COMM is the Future-Proof Major, says New Journalism Coordinator

Veteran media producer and educator Kate Sweeny joins Mason Comm

by Catalina V. Rogers

 Professor Kate Sweeney joins the roster of talented faculty in the department of communication this fall, offering students more than 20 years of media production and teaching experience.  Sweeney will lead the journalism concentration and teach journalism and media courses.

  Sweeney began her career in media production with National Geographic Television and Film. She earned multiple producing credits for documentary projects that explored everything from groundbreaking scientific discoveries to life on the front lines of conflict. Sweeney went next to Showtime/CBS to develop programs and launch the Smithsonian Channel. Sweeney then moved to a film finance and production company that took projects all over the world. This was when Sweeney landed in Cairo, Egypt.

  While Sweeney was with the production company in Cairo, she worked closely with young and new filmmakers. Sweeney describes this as a time of working hard and having fun. She believed that many times students and other young people will limit their talents to what they know they are good at. Sweeney challenged her young filmmakers and was instinctually drawn to pulling out the best in them and even adds, “we could spot their talents before they even knew.” She found that working with the filmmakers was more fun than creating the projects themselves. This was a new beginning for Sweeney and describes it as a “completely earth-moving change.”

  Sweeney decided to pursue an educational career as she found students may not always see their full potential. Although students may sometimes find that they are “good at something, they may not realize they are good at something else too,” and Sweeney desired to “pluck that out and grow that.” She also found that students may believe they are only good at something a superior tells them they are good at, limiting themselves from pursuing different talents.

  Upon arriving to Mason, Sweeney fell in love with her students. Sweeney believes students spark a sense of curiosity in her own life. She explains that her students are often watching the news and asking questions which pushes her to stay on top of current news and become a better teacher. At Mason, “Students are serious. They want jobs, they want careers and that just reverberates in the room,” Sweeney says. Sweeney says the students of Mason are her favorite part of teaching because the diversity of not only the students, but their ideas. Sweeney shares, “These students have a huge variety of experiences and perspectives that they are bringing into the room and [they] are willing to share this with people in the classroom.”

  With such a diverse background, it begs the question: how does a film producer translate to a teacher? Sweeney describes her classroom as a TV show following a clock. Sweeney’s classes are broken down into three or four sessions, much like a TV show has commercial breaks. Journalism students are kept interested and engaged with images and visuals about Sweeney’s past experience in film and production. Sweeney also shares she creates a safe space for students to feel comfortable, ask questions and take risks, while putting pressure on her students to produce quality work, much like in the journalism industry.

  Sweeney believes that a Communication degree is the best investment a student can make in college. The skills acquired in a comm degree can be applied into any field. Sweeney goes on to explain that sometimes when picking a comm major, students might not know what field they want to go into or switch career paths once they enter the professional world. A communication degree will teach students to be an effective communicator. “You must have technical skills and have critical thinking to analyze and understand theory,” Sweeney says, “and you must merge the two.” A communication degree brings solutions to problems that do not yet exist, meaning this degree will stand the test of time. Kate Sweeney says, “When I was in college the jobs today didn’t even exist. That’s going to happen again. Who is it working these jobs that didn’t exist? These are communication jobs. Social media positions, producers, writers, managing huge numbers of people. I see the comm major as the ultimate future-proof major. Ten years from now the world will change, but you will have a skill to go with those changes.”

Kate Sweeney holds an M.S. in Science Journalism from Boston University, and a B.A. in Anthropology from Colorado College. Sweeney previously taught film and journalism courses at Asbury University and communication courses and the University of Kentucky.

  The department of communication at George Mason University – Mason Comm --  offers concentrations in public relations, journalism, interpersonal, organizational and political communication. Mason Comm emphasizes blending theory with practice and provides students hands-on learning experiences both in and out of the classroom.