Scholars Director Known for her Care for Students Steps Down

Following a year’s leave of absence, Kalyani Chadha has stepped down from her position as director of the Media, Self and Society Scholars program. Alison Burns, interim director of the program during 2019–2020, will be her replacement, starting immediately. The appointment was made by the Philip Merrill College of Journalism.

Chadha, only the second director of Media, Self and Society, had headed up the program since 2004. During that time, she oversaw a gradual shift of the program’s focus from primarily popular culture to issues of particular resonance in society today.

“When I stepped into the role of director, my biggest challenge was trying to shape a program that had some intellectual heft but was also interesting to students from a wide range of backgrounds,” Chadha says.

To appeal to students whose majors ranged from math to business to journalism and more, Chadha focused on cross-cutting themes that reflected what was happening in the world. The implications of technology on society—in terms of privacy and security, for example—and issues tied to race and gender were among the weighty topics she brought to the table.

Such sensitive topics, of course, required a delicate touch. Chadha fostered respectful discussions among students while making sure not to preach any particular viewpoint. She also listened—a hallmark of her depth of care for her students.

“When it comes to students, Kalyani has a big heart, high expectations and a core commitment to assuring that everyone feels seen, heard and supported in their learning and development,” says Marilee Lindemann, executive director of College Park Scholars. “She is famous for knowing the names and faces of her students before she has even met them and for conducting classes that are lively, rich and aimed at empowering students to engage with and learn from one another.”

Adds Burns, “Dr. Chadha is a master teacher and scholar who has generously shared her knowledge, wisdom and kindness with hundreds of Media Scholars students over the past 15 years. Every one of her former students that I’ve talked to said they felt close to her and that she taught them so much about critical thinking, media and life.”

Burns draws upon background as interim director, broadcast journalist

Chadha, who is now associate professor at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, “leaves an incredible legacy of building a close-knit and proud community, as well as instilling high standards for teaching and a sophisticated model for how to approach the understanding of media in our lives,” says Burns.

Burns herself has significant background to help students assess the role of media in today’s world. Not only is she a doctoral student, finishing her Ph.D. through Merrill College, but Burns also previously worked for 25 years as a broadcast journalist.

Burns’ year as interim director of Media, Self and Society has also provided some good—if unexpected—training for the director job. “My first year as interim director was pretty unusual because of the abrupt change to online learning brought on by the COVID crisis,” she observes. “But in some ways, it seemed to bring our Media Scholars community even closer together. We knew we needed to be intentional about keeping strong connections and checking in on each other. Building community, a support system and a flexible course structure that encourages communication through our program are the most important priorities.”

Burns is also hoping to incorporate a service component to the program’s curriculum, where Media Scholars students might apply what they’ve learned in the program to create content raising awareness of disinformation and its impact on society. Already this year, her students have leveraged Scholars’ virtual #ScholarsServes initiative to create social media campaigns on how to find accurate COVID safety and voting information.

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