting the most out of their education.  The one area that this modernization shines through is the Media Studies major, a branch within the English department.

The Media Studies major began in 1983.  It consists of three tracks, Journalism, Advertising, and Public Relations.  Each student chooses one of the three tracks and must take two classes to receive the concentration in that track. They must also take four media elective courses as well as three literature courses.  All students in this major are also required to complete a 100 hour internship.

In 2017, the most popular concentration in the Media Studies major was advertising, marking a significant incline in its popularity since 2013. Before this year, Advertising had held the title of the least popular concentration of the three since 2013. Public Relations was consistently the most popular concentration since 2013 until it was replaced by Advertising in 2017.

Sine 2014, the Journalism concentration has steadily risen every year. There are currently seven Journalism majors, up from three in 2014.  

“There is no particular pattern as it depends upon student interests, opportunities, and how the fields themselves are quickly changing,” said Professor Linda Shires, chair of the English department.  She explained that one of her main goals when she assumed the position in 2009, was to strengthen and grow the Media Studies major.  “I believe media is expanding at all times into different areas. I’m still looking to grow by continuing to stay up to date.”

One of the biggest ways Shires has updated the major is by changing the name. The major was founded in 1983 under the title Communications. While the major was and is still set up the same way with the three tracks in Journalism, Advertising, and Public Relations, Shires and Dean Bacon felt that a name change would make the major more current.  They wanted the major to be about more than just the three tracks, it was about the study and understanding of the media and its role in society.

To accomplish this more well-rounded understanding of media, Shires hired Lynda Johnson to teach the Media Studies course, a requirement for the major. “They [students] know they want to go into media but they don’t know [enough about] advertising or PR so I thought it would be good to have one course that would be more general, a kind of overview,” said Shires.

When asked how she is continuing to expand the major Shires explained that while the major is not the smallest major on campus, only about 22 students are registered so it is not popular enough to fully develop it.

However, Shires, as well as the administration are working hard to do all they can within this small major.  “We have worked hard at SCW to bring teachers for Elective courses for all tracks in Media too and have been fortunate to draw on teachers who often work in midtown companies: from Magazine Journalism to Digital Media to Screenwriting to TV Writing to Business Writing to Broadcast Journalism. As well, SCW draws on approved elective courses from, for instance, the Art Department, Sy Syms, and FIT, all to broaden student opportunities.”

One of the biggest grievances the students have with the major, though, is the small number of classes offered each semester and the lack of variety.  “I just wish there were more classes offered in advertising besides for the two mandatory ones,” said a super senior in the advertising track who wished to remain anonymous.

Other students are concerned with the fact that the major is under the umbrella of the English department. “I think the fact that we don’t have a straight department for it is really sad,” said Chaviva Freedman a senior in the Journalism track. “I think that there’s such a small journalism department, advertising department, and PR department and we don’t have professors we can go to to discuss options for careers or even just try to find an internship. We’re all just kind of stuck in limbo.”

Many students, however, are happy with the major. “So far I’m really enjoying my major classes and am looking forward to more of them,” said Shira Gottlieb, a junior who just started the Media Studies major. Leah Lipsey, senior, said “ I like that the major is creative.”

Despite its small size, the Media Studies major does not go without support.  Professor Shires expressed that Dr. Karen Bacon the Dean of Stern College and The Mordecai D. Katz and Dr. Monique C. Katz Dean of the Undergraduate Faculty of Arts and Sciences has been at her side for the last ten years looking to push and improve the major. Bacon was also instrumental in bringing the Media Studies minor to the Wilf campus this year.

Although this introduction of the Media Studies minor at Yeshiva College has been seen as positive, some students believe that it is not enough. “I think the Media Studies major would be important for YC because of how broad it is,” said Ari Kaye a junior in Yeshiva College minoring in media studies. “By having a major in Media Studies, one acquires a strong background in not just social sciences and communication, but in art, English, psychology, and more. Also it's just really cool.”

Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt, an adjunct professor in the Journalism track who graduated from Stern in the Media Studies major and who is now a professional journalist at The Forward, said that she is working with Stern and the English Department to improve the Media Studies major.  “We’re working on creating more media events, that I think that will be a big part of it because it not only brings other voices and experts in the industry to the students here but also allows students beyond the major, or undeclared majors to come and consider this as a profession.”

Both Bacon and Shires are constantly looking for ways to grow, improve and innovate, making sure that the Media Studies major is never forgotten.