USC Annenberg Magazine 50th Anniversary Edition

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Seize the Awkward

“When the stadium lights are dimmed, when the cameras stop flashing, when the pads are off, the pressure sinks in and it’s just me. Just me in a world of expectation,” said USC Trojans quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams. “No one can carry that alone. Pressure doesn’t have to be carried alone.”

USC Annenberg students, led by co-directors Christian John Bradley and Shreya Ranganathan, teamed up with Williams and the Caleb Cares Foundation to ideate, film, direct and edit a national PSA that encourages young adults to start conversations around mental health. The PSA is a part of the Seize the Awkward campaign, created by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and The Jed Foundation in collaboration with the Ad Council. Judy Smith, founder and president of Smith & Company, and her son, Smith & Company Vice President Cody Boulware (BA, communication, ’12), helped establish the industry collaboration and portfolio-building opportunity for the students.

Watch the PSA. Photo by Justin Susan

Be the Future

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Davis 16
Photo by John
As we mark USC Annenberg’s 50th anniversary, our community — students and alumni, scholars and teachers, luminaries and leaders — reflect on how we will continue to advance our legacy of excellence and innovation in the decades ahead. 50TH



















Kathryn Bernstein


Mike Mauro

AssociateDirector,Communication and MarketingOperations

Olivia Mowry Assistant Directorof DigitalContent

Rachelle Martin

DigitalCommunication and Marketing Lead

Jasmine Mora

SeniorSpecial EventsCoordinator

Areon Mobasher

Digital MediaProducer

Deborah Jane Burke



Willow Bay

Dean andWalterH.Annenberg


Hector Amaya


Gordon Stables



Published by the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California. © 2022 USC Annenberg. The diverse opinions expressed in USC Annenberg Magazine do not necessarily represent the views of the editors, USC Annenberg administration or USC. USC Annenberg Magazine welcomes comments from its readers to ascpubs@usc. edu or USC Annenberg Magazine, 3502 Watt Way,G40,LosAngeles,CA90089-0281

Understand, Illuminate and Improve

“A great school of journalism and communication leads the way, doesn’t just anticipate the future, but wills it into being.”

USC Life Trustee and Annenberg Foundation CEO Wallis Annenberg shared these inspiring words during the grand opening celebration for our state-of-the-art building that bears her name. She sensed, as we all did, that we are ushering in a vibrant new era as communication continues to change the way we live, work, play, study, solve problems and consider our future.

We stand at an exciting threshold of a dynamic communications and media landscape that is relentlessly urging us to ask: What do we want the future to be? And what do we — the USC Annenberg School — want to be in that future?

That’s where our remarkable legacy comes into play. The answer is in our DNA.

An embrace of technology, a dedication to service, and a commitment to using communication to address society’s issues — large and small — are all a part of our founder Ambassador Walter Annenberg’s enduring charge. Together, we are a community of distinguished scholars and practitioners whose work has helped define, redefine and, in many cases, create new fields.

We have unparalleled expertise in areas of health communication, organizations and networks, cultural studies, and news and media. And we are extending our reach to AI and machine learning, digital media management and, of course, the metaverse.

Above: Dean Willow Bay, USC President Carol Folt, and USC Annenberg students, Carter Hyde and Saphia Zaman present Wallis Annenberg with a gift during the celebration of the school’s 50th anniversary.

All the while, we have continued to share an unwavering commitment to leveraging our teaching, research, investigative insights and professional work as a powerful catalyst for positive change.

So, we believe the best way to honor our legacy is to continue to advance it by posing this question: What is the future we want to will into being? Where can we — where should we — have impact in the years ahead?

This 50th anniversary issue is designed to share some of the answers we have collected from those across our school — from students and alumni, scholars and teachers, luminaries and leaders.

I think what you will discover in these pages is hope, lots of hope, for all that we can accomplish, together, as we use communication and all of its disciplines to understand, illuminate and improve the human condition.

50th Anniversary Issue 3
Photo by Steve Cohn

The Art of Arguing

Following last Spring’s biggest recorded national win in 30 years at the Texas Open, the Trojan Debate Squad is back prepping for the 2023 season. With Director of Debate Sean Kennedy at the helm, 15 USC students from across the university are breaking down their strategies into arguments around this year’s theme of establishing legal personhood, protections and rights in artificial intelligence, nature and non-human animals.

For senior communication major Khamani Griffin, one of the things that drew him to the team was flex debating, a type of argumentative approach practiced at USC. “You have the ability to affirm a multiplicity of strategies,” he said. “I am not pigeonholed into one style of debate, but whatever I genuinely wanted to research, I have the resources and coaching staff to support me.”

Debate at USC started in 1880 as USC’s first chartered student organization and was originally housed in the Department of Communication Arts and Sciences. The team merged with USC Annenberg in 1995, and Kennedy believes the school is the perfect home. “Debate is very process-oriented,” he said. “A lot of the skills we’re teaching are not focused on a particular topic, but how we communicate a message to a lay audience about issues they may not be experts on.”

Griffin said he and his debate part ner, Joaquin Arreola, who attends Southwestern Community College in Chula Vista, positioned their ar guments this season so they could bring their own lived experiences into the dis cussion. “I wanted to be able to talk about what it means to have a frac tured personhood — our topic — and then center Blackness and what being Black means at the core of that discussion.”

Khamani Griffin cleared elimination rounds and was named Top Speaker at the Oct. 22 tournament against Wayne State University.


@USCDebate already scored big wins this semester! Kevin Sun and Anish Bhadani made it to elim rounds @GonzagaU w/ 5-1 record & Amy Lopez & Katie Jack were 4-2, taking 3rd place @csunorthridge Round Robin. 11/23/22


“We have an award-winning debate team here at @USC.” - @USCAnnenberg Dean @Willow_Bay praises the Trojan Debate Squad & Annenberg Digital Debate Initiative at #USC Annenberg Intelligence #ascj event.


@gwudls Thank you @USCDebate and @USCAnnenberg for hosting the Lafayette Debates Western Championships at @USC this past weekend! 4/2/19

USC Trojan Debate

Congratulations to seniors Hex Larsen & Aron Berger for receiving a FirstRound At Large Bid to the 72nd National Debate Tournament hosted by Wichita State University! 2/13/18

@CBSLA Gift from @JudgeJudy funds space and fellowship program for USC Annenberg debate programs. 10/13/17


Congrats to Trojan Debate Squad members Julian Kuffour and Kevin Sun. For the first time in 30 years, they brought the national title home to @USC. Bravo! 3/13/22

@Idebate1 Thank you @USCDebate for the hospitality and the @USCShoahFdn for an informative discussion.

#IDebateRwanda #IDebateUSTour2018

#USCdebate 10/12/18

@Politicon @USCDebate and @UCLA debate team go head-to-head on #Syria! 10/9/15

@johnnykepp If @USC is 132 years young today, then @USCDebate can’t be far behind, founded in 1880 as the university’s 1st student org! #FightOn 10/6/12

@USCDebate Road to the White House 2012: Framing the Debate with Tom Hollihan and the Trojan Debate Squad 11/8/11

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Retrospective of social media posts from the past decade Photo by Areon Mobasher


Angela An

Morning News Anchor

As a child growing up in New Jersey, Angela An’s first love was piano. She started playing at 5 years old and was gifted a grand piano from her grandmother at 13. “It was my prize possession,” An said. “I wouldn’t let anybody touch it.” She entered competitions up through high school, winning a New Jersey statewide competition for sonatas. Her piano teacher enlisted An to teach beginner students, which provided An with her first taste of mentoring. “This is, ironically, a theme I’ve continued throughout my life.”

While An still enjoys playing, she shifted her focus to journalism in college.

“I wanted to know what gave people the right to comment on a specific version of what was happening,” she said. After graduating in 1993 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism from USC Annenberg, along with a minor in East Asian studies from USC Dornsife, An spent a year in New York working for an upstart Chinese news magazine. From there, she spent five years as a reporter/anchor in Salt Lake City for KSL-TV News. This is where, An said, she learned the importance of proving her worth. Now in Columbus, Ohio, since 2000, the seven-time Emmy Award-winning morning news anchor at WBNS-TV (who is also a black belt in Tae Kwon Do) says that showing gratitude and giving back have continued to be key hallmarks of her career. Her true passion, though, is mentoring young, rising journalists, both in Ohio and through USC Annenberg’s mentorship programs. “I love watching that ‘a-ha’ moment when a reporter or producer sees their own improvement.”

50th Anniversary Issue 5 Movies Gone with the Wind (1939) Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) Online Education Modern Elder Academy George Washington University On Social Standing room only for the #veryasian discussion at @aaja If you haven’t heard of the @theveryasianfdn - please look them up. #veryamerican @tegna Radio Coast to Coast with George Noory NPR
Games Wordle Space Shooter Photos Following @USCTMB @ScrippsBee @Women@NASA @Tourism Ohio @ReutersFacts @GirlScouts @MonarchWatch @EarthshotPrize @CBSMornings @NewsNation @OhioBusiness @YoYo_Ma
Photo courtesy of Angela An

The 33rd annual KENNETH OWLER SMITH SYMPOSIUM was hosted by the Center for Public Relations (CPR). The evening’s panel discussion highlighted key findings from their annual Global Communication Report, also produced annually. CPR brought together leaders from organizations actively engaged in communicating about and supporting social justice issues. The discussion was moderated by Dean Willow Bay and was hosted by CPR Director Fred Cook.

I think one of the big challenges is there is no roadmap. And there’s risk to take on all of it, so when we think about it, are we adding something substantial to the conversation? Does it intersect with our values and with the main issues we focus on?

I think there may be a muscle that you build that allows you to say, “Well, yes, there is some energy around this.” That’s a good sign, as usually energy means there’s change happening.

Photos by Alan Mittelstaedt and Olivia Mowry; Illustration by Sean McCabe
We can play a big role as communicators in that our functions were built to be nimble. We think about “Are we going to lead on this issue?”
The more the issues come up, the more frequent they are, the more intense they are, the more you get comfortable taking a position. And for some companies, it comes naturally.

Save. Study. Share.

First-of-its-kind media studies lab amplifies Black social change-makers on the West Coast.

ASHLEY AMADOR (BA, public relations, ’21) was hired as a public relations and communication coordinator at The Brand Agency.

TAELOR BAKEWELL (BA, public relations, ’15) was hired as the vice president of influencer marketing at Edelman.

Amid increasing calls to restrict curricula that engage critical race theory in American classrooms, awardwinning scholar Allissa V. Richardson, professor of journalism and communication, has founded the Charlotta Bass Journalism & Justice Lab at USC Annenberg to preserve Black media and amplify Black media makers, activists and social changemakers.

The Bass Lab, named in honor of Charlotta Spears Bass, the first Black woman to be nominated as vice president for a major political party in America, will create a web archive that includes digitized newspapers, magazines and scanned 3D objects that tell the story of Black life and culture on the West Coast.

“For the first time in history we are building a clearinghouse that will aggregate Black social justice journalism — in all of its formats — while uplifting the voices of the people who made it,” Richardson said.

“There has never been a more imperative time to capture the voices of Black icons who are still with us. When we honor them, we help future generations connect the dots between social movements,” Allissa Richardson said.

SCHOLARSHIP bolsters Latinx representation

Seeking to increase the number of Latinx journalists in the news industry, USC Annenberg and Paramount are investing in the graduate education of Latinx students.

The Paramount Latinx Diversity in Journalism Scholarship, supported by a $1-million gift, will cover yearly tuition costs for a Latinx student to enroll in one of USC Annenberg’s journalism master’s programs.

The scholarship will further bolster the approximately 20% of USC Annenberg’s graduate journalism students who identify as Latinx or Hispanic. These students, supported by USC Annenberg faculty, have created new initiatives such as the student-run media brand called Dímelo, which aims to reach young Latinx and Hispanic adults with stories and content

experiences in Spanish and English.

“Paramount and CBS are proud to partner with the Annenberg School in supporting the advancement of Latinx diversity in newsrooms by establishing this first-of-its-kind scholarship at USC,” said George Cheeks, president and chief executive officer of CBS. “This scholarship will not only benefit the talented recipients who enroll in this world-class program but also the news organizations that will utilize their distinct voices and talents for years to come.

With 31% of schools designated as Hispanic Serving Institutions by the U.S. government found in California, USC Annenberg’s location also ideally positions the school to offer the scholarship and to recruit qualified Latinx students.

RAYNA BURGETT (BA, communication, ’21) started a new position as account director at HMA Public Relations.

SYDNEY CHARLES (MS, journalism, ’22) was hired as the breaking news anchor for KXLY ABC 4 in Seattle, Washington.

JORDYN HOLMAN (BA, print and digital journalism, ’16), who was named to Forbes 30 Under 30 list, joined The New York Times as a business reporter.

GIOVANNI MOUJAES (BA, broadcast and digital journalism, ’17) joined inewsource as a product manager.

MICHELE RAPHAEL (MA, journalism, ’99) joined Greater Good Associates as an advisor.

LANDY ENG (BA, communication, ’15; MCG, communication management, ’15) joined Google as global cross product lead.

BOAZ GERSTL (BA, communication, ’20; MCG, communication management ’20) joined Google as an agency account strategist.

COLIN TAYLOR (BA, communication, ’21; MA, specialized journalism, ’21) was promoted to multimedia producer at PBS SoCal KCET.

KAIDI “RUBY” YUAN (BA, journalism, ’20) was hired at the Baltimore Banner news journal as their junior product manager.

MARCO GONZALEZ (MA, communication management, ’00) launched MaGO, a PR agency with a full 360degree, bilingual, bicultural and LGBTQ-focused approach to communication.

NATASHA ZOUVES (BA, broadcast journalism and health promotion and disease prevention, ’12) joined News Nation as a network anchor and reporter.

50th Anniversary Issue 7
Photo by John Davis
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The Cicada synthesizer used at the Guthman Musical Instrument Competition in Atlanta, Georgia.
Illustration by Suzanne Boretz

Cicada Creates a Buzz

I waited for Spencer Topel in the dead of night, eight years ago, outside the only convenience store in Vermont. As his undergraduate research assistant at Dartmouth College, I agreed to help shoot a documentary for his sound art installation. I didn’t realize filming was only possible at midnight, without the shifting sun. The rumble of his four-cylinder sedan cut through the sleeping town as he pulled into the parking lot.

“You ready?” Spencer asked. I mustered a nod and then slid in shotgun. Little did I know that our ride into the night would produce one of my most enduring friendships and the invention of an award-winning instrument — Cicada.

Three months prior, near the end of my freshman year, I was desperate for a summer research project in either math or music, two of my majors. To my surprise, Spencer, a music professor, found a way to combine both. He called it sound synthesis. I reached out and we met at a burrito shop.

Synthesis, Spencer explained over nachos, was mankind’s endeavor to create and manipulate sound. “Think the turntable,” he said. “This machine converted miniscule bumps on vinyl into sound.” Spencer went on to share that his goal was to produce modulation acoustically, which was traditionally a technique only possible in electronic music. He asked if I was on board. I told him I was.

That summer, I spent idyllic afternoons perusing old instrument manuals. I stripped wire with my canines, then soldered the exposed copper with beads of lead. I tested rhizomes of cables and speakers. With my newfound engineering prowess, I built our first prototype — a tuning fork instrument capable of acoustic modulation.

With Spencer’s mentorship, we wrote a paper about our prototype and submitted it to New Interfaces for Musical Expression. The paper was accepted six months later.

My first conference in Australia was everything I wished for — halfway across the globe paired with cuddles from a koala. It seems funny to me that an obsession with sound in rural New England pushed me into my subsequent career in research at USC.

I first studied Artificial Intelligence at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, before coming to USC Annenberg for my PhD in communication. Here, I research human behavior on online social networks. While this

may appear like a sharp transition, I’d like to think I’m asking similar questions: How people use technology, how we reconcile our intuition and logic. And how misinformation and synthesis share this juncture of rationality and emotion.

In the Spring semester of my first year, COVID-19 hit, and I returned home to virusfree Taiwan to attend school remotely. At the same time, Spencer left academia to launch Physical Synthesis — a startup for our instrument. He set up shop in Brooklyn and asked if I knew any manufacturers. Down the street from where I lived were some of the best machining shops in Asia.

So began a serendipitous routine: Wake at 3 a.m. for my computational social science Zoom seminar. Visit a machine shop at 7:20 a.m. Research in the afternoon. At 10 p.m., go over prototypes at a late-night café. Within a year, we had our first batch of Cicadas.

What exactly is Cicada? Cicada is a modular acoustic synthesizer. A vibrating metal wing that gently rests on a soundboard, like the tip on a turntable, transforming electronic signals into delicate vibrations. Soundscapes are sculpted physically, like a violin or drum. Sampling — the process of recording snippets for a soundtrack — becomes intuitive when control is through the subtlety of touch, instead of the cold roll of aluminum knobs.

Following our release came our first partnering artists and YouTube reviews. Once I returned to Los Angeles to continue my studies in person at Annenberg, I packaged our seven-year journey into a video and then applied to the Guthman Musical Instrument Competition. Four months later, we were flying to Atlanta for the finals.

Held annually at Georgia Tech, the competition showcases 10 of the world’s most innovative instruments from hundreds of applications. We showcased what made Cicada unique by driving it through the strings of a Chinese Guqin to create an ethereal soundscape. We won the Judge’s Special Award.

Although Cicada is just one line on my resume, I learned publishing and patent filing, contract negotiating, and music making. More importantly, especially at a place like USC that hosts communities of artists or social scientists, it’s the invisible conversation and connections that I learned matter the most.

There’s beauty in sharing ownership of something fleeting, like sound, like music. a


CHANG is a fourth-year PhD candidate in the communication doctoral program. He studies democracies, belief and identity, drawing from social media and large datasets for sociological insight.

50th Anniversary Issue 9
Watch the Cicada demonstration.

Cultivating Climate Storytellers


USC Annenberg has launched the Center for Climate Journalism and Communication to empower professionals across media, public relations and strategic and corporate communications to be climate storytellers who advance a deeper understanding of the consequences of climate change — from the global to the local and from the collective to the individual. The center provides critical training to understand climate science, to capture its effects, particularly when felt disproportionately in underresourced communities, and to support action that preserves the health of the planet and its inhabitants.

Developed in collaboration with long-standing USC Annenberg partner ABC Owned Television Stations, the center’s first climate training program for news organizations began in November. Local TV news journalists in eight U.S. markets learned from experts in big data processing, ethical image selection, decision science and climate resilience.

“We have an imperative to train — and support — professional and aspiring journalists and communicators who can combine powerful narratives, data grounded in science, and engagement with communities they serve to drive systemic change,” said Allison Agsten, the center’s inaugural director.

For students, the center provides foundational training in climate communication both through publishing opportunities in USC Annenberg courses as well as the school’s student-led news organization, Annenberg Media.

“By supporting the creation of the first Earth Desk, we are providing an opportunity for student journalists to learn how to incorporate climate into any story, on any beat, and in any field,” Agsten added.

TRAINING TOOLS to advance equity

The ability to create, sustain and thrive within diverse work environments will now be a core focus and mandatory experience for all incoming USC Annenberg graduate students in the School of Communication. Launched in Fall 2022, the new Managing Complexity in Diverse Organizations (MCDO) is a professional skills-building program for master’s students that will address a critical competency for 21st-century professionals.

This immersive eight-week faculty-designed and learner-centered

Leveraging USC’s academic scholarship, targeted research initiatives and professional training expertise, the center designs customized programs for news and communication organizations.

rises, everybody’s looking for a sale in every part of their lives.”

“There’s just a true lack of education when it comes to AAPI history in schools. None of us are brought up in schools knowing anything — or very little — about any Asian American history.”

program is designed to equip students with the skills to collaborate with, manage and lead across teams with diverse backgrounds and expertise. Working in small online cohorts, they will learn how to create and support inclusive environments and help advance equity and representation in global academic and professional contexts.

Upon completion of the program, students receive a professional skills certification in Managing Complexity in Diverse Organizations from USC Annenberg.

“Web3 is a work in progress. It’s not here yet; it’s not fully functional, but all of these venture capitalists, the established platform companies don’t want to lose their dominance.”

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“What we have now, what we didn’t have 30-40 years ago, is the requirement of the audience to be discerning … It is now not necessarily the responsibility of the news organization only to be clear and truthful. It is the responsibility of the news consumer to make sure that what you’re consuming is legit. And that takes some work.”
GABRIEL KAHN , professor of professional practice of journalism, in a Nov. 1 KCRW-FM interview about the importance of balance when consuming news.
“Right now, especially as inflation
MONICA KOYAMA , associate professor of communication, in a Oct. 18 Los Angeles Times article about the streaming services market. MAY LEE , adjunct instructor, in a July 27 KNBC-TV interview about her groundbreaking course, “Evolution of Asian Americans and the Media.” CHRISTOPHER SMITH , clinical professor of communication, in a Aug. 22 Los Angeles Business Journal article about the future of NFTs and social platforms. Photo by Li-An Lim

Symbols of Community

Tradition meets innovation during students’ summer micro-internship.


Visiting the indigenous village of Arema, Colombia, was a trip that four USC Annenberg students, along with faculty members Amara Aguilar and Andy Keown, will never forget. The group teamed up with nonprofit GivePower to document the lives of Arema residents and the impact of bringing sustainable energy to the remote desert location for the first time.

“We spent a week not only working in the community but also learning about the families that live there, the women who are leaders of the village, how advancements in technology are affecting traditions and how the community is preserving tradition while being progressive as well,” said Aguilar, associate professor of professional practice of journalism.

While on the ground in Colombia, students captured hundreds of audio and visual assets and conducted one-on-one interviews with local community members. They created a wealth of content on various topics, from cultural stories to issues around the environment, for the organization to use in reaching future stakeholders.

GivePower is one of more than a dozen nonprofit organizations with which the school’s Annenberg Agency has collaborated since 2020. Through micro-internships, USC Annenberg students share their digital content creation, public relations, crisis communication, brand communication, and marketing and research skills as consultants.


For the 51st year, 14 students traveled to London and Paris as part of the International Communication Studies program. During the 4-week course, students visited media companies and were provided a diverse range of approaches to public communication and media practices.


Students in Christina Bellantoni’s “Politics and Government Affairs Reporting” courses had the opportunity to travel to key battleground states during the Spring and Fall semesters to cover congressional races and meet with journalists covering politics. Spring students went to Texas; Fall students to Virginia and Washington, D.C.


At the International Communication Association (ICA) conference held in Paris, France in late May, more than 50 USC Annenberg faculty, doctoral students and alumni made presentations. Lynn Miller, professor of communication, was inducted as an ICA Fellow, and Soledad Altrudi (PhD, communication ’22), won Top Student Paper.


In addition to the New York and Los Angeles Maymesters, USC Annenberg offered a new session to the nation’s capital this year. Twelve students visited the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, The Obama Foundation, Salesforce, the United Nations Foundation and Emerson Collective.

50th Anniversary Issue 11
Photo courtesy of Annika Goldman

They Don’t Tell Us About Nkrumah

“What do you know about Kwame Nkrumah?”

The professor at the University of Ghana’s question stumped me. Truth be told, at that point in time Kwame Nkrumah was just a name to me. It was a name that I had seen floated around in regard to scientific socialism and Pan-Africanist philosophy and a name that I had seen on the street signs in Ghana — but a name, nonetheless. I will venture to say that I am not the only one in this camp. The American education system is one that will ensure that you are indoctrinated with the star-spangled spirit of Paul Revere and Betsy Ross far before you are informed of any African history. If you are a Black American, as far as our collective consciousness is concerned, your story starts on the boats. However, contrary to what we are taught, the Black heritage is far richer than simply surviving as an oppressed people in a foreign land. As the first person in my family to touch African soil since my ancestors were stolen, I have seen and heard it with my own eyes and ears. This past summer, I had the opportunity to help lay the foundation for what will be the “Ghana Immersive Reporting Project” course, conceived by Professors Miki Turner and Afua Hirsch. We spent 10 days traversing different parts of Ghana, from universities and media outlets to museums and gardens, with the intent of outlining opportunities for future Annenberg students in the class.

Throughout the course of the trip, I was most impacted by the interpersonal interactions I had with the Ghanaian people whose paths we crossed: Ben, our driver; Hope, a master’s student at the University of Ghana; Brenda, one of several expats we interviewed. These individuals, among many others, and the wisdom they had to impart, defined the trip for me. While popular media will lead one to believe that Africa is a land defined by poverty, war, corruption and sorrow — conditions largely influenced by imperialist powers — what they spoke of allowed me to see Ghana, and Africa, through their eyes: as a vibrant and beautiful society rooted in rich cultural tradition and powerful camaraderie, in spite of imperialist oppression.

As I read, listened and asked about the legacy of the great Kwame Nkrumah, I found that this is a power that he sought to mobilize to the benefit of African people across the world. The first prime minister of an

independent African country, free of western colonization, Nkrumah understood that the struggle for Black liberation was a global one. Ghana’s independence, in his mind, was not the finish line, but rather a step toward a larger objective: the unification of all African nations and people under one independent socialist state. This is Pan-Africanism.

Because of American influence via the CIA that led to a coup d’état, Nkrumah never saw his goals come to fruition. However, in his short time in power, the advancements that he was able to catalyze in education, healthcare, public infrastructure and industrialization prove that his ideas were not without merit. If you ask the people of Ghana, they will tell you that if he had had more time in power, African people everywhere would be better for it.

Oftentimes we think about African liberation in the context of the way Black people are perceived and treated. While these things certainly hold merit, the real travesty of the Black plight exists within our lack of access to material resources, many of which come from the continent we are borne from and are extrapolated with our labor. Kwame Nkrumah fought to change these conditions and regain control of the rightful share of the means of production for African people everywhere.

Every year, as we witness the commodification and corporatization of holidays such as MLK Day and Juneteenth in America, it is my hope that all people, but Black people in particular, take some time to truly reflect upon our place in the context of a struggle that takes place not just in America, but across the world. It is a worthwhile endeavor, one that all the great African revolutionaries — from King to X, to Davis to Du Bois, to Garvey, to Mandela, to Shakur and beyond — undertook at some point in their journey. While not all of us will have the privilege to touch the African continent in our lives, it is imperative that we inform ourselves and each other of our history and the ways in which we’ve fought for our liberation.

Because they don’t tell us about Nkrumah. a

Reagan Griffin, Jr. is working toward his bachelor’s degree in journalism. Through writing, speaking and employing visual media, he hopes to use his voice to uplift, challenge, educate and inspire.

Illustration by Temi Coker FIRSTPERSON
50th Anniversary Issue 13

Aashna MoitraSerrao doesn’t waste a single moment

Aashna Moitra-Serrao knew exactly what she wanted to do with her career.

“It was either be part of the communications industry or event planning, so when I found public relations, it was the perfect blend of those two worlds,” Moitra-Serrao said. “I’m a little bit of a peacock myself so it was a match made in heaven.”

Moitra-Serrao grew up in New Delhi, India, with supportive parents who encouraged their daughter’s more creative endeavors. While attending the prestigious Modern School, Barakhamba Road in India, Moitra-Serrao was editor of the school magazine and president of the debate society. She went on to earn her undergraduate degree in English literature at Delhi University. A post-graduate degree was her next step. “I only zeroed in on schools that offered a degree in my direct field, and Annenberg was a top choice,” she said.

In Fall 2010, Moitra-Serrao joined the master’s of strategic public relations program.

The start of her USC journey yielded an internship — and a boyfriend who would eventually become her husband.

The internship came about when Moitra-Serrao reached out to adjunct professor Larry Winokur, one of the co-founders of the iconic Hollywood PR firm BWR, after one of her advanced entertainment public relations classes that Winokur taught.

“To his credit, he appreciated my directness,” she said. “BWR started my career, and once I learned the skills, I just kept getting more internships. I didn’t waste a single moment.”

As for her husband, Moitra-Serrao met fellow Trojan Erik Serrao at a USC graduate event her first semester. “He was on the health sciences campus (earning a PhD in pharmaceutical sciences), and we would never have met if it hadn’t been for that party,” she said.

Upon graduation in 2012, Moitra-Serrao went to work as an account executive at a PR agency in North Hollywood and later moved to Boston with Erik — now her husband — who had a fellowship at Harvard.

She was hired at Cone Communications, and one of the highlights was getting her first major media hit on the Today show with Kathy Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb. “I was all of 24 years old, and it was such an achievement in my eyes,” Moitra-Serrao said. “Since then, many big placements have happened, but you never forget the first.”

In 2016, the couple returned to Los Angeles, and after a year at Sunshine Sachs, Moitra-Serrao decided she wanted a change. “Having spent over seven years in the PR agency world, I wanted to shake things up,” she said. “Do something I had never done before.”

Her plan was to move to an in-house gig. Moitra-Serrao joined DreamWorks Animation as the manager of public relations for television, entering a brand-new sphere for her. “I think a strong belief in oneself, confidence in your abilities and someone to take a chance on you goes a long way,” she said.

In 2020, Moitra-Serrao was promoted to director. “What inspires me to do my job is the feeling that I am making a difference,” she said. “At any given time, I do PR for over 40 different TV series. When the stories connect with the audience, making them feel seen, heard and represented, it makes every effort worthwhile.”

Now, working alongside the best in animation as well as entertainment stalwarts such as Guillermo del Toro, Glenn Close, Sterling K. Brown, and Jack Black brings an exceptional sense of gratitude. “I feel appreciative every day for what I do and the experiences and memories I can amass,” she said.

As far as her personal PR goals, Moitra-Serrao admits that she loves chasing the big stories. “I want it to be bigger and bigger with each story I land. If it’s the Today show, how can I top this? I’m never going to retire because I’m never satisfied!” a

50th Anniversary Issue 15
Aashna MoitraSerrao likes being associated with content that makes a difference. “In the kids TV industry, Dreamworks Animation is shaping a generation,” she said.
Photo by Christina Gandolfo
16 USC Annenberg Magazine WALLIS ANNENBERG

The inspiration of leaders. The power of collaboration. The promise of innovation. The importance of truth. ¶ In this special section, you will see these themes emerge as members of our community — students, faculty, alumni, industry partners and longtime supporters — mark USC Annenberg’s 50th anniversary and consider the future we want to create. ¶ Together, let’s explore where we can — where we should — have impact in the years ahead. Through our creative, scholarly and professional work, how can we further Ambassador Walter Annenberg’s founding vision to use communication to understand the profound changes of our time? ¶ Join us as we imagine our next 50 years and continue


50th Anniversary Issue 17


Having been at the epicenter of this shift, I know that to have an impact, USC Annenberg must continue developing smart, strategic students who can be the ones to reinvent this business in the future.

18 USC Annenberg Magazine

The International Communication Studies program — ICS— is the most en during experience we have as USC students. The opportunity to travel to different countries and meet people from a variety of media organizations was really the first opening to a world outside of our immediate environment. The program forces you to look at a bigger picture and consider, “Wow, there’s so

much out there, what do I want to do?”

our own voices to a larger world. We hope that USC Annenberg continues to move with the complexities of what communications has become as it prepares students to be leaders in all the various areas, many of which we can’t even imagine in another 10 years, let alone 50.

Looking toward the future, as the program grows and

will be ICS’s big endeavor.

USC Annenberg will be one of the most important places to shape the future of sports media regionally, nationally and globally. The school will play a very visible role in the LA28 Olympic and Paralympic Games and will be home to the world’s press. How you prepare students for what’s coming is to be trained well and taught well and equipped to be adaptable, innovative and entrepreneurial. The students at Annenberg today will, in the future, be prepared for whatever comes their way.

50th Anniversary Issue 19
As a music artist studying internet platforms, I would like to see Annenberg lead the way toward advocating for the needs of digital content creators. Artists creating content for online platforms need systems that support their financial viability, mental health and wellbeing. The creator economy will continue to be a significant space for innovation.
With the relationships we have in place at Annenberg, we are well positioned to make an impact.
ICS class at the Houses of

USC Annenberg

We’re looking at the future and not the past. We’re bringing in professors who help us diversify the thinking process of how we approach our disciplines to ensure they are more expansive and holistic. We have professors already in place, like Stacy Smith, who has played a transformative role in creating change in the film industry with her research on gender inequity. As the chair of the USC Annenberg Board of Councilors,

Geoffrey Cowan, University Professor; Annenberg Family Chair in Communication Leadership; Former USC Annenberg Dean

Ernest Wilson, Professor of Communication and Political Science; Former USC Annenberg Dean; Founder, Center for Third Space Thinking

I’m confident not only in the great vision of Dean Bay, but the backing of her faculty and administration to achieve that vision. Add another factor to that: The massive support we have in Wallis Annenberg, who absolutely understands that this is what the future of the world needs to be. And knows that we deliver against that.

Mark Greenberg Chair, USC Annenberg Board of Councilors; USC Parent

20 USC Annenberg Magazine BE THE LEADER
As a history-oriented person, I think it is important to learn from our past to help shape the future. Educators and students in the field of public diplomacy must be aware of the impact that has previously occurred to excel in foreign relations. Adding more world and military history to the curriculum will help prepare our next group of world leaders.
Stacy Smith
is surrounded by scholars who are forward thinking. They don’t just rely on best practices, but also on evidence-based solutions coming out of quantitative and qualitative work. Because of this, we could really be the foremost leader, shape shifting industries that routinely face problems and routinely engage in discrimination and prejudice. We could be part of the solution to bringing care and humanity across industries.
Mark Greenberg speaking about public broadcasting



Growing up in Singapore in a post-9/11 era and arriving to the U.S. and USC as an international student, I’ve always been deeply led by world affairs and its imprint and impact on how to approach a story.

Now ,as someone who leads award­winning global public relations campaigns on a daily basis, the events of recent years have forever impacted my purview and perspective on how we approach and pitch stories.

Nowadays, every PR campaign needs to be multidimensional to have resonance — media relations needs to be rounded with strategic partnerships, brand building, community awareness — but also allyship. For Annenberg to embrace allyship is to look at what is happening in the world, face what makes you uncomfortable, approach and entertain topics that you probably don’t want to discuss in your curriculum.

Teach students to be connectors and empower your class of future makers. Allyship is not led by ego, vanity or performative acts. Be courageous in your campaigns. Not playing it safe. For a school that has created so many of the leading culture makers and communications experts of the world, students need to be well armed so there isn’t a disconnect between what they’ve learned in the courses and what they’ll encounter in real life.

50th Anniversary Issue 21
And right now, Annenberg is especially built to help female leaders. The obligation, I think, of a school like Annenberg is to make sure the pipeline is filled with qualified, diverse storytellers, and that is exactly the direction this school has moved.
Dana Walden
22 USC Annenberg Magazine


Annenberg is well positioned for the future thanks to new scholarship partnerships aimed toward advancing Latinx diversity in newsrooms. As the inaugural recipient of theParamount Latinx Diversity in Journalism Scholarship, I’m reminded that my lived experiences as a Mexican Ame r ican are assets to academia. We need to use our

The development of journalism opportunities and storytelling for Latinx communities is one of the spaces I’ve been working in for much of my career. As we look to the future, we need to continue to do more projects that focus on serving diverse communities and advancing what international, national and local journalism means. One way we can do this is by investing in longer­term projects that focus directly on working with communities

that are considered news deserts to help share their stories. We can also uplift the voices of others who may have been excluded from many mainstream narratives, but who do have important and critical stories to tell. Working with our communities, deeply listening, and focusing on meaningful engagement is essential as we move forward as a school.

50th Anniversary Issue 23 ILLUSTRATION
institutional power to help remove the structural barriers many Latinx students like myself face.
I’m excited about what this new generation of creators and journalists is going to show us, and I think that Annenberg is set up beautifully to be the leader in training students to get to the right stories.

Annenberg is perfectly positioned tointentionally cultivate and nurture the next genera tion that will power the media and communications landscape.

It’s incredibly important that we accurately represent the increasingly diverse audience we’re speaking to.

Since graduating and building a successful career in strategic communications, I can personally attest that there is a lack of representation in the industry today. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

As a Black woman, it’s been a driving force for me to change the industry and create a culture that anyone othered ormarginalized for any reason can thrive in. It’s one of the reasons I’m managing partner and COO of POV Agency, an agency that aims to change how PR is done and, most importantly, who it’s done by. Our entire team is people of color and it’s 99% women. The first full­time hire I made was my outstanding mentee from Annenberg’s Seeing ME in the MEdia program in 2020.

Annenberg’s impact should be in focusing on diversity, equity, inclusion and representation. Not only in the student body that it admits, but also in the faculty, academic administrators and working professionals that it taps to instruct its students. Once there is change at the academic level, our industry can’t help but to follow suit.

I learned the value of building a strong network and the importance of helping others succeed. We will lead transformative change in the decades to come by continuing to prioritize academic excellence and to cultivate mentorship programs and networking opportunities. The way we conduct programs must also evolve and meet people where they are at, whether virtually or in person.

Growing up in L.A., I was determined to become a journalist and I knew that USC Annenberg was the education I needed to reach my goal. However, here I am working in corporate communications instead of the newsroom. I have no regrets because I learned that the spirit of journalism is about telling stories, connecting with people through shared experiences and sharing

The MacArthur Foundation invests in innovative people and projects with the goal of creating a better, more equitable and just world. We look for individuals who aren’t just thinking about today, but who are able to help us see into the future and plan for tomorrow.

At USC Annenberg, we have found such a partner. The school is home to an incredible pool of innovative thinkers and doers who are always looking ahead, forging new and creative ways for people to engage in and learn about the world around them, and to use media to make their communities stronger, healthier and more vibrant.

MacArthur’s investments have helped create the Participatory Civic Media Fellowship with Professor Colin Maclay, which is supporting a new generation of innovative and interdisciplinary artists, creators, storytellers and community organizers to address structural injustices and amplify the voices of impacted communities. MacArthur support also has helped Henry Jenkins’ Civic Imagination

information in a way that can help transform lives or provide a different point of view. As an undergraduate, I told myself that I would never do public relations and now laugh at my naiveté because I have also had to step into PR roles on multiple occasions.

The question really is where can’t Annenberg have impact? For those of us who choose to be in a classroom, the reason we’re signed up is because we have already bought into the fact that we have a responsibility to help shape the future by training students to be inclusive, global storytellers. As they leave Annenberg, we are hopeful they open their peripheral view to make sure the stories

Project, a new approach to community problem solving. Most recently, MacArthur awarded a grant to Allissa Richardson to establish the Charlotta Bass Journalism and Justice Lab, a new center for the study of Black witnessing.

We have invested in these USC Annenberg partners because we believe they are doing the type of visionary work required to realize our country’s democratic

ideal of a multiracial, multiethnic, pluralist society. We recognize that this is an aspiration that will require continual attention, diligence and imagination for generations to come — a challenge that USC Annenberg is well positioned to lead on over the next 50 years and beyond.


50th Anniversary Issue 25 BE THE CONNECTOR
MacArthur Foundation
they are sharing
infused with diverse perspec tives.


When I think about where the Annenberg School can continue to have impact in the years to come, I think less of the ‘where’ and more of the ‘who’ and the ‘how.’ We need to think like DJs. DJs don’t look at their records and think, “Oh I can’t put a Celia Cruz song with a Jackson 5 song.” They don’t look at their records and think, “I can’t put a quantitative method track with a cultural analysis track or I can’t cue up some data journalism right after a media industries study.” We need to be a school of crossfaders ready to flip any beat and cut between any sound, nimble and omnivorous, at home in the breaks and the impasses and the transitions, hungry for the kinships and the sutures that nobody else would dare to try. Confronting social

and economic emergencies by mixing without erasing, by knowing that to solve any problem — whether climate collapse or health inequalities, political fragmentation or racial and gender injustice — we need to dig through the crates of what we already know — and find new ways to connect. We need to create the new mixes and the new publics that our future world of intensive convergence will require. I don’t know what the new mixes will sound like, but I know that we need to train our students to invent the new methods and technologies of communication they will need to face down whatever challenges to togetherness come next.

26 USC Annenberg Magazine
We believe social purpose will play a big part in the future of the PR industry. Every company in America is asking the same question. Do we have a responsibility, beyond making money, to engage with the social issues that are important to our employees and customers? Many CEOs are answering YES.
Fred Cook
By definition, communication is an interdisciplinary field, so how can we reimagine some of these borders and boundaries that have been so deeply cemented? We created divisions in our field, and thus we can recreate, and reimagine, them. That’s where I would like to see us go in the future — to reimagine how the field of communication can be more collaborative in this moment; a time in our field and in the world that is both so important and so precarious.


As a Black woman abroad in Paris, I was able to appreciate my larger place in the world and to meet many people with different perspectives. It is important that we have an evergrowing focus on globalization and expansion, as well as a dedication to diversity, equity and inclusion.

50th Anniversary Issue 27


28 USC Annenberg Magazine
WE MUST CONTINUE TO BE BOLD. WE MUST CONTINUE TO BE COURAGEOUS. We need to keep looking around the corner to see what’s next and what’s possible, so we can build programs and courses that continue to set USC Annenberg apart in academia and in the industry. ILLUSTRATION BY DAVIAN-LYNN HOPKINS

In 1998, we launched a revolutionary graduate program — the master of arts in strategic public relations. Exactly 20 years later, we examined the program — and the job market — and overhauled it. The new public relations and advertising MA is like nothing I’ve ever seen.

We’re way ahead of what other schools are doing, and to some degree what the industry is doing. We are not only trying to prepare

students for the future, but inventing the future of public relations, marketing communications, and advertising, because those silos are now largely toppled.

We are training students to understand all aspects of communication because we want them to be in the C­suite from the beginning — not only when the decisions are made, and they hand us our assignments.

We will be invited to even more tables, whether the

communications challenge is in AI or aerofoods or our tried­and­true focus on entertainment, sports, corporate and lifestyle sectors. To see and shape the future, we are constantly revamping what skills students learn here, so they can work pretty much anywhere.

50th Anniversary Issue 29
So much of what we talk about in this industry is how technology is changing our world. I think it’s also important that we focus on how the world is changing, how the face of America is changing, and how that provides a new opportunity for different types of storytelling. The new platforms expand our storytelling reach. Heading into these next 50 years, we should not look at evolving technology as a burden, but as an opportunity to grow and extend to new audiences.
In my field of advertising and public relations, we talk about data collected by digital devices and how we’re using this information to target audiences and build recommendations. People are becoming experts at applying these algorithms, but we also need to think about how we are being transparent and responsible in what goes into creating these algorithms, for
example, the principles of explainable artificial intelligence (XAI). I think this is where Annenberg can be bold. Our interdisciplinary faculty can chime in and address the ethical, moral and legal issues of AI technologies, and discuss the role of AI applications in shaping everyday life.

The mission of the school has never been more urgent and essential. There can be no disconnect between the practice of journalism and the study of communications, no inclination to distance craft from scholarship, because enlightening civil society requires exploring and illuminating the tools and ecospheres of information, misinformation and persuasion.

It has also never been

more important to provide context and perspective. With the same foresight that the school found common cause with disciplines like engineering in understanding and advancing the convergence of technology and media, it should make Annenberg a nexus of interdisciplinary study and research involving areas crucial to the future of our democracy and our planet — climate science, political science, economics,

energy, urban planning, medicine, gerontology and more.

And the school should ensure that students are cognizant not only of current events but also of history, of which so much of the dislocation and conflict in today’s world is both a source and an echo.

30 USC Annenberg Magazine BE THE INNOVATOR
While the skills associated with research and data collection may seem primarily numbers-focused, there is a significant amount of creativity that goes into the process as well. Knowing how to analyze data allows us to be more grounded in what consumers value and develop critical objective insights, making PR campaigns more impactful.
Siddhant Manish Chawla
I want to scale up our family business, globally. At Annenberg, I’m able to take a progressive course like “Into the Metaverse: Theory, Practice and Challenges,” which is designed to future-proof us for careers that engage with interconnected immersive media. We learn foundational concepts and how to visualize something that might not happen for 5 to 10 years.
I look forward to more such forwardlooking courses.
It has always been, for me, factoring in the three R’s: Resourcefulness, resiliency, and building relationships. I’m adding relevance to that. Students have got to stay relevant by understanding new technology and coupling it with strong storytelling.


There is room for improvement when it comes to innovation and having a social impact. Communication, grassroots democracy and policy shaping are areas where we can work and be of great impact, and preparing students for global leadership.

The magic of USC Annenberg is not the technology, not the buildings. They’re wonderful and we love them, but the real magic is the interaction between the students and professors. And while we’re teaching the technology of the day, so long as they can tell a good story and tell it with accuracy, fairness and transparency, then it doesn’t matter what the technology of the future will be, they will be ready for the job they have to do.

50th Anniversary Issue 31 BE THE INNOVATOR
And it’s been amazing to watch. We are on the verge of another transformation. This time, though, the difference is how we own our data, how we own our content and how we are going to value that in the future. It’s exciting to see what Annenberg will do.


At a school like Annenberg, you have the responsibility to make sure students understand the importance of core, fundamental, non-negotiable values, such as decency, integrity, transparency, and the pursuit of the truth.

32 USC Annenberg Magazine

I think where Annenberg needs to have impact in the decades to come is first and foremost teaching its students how to best use their medium of choice. Then we need to remind them that their voice is powerful. How are you using your voice? Are you reporting facts? Are you talking to reliable sources? We have to continue to teach students what it means to be a responsible journalist.

The most important thing Annenberg does is it instills in each student the skills, ethics and principles of journalism and of great storytelling. Anybody can be a creator or a storyteller because social media has democratized everything, but we still need the foundations of journalism and the fundamentals of reporting and investigation — and truth. I saw what a huge difference the work of Annenberg students

can make in my sophomore year when I worked with other students at Neon Tommy and covered the wide­ranging impact — including the death toll — of the swine flu in Los Angeles County. Our work on the H1N1 project put a face on the virus. Instead of looking at the flu’s victims as numbers, we looked at these people for who they were as people and told those stories. We must continue to instill in students the

responsibility that we have. We are the translators, the truth tellers and the decipherers of our time. The need to make sure that both sides are represented in a story is something that USC Annenberg has a unique opportunity to emphasize and to continue to reiterate in its teaching.

50th Anniversary Issue 33
I would love to see Annenberg be a major force in restoring trust and truth in today’s polluted environmental communication space. Misinformation is more pervasive than ever. Therefore, to actually challenge that, we need deep interdisciplinary knowledge necessary to counter it. My hope is that we will be a school that is never satisfied with itself because we have such a huge task ahead and we can never stop inventing and innovating.

My experience at ATVN was the most instrumental and illuminating process for discovering my sense of self and what kind of journalist I wanted to be. It helped me understand how our reporting can have such a huge impact.

Learning to ask difficult questions, hold powerful people to account, uncover underreported angles — these are the skills Annenberg instilled in me. I know the school will do the same for its students in the next 50 years and beyond.


34 USC Annenberg Magazine BE THE TRUTH Peter
the flow of information is so diffuse, so unwieldy, that citizens — domestic and abroad — are struggling to determine what’s true. We must find ways to manage information to enhance democracy and a credible free press.
What is being taught at Annenberg is inspiring the next generation to rethink and revitalize the field, infusing them with curiosity, conviction and the critical skills needed to thrive as journalists and communicators.
Paul Richardson
BA, Broadcast Journalism, ’09; White House Correspondent , NBC News

My entire adult life has been spent in the pursuit and defense of free speech and increasing political participation in the country. It is important to me that educational institutions offer multiple viewpoints and challenge students to grow and think critically as they step forward into life. I have been very pleased with Christina Bellantoni — the director of USC Annenberg’s Media Center — and what she has been able to do with the students. When she takes them on field trips across the country to caucuses or midterm primaries, they are exposed to both sides of an issue. Students are well trained in how to be critical thinkers. That type of fair and objective journalistic lens needs to continue into the next 50 years. If we do not keep free speech alive, we die.

In nuclear physics, 50 is a magic number. I know this because when I was a little girl growing up in Maryland, my mother worked in NASA’s laboratories on the Hubble Telescope, and her love for science fostered my own fascination. That’s how I came to know that 50 is a number of protons or neutrons that form complete shells within an atom’s nucleus. You might be wondering what the magic number 50 has to do with the future of USC Annenberg.

Well, the number 50 represents the element tin on the periodic table. Now

stay with me. I am one of our mobile journalism professors here and have dedicated my research to studying how cellphones change our world. Tin was chosen to serve as our smartphone’s core skeleton because it is durable and trustworthy. And for me, there is magic — quite literally — in one of the most important communication tools of our time. The same can be said of Annenberg. Whether our industry faces disinformation, mis information, eroding democracy or dwindling public trust, Annenberg can and will remain a


bastion of truth. To achieve this, we will need lots of energy, warmth, compassion and technological prowess. We will also need to focus on diversity, equity, inclusion and empathy. I believe we are up to these tasks, because at our core — at our atomic nucleus — Annenberg faculty, staff, students and alumni are enduring. We are excellent. And we are the stuff of magic.

50th Anniversary Issue 35 BE THE TRUTH
Engaging and resonating with people will require integrity and emotional intelligence as a requisite for storytelling. We should curate cultural conversations and introduce curriculum around community building and ethics.

Live and learn — then learn some more

After 27 years in the TV news game, Mike Huckman was looking for a change. He followed the advice of longtime friends who worked in public relations, and switched paths to corporate communications, specifically the health sciences sector.

Huckman joined his first agency, MSL Global, in 2010. With the fresh territory came fresh challenges. Difficulties acclimating to new tasks such as handling client service, amassing billable hours and generating business had him wondering if the change was a good one.

“I struggled, and almost threw in the towel,” said Huckman, who earned his bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism from USC Annenberg in 1983.

Fortunately, he stuck it out and found a mentor at the agency. Building success would call upon qualities he’d honed throughout his career: tenacity, the flexibility to embrace opportunity, the courage to face unease. And, perhaps most of all, the hunger to learn.

“If you make a move, there should be a level of discomfort,” said Huckman, who lives in North Carolina with his husband. “There has to be that element of stretch. I’m 60, and as cliché as it sounds, I still learn new things on the job almost every day.”

This serves him in his current role as global practice leader for executive communications at Real Chemistry. He signed on with the company, which uses public relations and investor relations experts as well as proprietary data and analytics to change how the health care and life sciences sectors communicate, in 2016.

“I love what I do,” he said. “My work elevates brilliant science and technology, and the relentless fight against disease.”

The skillset for working effectively in the life sciences came through his TV news work.

After graduating from USC Annenberg, Huckman resolutely — and successfully — pursued an on-air position in Great Falls, Montana. From there, he was going places.

He persistently climbed markets to Billings, Montana, then Boise, Idaho, then Tucson, Arizona, and ultimately Detroit, where he was the lead reporter on the top late news broadcast for several years throughout the 1990s. He changed tracks to business news network CNBC in 2000, another opportunity to learn — and expand his professional toolbox.

“I didn’t know anything about business, the stock market or economics beyond supply and demand from my Econ 101 class at USC,” he said. “I took the job, and just persisted. I was like, ‘I’m going to crack the code.’”

Serendipity reared its head when he was somewhat arbitrarily offered CNBC’s pharmaceutical beat in 2002. Learning as he went, he staked out a niche at the nexus of biotechnology and business. That thread links to his job at Real Chemistry advising health-sector leaders. He continues to speak truth to power — but only after listening.

“If you walk in and say ‘You need to be doing this, you need to be doing that,’ it’s just not going to work,” Huckman said. “You’ve got to meet them where they are and then bring them along.”

That principle is also behind the counsel he imparts. Executives in these deeply scientific fields often need to put aside insular jargon and alphabet-soup abbreviations to communicate biotechnology advances in a way that connects with people.

“It comes down to this: Keep it simple and lead with empathy,” Huckman said.

In addition to his work with Real Chemistry (and making time for another passion, teaching a weekly spin class), he is committed to giving back to his alma mater.

He recently completed a term on USC Annenberg’s Alumni Advisory Board, and he frequently mentors students. He also donates to the USC Annenberg Student Emergency Aid Fund and the USC Lambda LGBT Alumni Association.

“I love the school,” said the former Trojan Marching Band member. “I love everything about USC, and I want to help in any way I can.” a

36 USC Annenberg Magazine
Photo by Geoff Wood Mike Huckman was recently appointed to the board of directors of the highly prestigious Biotechnology Innovation Organization. This was a “great honor,” he said.

Diversifying Public Relations

Inaugural scholarship recipient intent on making an impact in media

AYA ALMASI (BA, journalism, ’21) was promoted to director of communications at RecoverWell.

Growing up a “small town girl” in Harrisburg, North Carolina, in a Caribbean American family, master’s student Brijea Daniel felt largely “invisible” in the media landscape.

“When I was younger, I didn’t see people like myself represented in commercials, in TV shows, in movies,” she said. “You don’t think about how detrimental that is to you as a kid.”

Daniel is now on a mission to make a major impact in the media: humanizing marginalized communities by representing them authentically in corporate brands. Her path to this specialized career opened when Daniel received the Diversity in Public Relations and Advertising Scholarship.

The newly created scholarship, established by the USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations’ Board of Advisors, aspires to combat the longstanding and pervasive lack of diversity in the PR and advertising fields by funding a scholarship for a Black student in USC Annenberg’s MA in public relations and advertising program.

“This scholarship is the foundation of my journey toward becoming a trailblazer in the PR and advertising fields,” she said. “But first and foremost, I want to be a thoughtful, strategic public relations professional.”

DEPICTIONS of mental health

The Annenberg Inclusion Initiative (AII) received support from MTV Entertainment Studios to become the long-term home of the Mental Health Storytelling Initiative. The unprecedented effort by a coalition of more than 60 entertainment industry partners and mental health expert organizations is designed to revolutionize the narrative on mental health — and extend its programming and research on media representation.

AII will manage day-to-day programming and advance groundbreaking resources for the Mental Health Storytelling Initiative. They will also conduct a MTVE-funded study to measure the efficacy of the Mental Health Media Guide, an

The Center for Public Relations board created the scholarship with the aim of having an immediate impact — growing the pipeline of talented Black PR and advertising professionals like Brijea Daniel.

MARISSA BORJON (MA, strategic public relations, ’10) was promoted to manager, external communications at Toyota North America.

ZACHARY FRANKLIN (BA, print journalism, ’07) was appointed managing director of the Falkland Islands Development Corporation.

ARTURO SIERRA (BA, communication, ’21) published Fates of the Few.

AMY KIM (MS, digital social media, ’07) co-founded Digital A, a web and mobile app development company.

KRISTIN MARGUERITE DOIDGE (MA, specialized journalism, ’15) published her book Nora Ephron, A Biography.

LANDRY CARRERA (BA, communication, ’20) was promoted from account executive to senior account executive at Moxie Communication Group.

LAUREN MOORE (BA, communication and political science, ’19) has been made partner at WilmerHale LLP.

KATRINA CHAN (BA, communication, ’08) started a new position at the British Embassy in Washington, D.C., as social secretary to His Majesty’s Ambassador.

online tool designed to help content creators develop authentic and nuanced mental health portrayals in entertainment.

“When paired with our ongoing research work into representations of mental health, the Storytelling Initiative brings a strong advocacy focus with the ability to create real change,” said Stacy L. Smith, AII founder.

ATHENA FLEMING (MCM, communication management, ’22) joined USC Annenberg’s Marcom team and was crowned Ms. America on Oct. 29.

CLAIRE MULHEARN (BA, communication, ’00) was appointed chief communications and public affairs officer for agilon health, inc.

TATIANA RIAT (MCG, communication management, ’21) started working as a recruiter for Paraform.

PHIL ROSEN (MS, journalism, ’21) published Life Between Moments: New York Stories.

38 USC Annenberg Magazine
Photo by Olivia Mowry

Grappling with the Past

Student-produced podcast explores L.A. history

The Los Angeles civil unrest of 1992, which followed the beating of Rodney King and the acquittal of the police officers involved, observed its 30th anniversary this year. To ensure this pivotal moment in American history is not forgotten, the City of Los Angeles Human Relations Commission reached out to USC Annenberg to collaborate on a podcast. Four journalism students, Elle Davidson, Daniel Hahm, Hanna Kang and Celine Mendiola, volunteered.

“We didn’t necessarily want an explainer podcast about the history of the uprising but wanted to look at how it’s affecting us in Los Angeles in the present,” said Mendiola, who graduates in 2023.

The three-episode podcast, “Forward Together,” is hosted by journalist Lisa Ling and launched in collaboration with Los Angeles’ Civil + Human Rights and Equity Department, as well as the Human Relations Commission. The series, recorded in Studio B at USC Annenberg’s Media Center, gave listeners the chance to hear real conversations between Angelenos of different backgrounds about what has — and has not — changed in the past 30 years.

“We want people who weren’t even born during the unrest, like myself, to have accurate representation and documentation of what happened,” said Kang, who graduated in 2022 with an MS in journalism.


“Critical Technology Podcast” The Digital (Neighbour)hood with Robin Stevens, hosted by Sara Grimes

“The Future of You” Media and the Quest for Identity with Henry Jenkins, in conversation with Andrew McLuhan, on Tracey Follows’ podcast.

“Episode 42: All About Me? National Images and Personal Identity” People, Places, Power with Nicholas Cull


Joe Saltzman, “A 21st-Century Method of Teaching Media Ethics,” Media Ethics

Edward B. Kang (ABD), “Biometric Imaginaries: Formatting Voice, Body, Identity to Data,” Social Studies of Science.

Maximilian Brichta (ABD), “Fusing Piety and Pop Culture: Ritual Forms of Transcendent Consumption in Hillsong Church Services,” Journal of Communication and Religion.


Miki Turner won the 2022 NABJ Educator of the Year Award.

Robert Hernandez was inducted into the NAHJ Hall of Fame.

Willa Seidenberg was an Award of Excellence winner from The American Association for State and Local History for her podcast, “Save As: NextGen Heritage Conservation.”


Oil Beach: How Toxic Infrastructure Threatens Life in the Ports of Los Angeles and Beyond by Christina Dunbar-Hester

InCredible Communication: Uncover the Invaluable Art of Selling Yourself by Rebecca Weintraub and Steven Lewis

How Machines Came to Speak: Media Technologies and Freedom of Speech by Jennifer Petersen

50th Anniversary Issue 39
Illustration by Suzanne Boretz

Envisioning a Better World

Bringing communities together through political engagement, popular culture and the civic imagination

Close your eyes and imagine your favorite character from popular culture. Think about who they are, what they value, and how they behave. Now, draw that character on a piece of paper and identify a problem or issue you currently see at home, school or in the community you care deeply about. How would the character solve the problem?

This “Characters, Problems, Solutions” exercise is just one of the activities that USC Annenberg’s Civic Imagination Project uses to help participants activate their imaginations to work through societal challenges in the community.

“We wanted to explore how it was possible to imagine new positive alternatives to cultural, social, political, or economic conditions,” said Henry Jenkins, Provost Professor of Communication, Journalism, Cinematic Arts and Education.

Established in 2016, the project is spearheaded by Jenkins, Director of Research and Programs Sangita Shresthova, and Gabriel Peters-Lazaro, a professor of cinematic arts who has since passed away. They define civic imagination as a tool and concept to help engage a collective vision for what a better tomorrow might look like. With funding from the MacArthur Foundation, they have several projects under their umbrella, two specifically around politics and youth activism.

The team conducted workshops across the country and analyzed case studies on different social movements worldwide. The in-person or virtual workshops engaged participants in creative exercises such as

drawing, arts and crafts, show-andtell and storytelling.

“We developed this playful approach where we bridge between theory and practice to help communities use narrative and pop culture to come together on divisive issues,” Shresthova said. “This is a great way to help people use our created materials to foster more political engagement and communal participation.”

In 2019, the team traveled to rural areas and held workshops and asked participants to share items of sentimental value or significant life events. When asked to describe an ideal world as it might exist in 2060, participants agreed that having a sense of security and well-being and living in a society that is accepting of diverse backgrounds and identities was an important factor. However, they differed in opinion about their faith in core institutions, and ways to manage healthcare.

“We were in Bowling Green, Ky., with tobacco farmers and coal miners, both of whom work in industries experiencing rapid changes and decline, and we asked them about the future of work in Kentucky,” said Jenkins. “Someone wanted self-driving cars and another person said, ‘They can take my pickup truck away from me when I’m dead, but not before,’ which opened questions about values and priorities.”

In addition to the workshops, the case studies they investigated were focused on new media and popular culture. Examples are the three-finger salute in The Hunger Games movies, symbolizing resistance and reenacted during recent political rallies

and women’s marches, and students in Hong Kong singing “Do You Hear the People Sing” from Les Miserables as their anthem for democratic aspirations. Findings revealed that contemporary youth are adopting political metaphors as expressions of discontent with societal conditions in hopes of changing the status quo.

“Over the past few decades, narratives in pop culture have spoken powerfully to individuals in particular subcultures and generational cohorts,” Jenkins said. “While no one popular narrative can speak for everyone, we have seen the power that stories can have to inspire and empower social change.”

40 USC Annenberg Magazine CIVIC ENGAGEMENT
50th Anniversary Issue 41
“One cannot change the world without imagining what a better world might look like.”

K-Pop Takes Center Stage

“Anybody can be a K-pop fan,” said communication doctoral student Becky Pham.

Pham explained that with the evolving mesh of cultures of those who listen to K-pop music, there is an underlying expectation of diversity and inclusivity in the genre. For part of her dissertation, she is hoping to explore how Vietnamese American teenagers are experiencing K-pop and what it means to them.

Pham shared her insights as part of an academic forum analyzing K-pop as a global cultural phenomenon and the evolution of the Korean Wave, known as Hallyu. Provost Professor Henry Jenkins moderated a panel discussion that included Pham as well as graduate students from

the USC Thornton School of Music, the USC School of Cinematic Arts and the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

Clinical Assistant Professor of Communication

Hye Jin Lee led a conversation with Dom Rodriguez, senior vice president and head of SM Entertainment USA, about his work spearheading the success of artists such as NCT 127, Red Velvet, Super Junior, and aespa.

In the evening, thousands of USC students and community members attended the university’s first K-Pop Festa, a free concert featuring performances by Korean mega-star Sejeong Kim and chart-topping boy group Kingdom. In addition, teams competed in an international K-pop cover dance contest.

The daylong event was hosted by the Korean Cultural Center in Los Angeles, the Korea Foundation for International Cultural Exchange and the Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism to commemorate the 140th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Korea and the U.S. through cultural exchange. USC Annenberg and USC Dornsife’s East Asian Studies Center worked together to bring the spectacle to the USC University Park Campus.


Frances Haugen, an acclaimed tech advocate and former Facebook employee, joined Dean Willow Bay and Founder and CEO of Common Sense Media

Jim Steyer to discuss the need for accountability and transparency in social media, misinformation in the digital age, and the future of technology.


In a Center on Public Diplomacy event, Dean Willow Bay led a discussion with Secretary John Kerry, U.S. special presidential envoy for climate, on climate diplomacy.


As the Seeing ME in the MEdia mentoring program’s inaugural executive-inresidence, alumna Melissa Finney explored the professional and personal challenges facing first-generation and BIPOC students as they explore the communication and media industries.


The Center for Health Journalism welcomed Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, for a conversation about the threat posed by monkeypox, the state of the COVID pandemic, and broader lessons on how to respond to emerging infectious diseases moving forward.


Together with the Caleb Cares Foundation, USC Annenberg students led a mental health, anti-bullying and empowerment event for K-8 students at the Boys and Girls Club of Metro L.A.


The USC Center for Public Relations held its third Lead On! Women in Communication Leadership Forum, where the next generation of women leaders learn from fellow communication experts and C-suite executives who have forged their own paths and laid the groundwork.

42 USC Annenberg Magazine
Academic forum, concert and dance competition
bring Korean Wave to USC.
Photo by Michael Chow
Sejeong Kim performs at the university’s first K-Pop Festa on Sept. 23.


SHIRLEY XU wins PSAid People’s Choice Award

by the Center for International Disaster Information. Nearly 600 students designed PSAs in the form of static or digital images or videos. The entries were judged based on creativity, originality, and the ability to communicate the message, “Cash is best,” as opposed to sending material items such as clothing, blankets and emergency supplies.

When disaster strikes, monetary donations can be the difference between struggle and survival. Shirley (Boyang) Xu and her master of communication management classmates were tasked with creating original marketing materials to help get that message out worldwide as part of Matthew Curtis’ “Audience Analysis” course.

Curtis, clinical professor of communication, linked the assignment to PSAid, Public Service Announcements for International Disaster, an annual contest sponsored

“We were all given the same assignment to create something original and it was my first time developing a poster of my own,” Xu said. “The rocket represents how fast cash can be transferred around the world and the turtle is the slow-moving materials. I learned so much through this process, thanks to feedback from my classmates and the ability to apply what I learned to help people in the future.”

Xu won the People’s Choice, Static Image award for her image titled “Cash Communicates More than Materials Do.” This is the second year in a row that a USC Annenberg student won the People’s Choice award.

MEGAN CHAO (MA, broadcast journalism, ’08), adjunct instructor at USC Annenberg, was named Television Academy Governor of the Documentary Programming Peer Group.

JOVRNALISM won first and second place at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication “Best of the Web” awards. First place went to “Lives Unlocked,” a collaborative journalism project with Words Uncaged, designed to train and empower reentry/formerly incarcerated people to tell their stories through immersive tech. Second place was for “Reflections of the L.A. Uprising.”

POLINA CHEREZOVA (MA, specialized journalism, ’22), who was hired as an assistant to the head of audio at Proximity Media, won first place at the L.A. Press Club Awards for best podcast: “Out of the Concert Hall, Onto the Open Road: A Musical Journey.”


HONORED for journalism excellence

Alumnae Rachel Scott and Neha Wadekar both received top awards this year for excellence in journalism.

Scott, who earned her bachelor’s in journalism in 2015, is one of the youngest correspondents in the history of broadcast network news to cover Capitol Hill. Scott is the congressional correspondent across all ABC News programs and platforms. On June 8, 2022, she was awarded a Peabody Award for The Appointment, which follows one woman as she navigates life under the restrictive abortion ban levied last year in Texas. “We wanted to pull back the curtain to document the lengths that people would go, the hurdles they would jump through, to have a choice,” Scott said. She went on to win an Emmy in the Outstanding Emerging Journalist category on Sept. 29.

Wadekar, who graduated in 2016, has been reporting on conflicts in Africa since she was a student in the MS in journalism program. For the past six years, Wadekar has covered stories throughout the region — and across the globe — for publications such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Yorker and The Atlantic. This year the Pulitzer Center honored Wadekar with their 2022 Breakthrough Journalism Award. They cited her “nuanced and persistent reporting on the growing Islamic insurgency in Mozambique, specifically looking at the Cabo Delgado province of the country.” The award comes with a monetary prize, which Wadekar said gives her an opportunity to “start digging into longer-form projects and investigations.”

WAYLON CUNNINGHAM (MS, journalism, ’20) has been selected as the first fellow in the Sir Harry Evans Global Fellowship in Investigative Journalism.


DURRIEU (MA, specialized journalism, ’22) won first place at the L.A. Press Club Awards for her soft news feature “A pair of Latvian sisters traveled to India in search of hope. It ended in tragedy.”

CAITLIN HERNANDEZ (BA, journalism, ’20) won the 2022 MJ Bear Fellowship from the Online News Association. MJ Bear Fellows are innovative digital journalists under 30.

FERRIS KAPLAN (BA, journalism, ’77; MA, broadcasting general, ’79) was awarded the College of Charleston’s 2022 Distinguished Adjunct Teaching Award by its School of Business.

JANINE ZEITLIN, Reporting Health Fellow from the Center for Health Journalism, won first place for data reporting at the 2022 Sunshine State Awards. She reported on how the pandemic magnified inequalities for Florida’s migrant students.

ETHAN WARD (BA, journalism, ’20; MPD, public diplomacy, ’22), along with Crosstown and students from USC Roski and USC Iovine and Young Academy, won first place at the L.A. Press Club Awards for motion graphics for their video on homeless deaths.

50th Anniversary Issue 43
Rachel Scott Congressional Correspondent, ABC News Neha Wadekar Independent International Multimedia Journalist Image courtesy of Shirley (Boyang) Xu

Steven Jackson

It was a Lego Movie Maker set that Steven Jackson received as a Christmas present when he was 12 years old that launched his interest in the movie industry. Born in Baltimore, Md., Jackson grew up in the Bronx, where early influences also included Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and horror movies. “I was all about Chucky as a kid,” Jackson said. Initially, he dreamed of being an actor, but his grandfather’s early advice that “actors don’t really make a lot of money” stuck with him.

As an undergraduate, Jackson majored in multimedia journalism in Baltimore. It was a summer opportunity with The Louis Carr Internship Foundation that brought him to Los Angeles in 2013 and returned his focus to entertainment. Upon graduating in 2014, he applied to Viacom’s summer associate program and USC Annenberg’s master’s in communication

While working on his master’s degree, Jackson served as an assistant “floater” to a variety of Paramount Television executives and later went to work for the head of television at Chernin Entertainment. After graduating in 2016, he was offered a creative executive position at a Chernin-owned startup founded by Viacom veteran Van Toffler, Gunpowder and Sky. “I saw how the company had to implement structure and systems that didn’t yet exist,” he said.

“Your network is your net worth,” Jackson said. Thanks to many connections he forged while at Paramount, he was offered the opportunity to return to the studio in 2018, this time as a creative executive with the motion picture group. “Now I was doing movies that were bigger than $5 million,” he said. “I was in the thick of it and got to really see how films get made.”

Photos courtesy of Steven Jackson
2 3

Jackson’s next career transition was to Netflix in 2019.

“Netflix is a place where they are constantly using data,” he said. “It really helped that I had an understanding of what we were doing because of the courses I took at Annenberg.” As the manager of original series, Jackson worked in the interactive games division.

“Being there when we were moving and shaking this new area within the company on a global scale was incredible.”

Earlier this year, Jackson jumped over to head production and development for Spike Lee’s 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks production company.

“Spike was my biggest inspiration getting into the business,” Jackson said. “I saw it as a really cool next chapter in terms of taking his brand and storytelling even further on that global stage and stepping into the world of streaming.” This new rank also gives Jackson the ability to spearhead films he finds interesting, including the horror films he loved as a child.

50th Anniversary Issue 45 4
“I am very aware there are not a lot of creative executives in town that look like me. I know how important it is to have that seat at the table — whether it’s on the buyer or seller side, and I want to continue to champion that visibility.”
STEVEN JACKSON ’16 Los Angeles

University of Southern California 3502 Watt Way, Suite 304

Los Angeles, CA. 90089-0281

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46 USC Annenberg Magazine

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