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Faculty neighborhoods foster collaboration in Wallis Annenberg Hall

Digital media link the professors sharing office space and innovative ideas

Professor Robert Hernandez at work
Robert Hernandez works from his office within the faculty neighborhood suite. (Photo/Susana Guerrero)

Located on the third floor of Wallis Annenberg Hall is one of the new faculty neighborhoods that comprises several offices for professors from all USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism programs, including communication, journalism and public relations.

Keeping in line with the school’s objective of collaborative space, the faculty neighborhood is an amalgam of faculty members with distinct academic backgrounds and areas of expertise. But one of the biggest links among them is digital media.

“This was a really bright and exciting moment,” said Robert Hernandez, associate professor of professional practice. “Just to sit with really smart people made me even more excited to come to work. I think it’s pretty cool to have a diverse group in one faculty suite.”

Just to sit with really smart people made me even more excited to come to work.

Robert Hernandez

Hernandez is one of the nine professors who currently have an office in the faculty neighborhood. Of the nine, four are communication professors, three are digital journalism professors and two are public relations professors.

Hernandez said it’s great to collaborate with people working on digital-related projects in the same space.

“We’re still settling in,” he said. “There are really cool projects that I want to eavesdrop in or participate on.”

Open area

The neighborhood has several offices side by side, two sitting areas and a conference space. There’s a sense of openness to the suite, regardless of the individual offices it holds. Although there have been meetings in the conference room, Hernandez noted that collaboration is taking place in a less formal setting.

The conference room in the faculty lounge has made it easier for faculty members to discuss projects, but collaboration will happen in a more organic way, according to Hernandez.

“We didn’t want to promise that we were now going to join forces to make this super project because we’re all busy,” Hernandez said. “What we were attracted to was collaboration and just sharing ideas that organically happen.”

Crossover and collaboration

Alison Trope, clinical professor and director of undergraduate studies for USC Annenberg, explained that professors with offices in the faculty neighborhood wrote a formal proposal that stressed the potential for crossover and collaboration.

“As a group, our interests intersect in a number of ways — civic engagement, digital media, media and news institutions, identity, public and digital spaces,” Trope said. “Rather than gathering a group of peers that all worked in the same arena or used similar methodologies, we are in many respects joined by our similarities and our differences.”

Trope has already participated in the Civic Paths Research Group co-led by, assistant professor Mike Ananny. The meetings were held in the faculty neighborhood conference room and will continue to be held every week and a half, said Ananny, who noted that the suite has generated a lot of student traffic. He said he has met several students from various USC Annenberg programs within the suite because the setup has helped create new connections.

“I think it’s the everyday casual interactions that is the real value to this space,” he said.

Something that has excited Ananny about the neighborhood is the potential for creating future classes and co-teaching opportunities with his colleagues.

“We’re all pretty open to that because it fits into this larger goal of bringing the journalism and communication schools closer together,” he said.

Hernandez had the idea of a faculty neighborhood a few years ago after speaking to Geneva Overholser, former director of the School of Journalism. Overholser loved the idea and asked Hernandez to write a memo that was eventually turned into a formal pitch.

“It was in line with the new building,” Hernandez said. “We thought that being in the new building would be cool, but the cooler part would be to serendipitously work together on things and influence each other.”

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Faculty neighborhoods foster collaboration in Wallis Annenberg Hall

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