Fairfield University English professor James Simon wins esteemed journalism teaching award


Image: James SimonHis journalism students at Fairfield University call him "passionate and intense," and they love the way he challenges them to excel. One called him 'the kind of teacher and person I can only dream to become one day myself."

Six years after taking over the journalism program at Fairfield University, James Simon, Ph.D., has received some national attention for his efforts, too. He has been named the best small college journalism professor in the country for 2003.

"Fairfield has given me a chance to mold what I consider to be an ideal, small journalism program, with strong teacher-student interaction and plenty of chances for real world experience," said Dr. Simon, an associate professor who oversees the work of about 100 students in journalism classes in the English Department.

"My biggest challenge is that no one comes to Fairfield for journalism. But many of the top-notch students we get are involved with their high school media, and those students find they can build on their experiences at Fairfield and turn it into a career," he said.

Dr. Simon, a resident of Stratford, Conn., received The 2003 Teacher of the Year award in August in Kansas City, Mo., at the national meeting of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC). It was only the third time in 10 years that the award was given by the AEJMC's Small Program Interest Group, a collection of small public and private school journalism programs, which has 115 members. The Small Programs Interest Group (SPIG) is one of 32 divisions within the AEJMC, a 3,200-member non-profit, educational association of journalism and mass communication faculty, administrators, students and media professionals.

"I join my colleagues in congratulating Professor Simon on being named the best small college journalism professor in the country by the AEJMC's Small Program Interest Group," said Timothy Law Snyder, Ph.D., dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Fairfield University.

"He has brought a wealth of journalistic and political experience to Fairfield, then found a way to share it with each of his students," Dr. Snyder said. "Through Professor Simon, our students receive a solid foundation in the fundamentals of journalism, melded with valuable experience of journalism in action. This symbiosis of contemplation and action, a mainstay of Fairfield's Jesuit tradition, is well represented in Professor Simon's teaching."

Dr. Simon's selection was based on a variety of factors, said James Sernoe, Ph.D., chair of the SPIG.

"The selection committee was impressed with all of the materials Simon submitted, including the impassioned letters of recommendation from students and colleagues. These letters, as well as the other documentation, showed evidence of Simon's dedication and concern for the teaching/learning process," said Dr. Sernoe, of Midwestern State University in Texas, who headed the selection committee.

Dr. Simon spent 10 years as a reporter, editor and Statehouse Bureau Chief with The Associated Press. A self-described "political junkie," he entered the world of government and politics in 1987 when he became Assistant Secretary of the Environment in Massachusetts, then spent part of 1988 as a volunteer with the presidential campaign of Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis.

Dr. Simon returned to school in 1990 and later earned a master's degree and Ph.D. at Arizona State University. He spent three years revitalizing the journalism program at the University of the Pacific, in Stockton, Calif., then returned to his native Connecticut in 1997 when Fairfield hired him as its first full-time journalism professor.

Dr. Simon teaches an introductory course in News Writing as well as advanced courses in Environmental Reporting and Political Reporting. He coordinates a crew of six part-time adjunct professors, most of whom work full-time and teach one course for Fairfield. He said students benefit from working with on-the-job professionals, while also working for campus media and studying the important role of the press as a watchdog in society.

Dr. Simon said he was proud of Fairfield's internship program for its journalism students. Students have interned at all of the region's daily and weekly newspapers and at newspapers, television stations, magazines and publishing houses in New York City. The average journalism student has two to three work experiences when they graduate and enter the professional world.

"I work hard to get students as excited about journalism as I am," Dr. Simon said.

"When journalists point out wrongs in society, their work is very consistent with the Jesuit goal of promoting a more just society," he said. "Fairfield's administrators understand that, and they have been very supportive of building a small but high quality journalism program."

"You set lofty goals, and you taught your students how to meet them," said Paul Pennelli, a 2001 Fairfield University graduate and journalism student who served as managing editor and then editor in chief of the Fairfield University student newspaper. "Perhaps that is what teaching really is: a guide to greatness."

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Media Contact: Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647, nhabetz@fairfield.edu

Posted on August 30, 2003

Vol. 36, No. 26