Dean's Message to Alumni

Lisa HendersonDear FIMS Alumni,

I write to you from FIMS’ beautiful building, where I am the only person here. The COVID-19 pandemic has re-organized University life. In short order, instructors at all levels moved courses online so that students could finish their terms. Staff went home to work, with remote access into their campus computers and new software to conduct advising and meetings via Zoom.

Alan Shepard has been a courageous leader in what is still his first year as Western’s new President (you can find his video greeting here: and we will continue to look to him for his calm, decisive leadership as the situation develops. The support across campus and in the London community is tremendous but so is the demand, and everyone is doing their level best to sustain focus and generosity as we meet each other’s needs in unprecedented circumstances.

There are beautiful examples of generosity and efficiency—people providing child care and even housing for health care workers, contributions of money and volunteer time where circumstances permit, swiftly-convened meetings to determine how best to assist students, faculty and staff. In FIMS, efforts are also underway to respond to COVID-19: to develop undergraduate research internships offering training and financial support in a bleak summer job market; to provide emergency funding for graduate students who are working hard to keep their programs on track; to develop an archive of the value of art in pandemic time; to teach on Information in Pandemics and Disasters (an MLIS course in preparation by Professor Heather Hill and PhD candidate Sam Vander Kooy); and to speak to COVID-19 through news and communications items prepared for the Western website, all of which have been included in this newsletter.

These are new times, and we don’t entirely know what’s to come, but we know FIMS research and teaching will play a critical role in thinking about media, information and the pandemic. Right now, we are keeping up with health and safety as our first priority, planning for a fully online Summer session with a committed new group of MLIS and MIT students.

Amid the pressures, we are delighted to acknowledge some academic good news. First, Professor Pam McKenzie was awarded one of Western’s prestigious Faculty Scholar awards for 2020-2022. The award recognizes the complete scholar who has maintained an excellent record in research and teaching and who has recently achieved prominence in one of those two areas. Pam has achieved prominence in both, while making monumental leadership contributions to FIMS, most recently as Associate Dean for Graduate Studies. Pam, our congratulations and our appreciation.

FIMS is also happy to report that our faculty is growing. Starting July 1, Professor Joanna Redden, a specialist in data governance and justice, joins FIMS from her current appointment at the School of Journalism, Media, and Culture at Cardiff University. Professor Redden earned her PhD in Media and Communications at Goldsmiths University London and her MA in Communication and Culture from Ryerson. Professor Luke Stark, a specialist in the history and practice of Artificial Intelligence, comes to us from a postdoctoral fellowship at Microsoft Research in Montréal, and earned his PhD in Media, Culture and Communication from New York University. Both will teach undergraduate courses in MIT and MPI, and graduate students across LIS, MMJC, HIS and MS programs. Welcome Joanna and Luke! You can read more about both here:  

This Newsletter issue also brings news of the loss of members of the FIMS community, leading with Professor Jonathan Burston, who passed away in October. Burston was a brilliant scholar of music, dance, and the corporate formation of Broadway, a dancer himself, and a beloved member of the Faculty. Colleagues had planned a tribute at FIMS for early April - a tribute that has been postponed until we can safely gather. Please visit the “In Memoriam” section of the newsletter to read more about Burston as well as retired faculty members Ken Bambrick and Patricia Dewdney, and alumni Michelle Bauer (BA ’06), David J. Reiss (BA '06), Mary Elliott (MLIS), Julia Hendry (MLIS ’00) and Karla Van Kessel (MLIS ’03). The news is overwhelming but the recognition essential. Our sincere condolences to the many friends and loved ones of those who have passed on.

In this issue we are happy to feature two recent gifts to FIMS that go to the heart of our mission—support for international and Indigenous students. We’ll continue to recognize long-established and new gifts in future issues. The generosity of FIMS alum—in the form of gifts, class visits, and internship support in your professional environments, your news and communication—animates every day on campus and every student’s future. We thank you.

We also want to recognize Western’s Student Relief Fund, set up to provide philanthropic resources (in addition to those set aside by the University) for students at all levels in the wake of COVID-19. It is tempting to think that students have what they need, but many don’t. They’re losing internships and summer jobs; some come from households where parents and other family members have been laid off; some support parents; others are graduating into reduced employment prospects. If you would like to consider a contribution in any amount, here’s the link. Again, our thanks.  

For you, our alumni, our first priority is your health and safety, and the well-being of your loved ones and communities. We recognize that you are contending with many of the same uncertainties and threats that colleagues and students face, and we want you to know that we are rooting for the FIMS community at large. Please stay in touch with each other and with us, and send us your news, your ideas, and your tips for navigating the COVID-19 era. And please take care of yourselves. To do so now is also to take care of us all.

Warm wishes,

Lisa Henderson