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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California

Annenberg Celebrates Geneva Overholser

Annenberg held a celebration on Monday to honor Geneva Overholser’s five years of dedication. Overholser is not only a professor and director of USC’s Annenberg School of Journalism, but a leader and a visionary.

Annenberg held a celebration on Monday to honor Geneva Overholser’s five years of dedication. Overholser is not only a professor and director of USC’s Annenberg School of Journalism, but a leader and a visionary.

"What Geneva did was she gave us a terrific national and international reputation.  She gave us great credibility. The minute she became director, everybody wanted to know what was going on with USC Annenberg," said Professor Joe Saltzman.

"We are really on the cutting edge, and I think partly because of Geneva we have a great national reputation, and we're attracting the top students," said Professor Judy Muller.

Overholser has had a major impact on the Annenberg School, creating several opportunities for students to hone their craft, such as the award-winning Annenberg digital news, Neon Tommy, and Intersections South LA.

"One really great memory was when we launched Neon Tommy. It took like wildfire. Students have just made it a truly remarkable, energetic, and important site, and I'm really proud of it," Overholser said.

"She's been really instrumental in trying to get Annenberg to really focus on community journalism and really connecting with our local community," said Annenberg Associate Director Laura Castaneda.

Dean Wilson, her fellow professors, students, and friends gathered at the University Club to celebrate Overholser's influence on Annenberg's success. The atmosphere was alive with excitement and nostalgia for a woman who inspired so many.

"She makes it fun to go to work every day, and she's very inspiring," said Castaneda.

"You'd go to see her and usually come back feeling better about what you were doing," said Journalism Professor Bryce Nelson.

Professor Saltzman echoed that sentiment. "We'll lose a little bit of our soul when she leaves because she was such an inspiration to all of us."

Overholser impacts every student who enters the Annenberg doors, and several students were lucky enough to get to personally learn from her. One student who worked with Overholser says she is grateful for the opportunity and will miss her deeply.

"I think in journalism, you get really bogged down in your work and you wanna make deadline, you wanna get the story, and so a lot of times that can harden people. And she's an example to me of how to avoid that. You want to talk to her, you want to be around her," said Catherine Green, grad student and editor-in-chief of Neon Tommy.

For her last academic year, Overholser has been focused on helping students, instituting new ways to teach, thinking of new courses, engaging in serving the community, and continuing her work in the journalism field.

I'm really proud of our achievements in diversity.  I feel strongly that the future of journalism is in the hands of everyone in this country, and the country is changing radically. We, I think, have done a good job of bringing more voices into the debate about the future of journalism. We have a diverse faculty, we have a diverse student body, we are a very international campus, so that's one thing I'm very proud of," Overholser said. 

The new one year master's program she had a hand in creating is also going to be one of her legacies.

"It's a boot camp where you'll get a lot of skills you're getting now in the core classes, but they'll be concentrated. It's a lot like learning a foreign language. You do it all day long, day after day, and it becomes natural to you. Then you'll have a wide variety of academic choices during the school year and a practicum at the end that will enable you to work in a newsroom in the city. I really think it's going to be great."

The Columbia Journalism Review added Overholser to their top 40 list of women who changed the media business the past 40 years and will only continue to change and enhance the industry as she moves on to New York after her term ends June 2013. Many of her fellow faculty expressed their admiration for her being a pioneer for women in Annenberg.

""I've never had a woman boss, and to be actually heard in the middle of a faculty meeting and have somebody say, 'Yes! I heard that.' It was quite stunning. And to come from newsrooms that have been ruled by men all my life--it was quite refreshing, and I just hope it carries over to the next leadership," said Professor Muller.

"At my  age, you never think you're going to have another woman to look up to that can show you more things you didn't know, and she's just been astounding," said Professor Jennifer Floto.

"Male or female, she's one of the best. she's a great leader," said Castaneda.

While the school will miss her, what will Overholser miss most herself?

"I'm going to miss so many things - the people, this beautiful campus, the fact that this is a really forward looking place.  I came here because I felt if you're going to run a journalism school in a time of such fast-paced change, you have to be in a place that believes in the future and embraces the future, and that's what happens here. I love New york, but it's not as forward looking a city. This place feels like the future of the United States, and I've really been excited to be a part of making the journalism school that way."

Dean Wilson said Overholser has been, "a wonderful ambassador to the school. It's a combination of her integrity, she is a journalist to her heart, she wants the highest quality of journalism, and she believes in information in the public interest as her guiding credo, plus she's really cool."

As her time here comes to a close, her husband and colleague Professor David Westphal reflected on their experience here.

"We came out here five years ago on a grand adventure, and it's fulfilled everything we've thought it would be. I'm so proud of what she's done in those five years."

And Geneva Overholser left students with some words of encouragement.

"The future of journalism is bright! We are reinventing journalism, people want it more than ever."

Even though she's headed to the Big Apple, Overholser said she'll be back for the grand opening of the new building and will be watching  Annenberg as it grows.  She said she looks forward to a future of innovation that makes her proud of the journalism school.




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