Jennifer Dunne Keeney, a student in the Master of Communication and Media (MCM) program, comes to Rutgers via a lengthy career as a performing and visual artist. After receiving her BFA from NYU Tisch School of the Arts, Keeney has performed in numerous Broadway shows, national tours, international productions in foreign languages, music videos, and television appearances such as the “Tony Awards” and “Late Show with Stephen Colbert.” She has worked alongside Olympians and those who’ve won Grammy, Tony, and Academy awards. Along with her performing arts career, Jennifer expanded her passions to the visual arts industry. She studied at the School of Visual Arts, giving her additional skills to work as a photographic retoucher in some of New York City’s top retouching houses, where her work has graced the pages of major global publications such as Vogue, W Magazine, Elle, and Glamour, and over 40 campaigns for various consumer products such as H&M, Harry Winston, Coach, Sephora, and also networks such as Nickelodeon. With a passion for making and consuming documentary films, she has now added podcast host for the Student World Impact Film Festival to her resume. Keeney shared her reflections with us.
“I have always had this itch to try and use the arts as a vessel to communicate complex issues to the world. I could never really pinpoint the right program for myself that could allow me to envision that happening clearly. One day, as I was reading up on the Geena Davis Institute of Gender and Media (I love her work!), I thought, “Who’s doing this work, and what are their degrees?” It turned out that aside from Geena Davis, it was a ton of communication majors. I don’t know why I never thought of it before, but it was a lightbulb moment. Rutgers popped up in my graduate program research. I saw that the MCM program had a specialization in Corporate Purpose and Social Impact. Once I listened to the intro videos about the program, I thought, ‘Yes! That’s it!’ and I knew that my path was pointed here. I raced home from my Broadway show that night to tell my husband that I was going to apply to Rutgers. He, in his incredibly supportive fashion, said, ‘Do it. I know you’ll do great.’ Mixing my visual and performing arts experiences with my master’s degree in Communication and Media, I want to assist in creating content and conversations with social impact in mind. People might not listen if it’s boring. That’s where my expertise comes in—I have a passion for this world and a flair for storytelling.
“I finished my second semester of the program and really love it. Each course holds value in different ways. My favorite class thus far has been Communication Ethics. Teaching Professor Richard Dool has a way of engaging the students in weekly conversations that jump into the heart of that topic. It was so wonderful to have such deep, rich conversations with equally enthusiastic students; it was fantastic. Because of my unique background, I’m always looking for suitable coursework to round out my skills and knowledge. I can’t wait for the fall semester to begin.
“A few months ago, I connected with the Student World Impact Film Festival™. This festival is geared toward elevating the voices of young storytellers from all over the world. They do not require a submission fee (which can be incredibly costly to filmmakers through the film festival circuits). This opens opportunities and space for so many voices. The festival director, Mark Leschinsky, said he needed some podcast hosts to interview the filmmakers. The On Directing podcast (DGA directors interviewing other directors) is one of my favorites, so I felt that my endless hours of listening had shaped me for this opportunity. I did a mock interview with him, and after my questions went off-script for the second time, he stopped me and said, ‘I don’t think we need to go any further; I can tell you know what you’re doing. You’re in.’ I got my calendar situated, and the interviews rolled in. I am unbelievably honored to be speaking to so many fantastic people through this year’s film festival. I am inspired by the young voices that are rising up and tackling really important issues through the medium. I recently spoke to an Iranian filmmaker, a Polish animator, a Belgian/Turkish filmmaker, a Lebanese filmmaker, and a Chinese animator. The perspectives of these six are very different, but they are all equally committed to telling essential truths about our world through their eyes. It’s inspiring. I love the challenge of listening intently to find all the follow-up questions within their comments. Since many of these students are college-age or just graduated, this is sometimes the first time they have been interviewed about their films and their craft. My aim is to make them comfortable enough so that they just feel like they are talking to a friend, recalling their filmmaking process. The greatest compliment for me is when we finish the interview, and they say, ‘Thank you so much! I was so nervous, but you made it so easy to talk to you.’ Helping people get their message out about the world through their lens is the least I can do.
“My advice for any current or prospective MCM student is to find what lights you up and follow it. You will spend a lot of your awake hours at work; it would be helpful to have it be something that sparks interest for you. Be intentional in choosing your coursework and writing your papers—let them inform and support your areas of interest. Find the potholes or gaps in your education that you may need in the workforce and try to fill those. Be critical in your self-evaluations so you can course correct. If there’s something that you don’t understand, talk to your professors! They are there to help us. One of the best things about coming into a grad program later in life is having experiences to draw from and being laser-focused on what I want my degree to do for me.”
Note: Listen to Keeney’s podcast interview with emerging filmmaker Gal Balaban.