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September 21, 2023

Parents of Spider alumna fund digital journalism lab renovation

Director of Public Affairs Journalism Tom Mullen teaches a class in the newly renovated journalism lab.

When journalism students began classes this semester, they were welcomed with an exciting update: a state-of-the-art digital media lab and production space.  
The lab had not received a major upgrade since its opening in 2003 when the Department of Journalism moved into the newly established Weinstein Hall, where it still resides today.
“It was an interesting time in 2003. There was a new website called Facebook, which was pretty exciting,” laughed Shahan Mufti, associate professor and chair of the journalism department. “We had no idea how the world of journalism was going to change.”
After two decades, the classroom/computer lab no longer offered the ideal environment for students to learn about and practice current digital reporting techniques, Mufti said. In 2020, he submitted a proposal to the University with a detailed renovation plan. But due to financial limitations caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and other factors, the renovation was unable to move forward.  
Luckily, two years later, a Spider family came forward with an interest in supporting the project. The parents of a recent UR journalism graduate, who prefer to remain anonymous, committed $100,000 to fund a total facility upgrade and renovation.
“The journalism department was our daughter’s home away from home while at UR,” the donors said. “It provides a rich academic environment that cultivates passion and fosters a sense of community. We are grateful to have the opportunity to give back in a meaningful way, with tangible impact.”
Mufti and his colleagues were deeply touched by the family’s generosity.

“I can’t overstate how wonderful it is to know that this gift came from a journalism student’s parents,” he said. “Knowing that they were so moved by their child’s experience that they decided to give in such a meaningful way – it’s a vote of confidence like no other.”
The renovation, which took place over the summer, included the addition of cutting-edge tools and technology to transform the lab from a print-focused classroom into a multimedia production and editing space. The facility also features a brand-new studio outfitted with advanced audio podcasting equipment, video streaming cameras, and more.
“Before, students would record a podcast and have to soundproof themselves by covering up with a blanket in their dorm,” Mufti said. “Now, they have a space to create quality content.”
The unveiling of the new facility coincided with the start date of new assistant professor of journalism Andrew Beck Grace, an NPR podcast producer and Emmy-nominated documentary filmmaker who came to UR from the University of Alabama.

“He’s very excited to come into this new space, which he had input in designing,” Mufti said. “We are also excited about being able to offer students new courses, such as an introduction to podcasting.”
The upgraded facility not only prepares students for professional careers in the field of digital journalism, but also positions UR as a notable institution for journalism education.
“Students who are going out in the field are being exposed to today’s industry technology,” Mufti said. “We need to set them on the right path so that they’re familiar and able to quickly adapt. This facility ensures that we are providing students with the very best there is to offer.”
“Using advanced technology and equipment, students can hone their skills in a real-world environment while producing top-quality content,” said Dr. Jennifer Cavenaugh, dean of the School of Arts & Sciences. “The lab is preparing our students for post-graduate success while reinforcing our institution’s commitment to experiential learning.”

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