Focused on prevention campaigns using both mediated and interpersonal strategies to reduce dangerous drinking among undergraduate students, Professor of Communication Lea P. Stewart will assume the role of chair of SC&I’s Communication Department on July 1, 2020. Stewart served as interim chair of the department in fall, 2019, while former department chair Professor Craig Scott was on sabbatical.
“Simply put, I view my job as chair as endeavoring to make life easier for faculty to do the research, teaching, and service that is the hallmark of an academic life,” Stewart said. “I won’t always succeed, in part, because we are embedded in a complex organization with constraints that we are not able to control, but I will work hard on behalf of the faculty. I have always felt that academic life was a privilege. Overall, I consider myself to be a problem solver more than a visionary. I firmly believe that we have a ‘department chair’ not a ‘department head’ and, thus, I see the major task of the position as facilitation. But I am realistic, so while making decisions based on consensus is clearly the ideal, in my opinion, I recognize that sometimes it is necessary for the chair to make decisions based on consultation or reasoned judgment.”
In addition to her teaching and research, Stewart is also director of the Rutgers Center for Communication and Health Issues, one of the first research groups in the nation to study the role of communication in students’ alcohol use and misuse. For the past 12 years Stewart has been the Principal Investigator on a grant from the New Jersey Department of Human Services, Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services, to design, implement, and evaluate a dangerous drinking prevention campaign for undergraduate students as well as provide support for students living in recovery housing on campus.
“My experience managing large, externally funded projects helps me understand the challenges faced by faculty who apply for or receive these types of awards and, hopefully, help solve some of the challenges they face,” Stewart said. “I have been the PI on more than four million dollars of external awards (grants and contracts) and Co-PI or Co-I on another eight million dollars of grant funding.”
Stewart also served for a decade as Livingston Campus and UAA (Undergraduate Academic Affairs) Dean and currently is a Rutgers Center of Alcohol and Substance Use Studies Affiliate. Explaining how her experience in these leadership roles has prepared her as chair, Stewart said, “I enjoy and am good at being a boundary spanner. Although technically boundary spanners connect an organization’s internal network with external sources of information, I believe there is an important function to be served by serving as the connection between various constituencies within a complex organization such as Rutgers. I have worked with staff in many units including Deans of Students, Residence Life, Asian American Cultural Center, Center for Social Justice Education and LGBT Communities, Center for Latino Arts and Culture, Student Health, and even University Facilities and Capital Planning to develop an environment in which students, faculty, and staff can thrive.
“As a highly visible university citizen who is committed to diversity, inclusion, and student success both inside and outside the classroom, I am often asked to be on major committees of the Division of Student Affairs. For example, I was the only faculty member on the Student Affairs’ Diversity and Inclusion Committee and am the sole faculty member on the Alcohol and Other Drugs’ (AOD) Initiative Committee. I believe this service helps other departments to form a positive impression of our department as well as providing networking opportunities that may lead to positive outcomes for our faculty and students in the future.”
Looking ahead to the fall 2020 semester, Stewart said, “There is much important work to be done in the fall, including facing the challenges of remote instruction, mentoring four new faculty members and facilitating two promotion processes. As I hope was clear from the last promotion case that I handled in fall 2019, I am able to efficiently coordinate a complex process while ensuring that faculty voices are heard and fairly represented.”
While it is a challenging time to work in academia, Stewart said, “Clearly we face numerous stressful times in the careers we have chosen, but being able to contribute to the academic enterprise is rewarding in a unique way,” Stewart said. “We share a responsibility for governance that takes considerable time to accomplish, but are rewarded with a freedom and stability that is rare in today’s organizational environment. While the chair may represent us in various situations, it is our collective and collegial responsibility to agree on the direction that department will take and to support each other in this work.”
Read more about Stewart here.