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Susan Chanin MCM’23, J&J Fellow and Outstanding Graduate Student Award-Winner, Shares Her Reflections
“Rutgers gave me life-changing opportunities from the minute I started.”
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In 2019, Susan Chanin MCM’23, a respected photo industry executive with a love of visual storytelling, was at a career crossroads. She had spent years honing her craft and developing relations with clients. After serving as director of creative development and director of photography at Getty Images New York, she co-founded Mother Image™, a woman-centric boutique photo agency, with her partner Rana Faure. A photo assignment at Johnson & Johnson (J&J) led her to Rutgers and the Master of Communication and Media program. Susan was delighted when she was awarded a prestigious Johnson & Johnson Fellowship and shared her reflections with SC&I.

SC&I: What factors helped you decide to pursue the MCM degree?

SC: After researching programs, I spoke at length with Teaching Professor Richard Dool, the MCM program director. I explained that I was seeking opportunities to help other people and myself. It was during the COVID-19 lockdown, assignments with Mother Image slowed, I was teaching art virtually, and I didn’t know if I should be going back for a graduate degree. I had to find purposeful new work that could help others as we navigate the change we are all seeing in business and the world. Dr. Dool said he thought the MCM program was the right place for me, and it is. Rutgers gave me life-changing opportunities from the minute I started.

SC&I: Tell us why the MCM resonated with you.

SC: When I entered the program, my first course was Health Communication with Associate Professor of Communication Matthew Matsaganis. I was drawn to his course because of my interest in Johnson & Johnson. I thought we’d be writing about health issues. I didn’t realize it was an intense, research-based class, and I had to learn quickly to catch up. We started researching approaches to health disparities and health equity through the lens of theory and studied interventions and methods such as participatory photo mapping and photovoice—these are things being used in research to address health disparities. Some of the theories I learned in this course anchor my approach to building effective communication networks.

SC&I: Explain more about how your skills can help others.

SC: To address social issues, you have to see them—and to see them, you need to listen to the people in the community and reflect their lived experiences and insights. I’m very interested in learning how we as communication researchers and communicators can be helpful in the community. My coursework in Social Media, Communication Research, Advocacy and Service, Business and Innovation, and Organizational Leadership have given me new skills and tools. I worked with Dr. Dool and all my professors to harness new approaches to subjects through the lens of specific theories and combine my particular interests and background. My MCM degree incorporates a focus on health communication, leadership, and environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) while being rooted in media studies. The work my team, including Marisa Tomsky and Qianyu Chen, did for the Kupona Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving access to high-quality healthcare for people and communities living in underserved areas in Tanzania, combined several key aspects of all my courses so far, and I am using approaches I have learned daily during my fellowship.

SC&I: What other classes and instructors have had an impact on you?

SC: With everything I’m learning, I realize how much I still have to learn and continue to study; it’s inspiring. These are some of my favorite courses, and I’m looking forward to taking many more.

SC&I: Congratulations on being a J&J Fellow! Tell us about your experiences so far.

SC: I applied for the fellowship in the spring of 2021 and was so grateful to be selected. As a fellow, I have been given the opportunity to collaborate with the amazing Community Impact team of Janssen Pharmaceuticals in Titusville, N.J., under the leadership of Peg Forrestal and Jenn Schacht, as well as Global Community Impact at J&J under the leadership of Shaun Mickus. During the fellowship, I have learned high-level and detailed goals for initiatives, written for leadership, interviewed stakeholders, worked on national and local community engagement programs, developed nonprofit and employee relations, produced and led events, and collaborated on storytelling and messaging that combines both quantitative data with more nuanced qualitative information.

SC&I: What advice do you have for current or prospective MCM students?

SC: Trust the process. The SC&I approach to a networked-based education is vast but targeted. It was difficult for me initially because my learning curve was pretty intense, but I quickly learned that I had an immense curiosity; every class, professor, and classmate supported my research and exploration. I just found out I was awarded the 2022 Graduate MCM Outstanding Student Award, which speaks to trusting the process. I have learned so much from everyone. I could not have imagined that my studies would be such a life-changing experience, and I am very grateful.

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