Spotlight: Columbia College

When did your organization launch and why?

The MA in Civic Media welcomed its first cohort of 11 students in Fall 2019. Columbia College Chicago has been working for several years to research, plan and build the program, with feedback from our community partners, to connect young professionals with communities across the greater Chicago area. We have developed an intentional curriculum that addresses some of the pressing needs of our region—engagement, equity, inclusion, media and information literacy, economic opportunity, and overall quality of life.

Chicago is the nation’s third-largest media market and the city has a long history of social activism. We have designed the new degree around key civic skills that include strategic communication, design thinking, collaboration and urban development, as well as key areas of media practice that include cross-platform storytelling, journalism, media production, information analysis, data visualization, civic tech and user-experience design.

What does your organization do? What are its main goals? Main projects?

The MA in Civic Media at Columbia College Chicago is a year-long graduate program that connects our students to the community and engages them in the design of collaborative solutions to existing regional problems. Our main goal is to leverage our resources and the talents of our students to drive positive social change, and to build sustainable public-facing initiatives. We are committed over the long term to building a broad and deep portfolio of civic works that helps our area-wide municipal, cultural and civically-focused agencies move forward.

At the heart of the program is the community project. Students design, implement, and assess project-based solutions that address real community needs. These projects vary widely, and draw from the most appropriate media forms—from the latest opportunities in civic tech to more traditional forms of information design that meet communities where they are. Some students help a community solve an information problem and build relationships with city leaders, others work with an interest group on a quality-of-life issue. But in the end, the project coincides with students’ interests, skills, and the conversations they have had with community leaders.

What makes your organization stand out? What would you say is the most unique thing about your organization?

Our graduate program is the nation’s only advanced Civic Media degree. While other institutions teach the principles of civic media in the context of other academic program areas, Columbia College Chicago is committed to working with Chicago communities to merge civic engagement and social justice with media practice. This is a collaborative endeavor that rethinks the overall role of institutions of higher education, that aligns them as change agents, and makes them more acutely responsive to the communities they inhabit and the environments they share.

Columbia College Chicago is an undergraduate and graduate institution whose principal commitment is to provide a comprehensive educational opportunity in the arts, media, communication, and public information within a context of enlightened liberal education. Columbia’s intent is to educate students who will communicate creatively and shape the public’s perceptions of issues and events and who will author the culture of their times. Columbia is an urban institution whose students reflect the economic, racial, cultural, and educational diversity of contemporary America. Columbia conducts education in close relationship to a vital urban reality and serves an important civic purpose by actively engaging in the life and culture of the city of Chicago.

What are recent projects or new resources that your organization would like to share with other NAMLE members?

We created a series of videos to explain the scope of civic media.

We are also active on social media, and committed to making our resources open source:

Facebook: @CivicMediaMA
Twitter: @CivicMediaMA
LinkedIn: CivicMediaMA

You can also subscribe to our bi-monthly newsletter by sending a request to the program director, Dr. Yonty Friesem.

What are the connections between the work of your organization and media literacy?

Being a graduate program in civic media, all of our activities enhance the ability to access reliable information, analyze and evaluate media messages, create media, reflect on its effects, and engage others with and through media. Our civic media students learn about media and information literacy through their own community-based projects where they communicate and spread the practice of media literacy in various communities across Chicago.

Why is media literacy important to your organization?

In our digital age where media is ubiquitous and information is readily networked and shared, one cannot be fully engaged in civic action without being media literate. As we look at the connection between our students and the Chicago community, we want to leverage the best practices of media literacy to support our civic endeavors.

Anything else you want our readers to know about your organization, your mission, or your staff?

Our students are a mix of media professionals who want to learn about civic and community engagement and community organizers who are interested in learning how to use media to further civic engagement and action. To learn more about our program and follow our initiatives, please visit us online.