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Getting to Know: Dr. Ernest J. Wilson

It’s no exaggeration to say that Dr. Ernest J. Wilson III brings a dazzling breadth of academic and public affairs experience to the deanship of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California. Since taking the helm of the renowned communications school this past July, Wilson has maintained a vigorous outreach effort to hear the ideas and concerns of U.S. mass media executives and policymakers as well as those of foreign media leaders and public officials.

A political scientist who has achieved academic acclaim for his innovative interdisciplinary scholarship, the Washington, D.C.-native has also organized the faculty into advisory groups and is working with the groups to craft a visionary new master plan for the Annenberg School.

“It’s about taking a school that’s already great and making it even better,” Wilson says.

These days, scholars in the communication fields, such as journalism, have grown concerned about the unprecedented challenges that traditional mass media entities, such as newspapers and television broadcasters, are facing due to the growing popularity of the Internet. Wilson says the Annenberg is well positioned to help facilitate the intellectual discussion over how traditional media can evolve with the emergence of new media and new communication technologies.

“We want to be able to shape the intellectual debate as well as the policy debate,” Wilson says.

Officials say that the Annenberg School should benefit from Wilson’s proven abilities that he’s demonstrated as a White House National Security Council senior official, Corporation for Public Broadcasting board member, Center for International Development and Conflict Management director at the University of Maryland, and political science professor. He’s also known as a leading expert on communications and information technologies in Africa, Brazil and China, and has held professorships at the University of Maryland, the University of Michigan and the University of Pennsylvania.

“Under Dr. Wilson’s leadership with his record of accomplishment and practice of societal communications, we are confident the USC Annenberg School will accelerate its current momentum and expand its national and international influence,” said Dr. C.L. Max Nikias, the University of Southern California provost.

Wilson was chosen from among 240 candidates and convinced USC officials that he could both expand the school’s international presence as well as address “pressing societal issues, especially through creative cross-disciplinary collaboration.”

“Wilson’s combination of skills was a good fit for the Annenberg School. He’s a practitioner as well as a scholar,” says Dr. Adam Clayton Powell III, the vice provost for globalization at USC and senior fellow in the Center for Public Diplomacy at the Annenberg School.

Not long after Wilson’s appointment, Linda Johnson Rice, the president of the Johnson Publishing Co., publisher of Ebony and Jet magazines, pledged $2.5 million to fund the Johnson Communication Leadership Center and the Johnson Scholarships for undergraduate students. Rice, an USC alumna, has sought to establish the center to focus on specific research interests relating to the Black community.

Wilson, who is African-American, credits his predecessor, Geoffrey Cowan, for having developed and nurtured the outreach effort to Rice and Johnson Publishing. He says the center and the scholarship program will enhance efforts that the Annenberg School remains an important institution for attracting diverse candidates to the communication professions. The center is expected to focus on research to advance knowledge on the role of Blacks in the media.

“This represents an opportunity for the Annenberg School to advance overall understanding of African-Americans by the larger society as well as to foster discussions within the African-American community,” Wilson says.

–Ronald Roach

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