Courage and The Art of Belief: Communication that Intervenes

Dear colleagues and friends of CNM,

Today is my last day officially as Head of CNM. As I write this goodbye note to you, I want to thank you for the wonderful memories, the many joys of building an innovative department together, and the courage with which we have pushed inter-disciplinary conversations.

Thinking of CNM, I will always be reminded of a space- vibrant, full of laughter, and with a whole lot of belief in the positive capacity to transform the world.

This vision of CNM as a bold and positive change-maker in Singapore and in the world has been a source of inspiration for my leadership journey. We have been led by a vision of building a pedagogy and research infrastructure for Communication that Creates. The creative capacity of communication is best embodied in your scholarship and pedagogy and I am so very proud of that.

As I write this last note to you as the Head of CNM, I want to share with you a message that has been at the heart of how we, as a Department, have seen and shaped the world. It is the message that the conviction of belief is quintessential to the power of change.

Belief, when grounded in a vision for the future, builds pathways never imagined before.

Our sense of the creative capacity of communication has led to the belief that communication is most powerful when it intervenes into the world in a positive way. Amid the challenges of climate change, growing global inequalities, consolidation of power in the hands of a few, polarization, lack of public trust, and global democracy deficit, communication holds the power to materializing an ecologically sustainable, democratic, and socially just world.

The values of communication are central to the possibilities of the world ahead.

Over these years, we have grown as a Department at a dramatic pace. The novelty and practice-relevance of our modules continues to attract new students, making us a top destination. CNM faculty have been continually innovating with the curriculum, creating new course offerings, connecting these offerings to an ever-changing digital landscape, and experimenting with new methods of teaching.

Our Industry Advisory Council has played a key role in helping us shape our curriculum, guiding the development of new modules in areas such as Financial Communication and Crisis Communication. It’s been a pleasure building a cutting-edge curriculum that is grounded in continually pushing the theory-practice conversations. It has been a pleasure to invite CNM alums Audrey Tan, Co-Founder and CEO, Angels of Impact and PlayMoolah, and Mr. Julian Lim, Vice President, Group Corporate Communications, OCBC Bank, to serve on the Council. I especially want to thank Mr. Adrian Heng, Vice President, Communications and Marketing, Booq’ed Southeast Asia, for taking a leadership role in continually pushing the curriculum toward innovation. Thanks also to Dr. Chitra Rajaram, Director, NewsHub, MediaCorp Pte Ltd, Ms. Georgette Tan, Vice President, Communications (Asia/Pacific, Middle East, Africa), MasterCard WorldWide (Singapore), and Ms. Vanessa Ho-Nikolovski, Managing Director, Weber Shandwick Singapore, who have tirelessly contributed to the curriculum innovations in CNM.

The excellence of our curriculum that brings together interaction design, communication management, and media studies, is recognized by our industry partners, with the Department continually maintaining its top tier industry rankings. On a similar note, over the last few years, we have continued to be in the top tier of Communication programs in the world, our reputation resting on our imagination of creating communication to generate social impact. CNM has been a leader both in the Faculty of Social Sciences at NUS and globally in creating new grounds for building pedagogy that makes an impact. Our curriculum is solidly grounded in the Communication discipline and is simultaneously enriched by the conversations opened up by Media Design and the Humanities.

Based on six industry dialogues, we undertook an extensive curriculum transformation in 2012-2013, pulling together a curriculum with a solid core in theory and methodology (with compulsory Qualitative Communication Research Methods and Quantitative Research Methods modules) and specialized offerings in industry-relevant areas. We also started working on a Compulsory Internship that would give our students to immerse in the world of communication practice, connecting practices to theorizing. This year we launched the Internship, and look forward to witnessing its continued growth. Thanks to Malathi, Amir, Ee Lyn, Sofia, Raksha, Afreen, Kai En and Bernadette who have been working tirelessly to ensure that the internship program is delivered with excellence and serving the needs of our students.

We have been at the forefront in the Faculty in offering digital modules such as Lonce’s Interaction Design Modules, the Online Introduction to New Media and Society module targeted at NS (national service)-men, and the many flipped classroom modules that we offer. Teaching innovations such as practice-driven teaching, mobile teaching, teaching in a food pantry, and creating problem-driven communication solutions have been critical components of the module.

The Department also launched the first NUS Coursera Specialization, Public Relations in a Digital World. Comprising of four different modules, the specialization has been heavily subscribed, drawing students from across the world.

Based on the lessons learned in its extensive curriculum innovations, the Department has built capacities for communication and new media pedagogy across Asia, hosting Departments from Indonesia, Malaysia, Hong Kong, China, India, and South Korea on study tours. We have shared our curriculum, classroom technologies, and teaching methods with colleagues across Asia. I have enjoyed the many such opportunities to share the CNM curriculum.

Our Industry Advisory Council has also played a key role in creating spaces for academic-practice conversations, inviting industry leaders into the University. This year, we held Industry-Academic forums on Communicative freedoms and Communication in practice. These forums on one hand showcased CNM thought leadership, and on the other hand, drew on the extensive knowledge of industry partners to frame key communication questions.

The Department has witnessed a number of new junior colleagues who bring with them new energy and hopes for the future. Dr. Andrew Quitmeyer, Dr. Nancy Flude, Dr. Weiquan Lu, Dr. Shaohai Jiang, Dr. Renyi Hong, Dr. Tabarez Neyazi, Dr. Asha Pandi, and Dr. Dazzelyn Zapata joined the Department in 2016-2017 period. This year, we are delighted to welcome Dr. Soo Jung Hong into the Department. Dr. Hong, an already accomplished researcher in Health Communication, received this year the Young Health Communication Scholar Award from the Kentucky Conference in Health Communication, a much-coveted award.

With the new comes the time to acknowledge the many contributions from the past. Colleagues such as Hichang Cho, Lonce Wyse, and Gui Kai Chong have been with CNM since its early days, shaping the department and contributing to its growth. Lonce and Hichang have always been the foundations that have guided me in my journey, there for advice and support. Colleagues such as Milagros Rivera, T. T. Sreekumar, Ingrid Hoofd, Julian Lin, Seow Ting Lee, and Denisa Kera who are no longer with the Department have been amazing contributors to the ethos of CNM. Colleagues Alex Mitchell, Iccha Basnyat, Debalina Dutta, Ee Lyn Tan, Asha Pandi, Eun Hwa Jung, Dazzelyn Zapata, Nancy Flude, Aaron Ng, Raka Shome, Sameer Deshpande have always stepped up to shoulder significant responsibilities in contributing to the everyday workings of CNM as department citizens.

A strong department is held together by the hard work of our administrative team. Jen has held our technical infrastructure together with her sincerity and commitment. The tireless work of Malathi and Gayathri have been quintessential to the dynamism and rapid growth of CNM. Amir joined the team and contributed with his energy and vision. Zafirah and Halimah have joined our team with a sense of commitment to contributing to the Department. As we say goodbye to Gayathri this year, we acknowledge the strong contributions of our administrative team that form the heart of what we do in CNM. A large part of the credit for our growth and sustenance goes to these colleagues. We are grateful to colleagues such as our aunties who make sure the offices, hallways, and restrooms are always clean, and who often go unacknowledged. Our departmental climate has been grounded in this spirit of equality and respect for our staff.

Our research profile has continued to grow globally, with diverse faculty interests being held together by an underlying commitment to moving beyond the ivory tower to generating social impact. This social impact mission is exemplified in research projects that cover digital art collaborations, collaborative music, cancer communication, doctor-patient communication, social media interventions, digital storytelling in games, automation, designing interactive urban spaces, designing ecologically sustainable solutions, creating digital performance art, developing public advocacy campaigns, creating community-based participatory research solutions, etc. The social impact mission of the Department continues to touch lives in ways that push the realms of academic possibilities, while at the same time contributing to the scholarship of communication and digital media. Our 2018 CNM-CARE conference themed Communication Interventions showcased the many innovations that have been nurtured and created at CNM, bringing back colleagues Denisa Kera, T T Sreekumar, and Ingrid Hoofd.

The many speakers and visitors who have shared their work generously with us have helped us grow in our individual and collective journeys. That we are at the crossroads of new conversations is witnessed in these many threads of conversations that have been shared with us by these international colleagues who are leaders in their fields. Cherian George, Raka Shome, Charles Briggs, Anne Gregory, Deborah Lupton, Susan Douglas, Collins Airhihenbuwa, Gary Kreps, Sanjoy Bhattacharya, Debbie Dougherty, Barbara Sharf, Madeline Schwartzman, Biswarup Sen, Glenn Sparks, Kleis Nielsen, Evelyn Ho, Sameer Deshpande, and Jeff Peterson who have spent their invaluable time and energy with us in mentoring, offering workshops on publishing, and opening up conversations.

Our undergraduate and graduate students are truly our best assets. I have loved witnessing the ways in which our undergraduate students have contributed to critical and important conversations in Singapore and the region. The many social enterprises and start-ups they have built speak to the CNM spirit of innovating with a difference. Efforts such as Heart to Climb and Angels of Impact led by our alums reflect the social impact spirit of CNM. In a wide range of ways, our students have contributed to society and community. They have done so bringing their theoretical knowledge and rigorous training in methods together. At the core of these contributions is their commitment to communicating with a heart. The many innovation industries in which our undergraduate students flourish speak to this CNM difference. Our graduate students have continued to shine in Singapore and globally. They have contributed to the many vital contributions of digital and communication spaces in Asia, and continue to push the boundaries of social impact through this important scholarship. For me personally, one of the best parts of the journey in CNM has been the opportunity to learn from and converse with our students.

Summing up, the last six years have offered me excellent opportunities to grow as a teacher, scholar and leader. I have learned from our students, colleagues, and communities that communication is powerful. To believe in the transformative power of communication is to know that the discourses we generate and the meanings we work with create incredible opportunities for others, especially those who are systematically disenfranchised by powerful forces in society.

I wrap up this note sharing snippets of a hymn that I had learned in school as a student with dreams.

It takes courage to answer a call,
It takes courage to lose your all,
It takes courage to risk your name,
It takes courage to be true.

It takes courage to dare,
One that no will share;
To be standing alone,
One whom no one will own;
To be ready to stake for another one’s sake,
It takes courage to be true.

The very best of wishes to you!

You now have a new home in New Zealand to continue with these many conversations.

Sincerely,
Mohan