New SoM interim director looks forward to taking on tough challenges

Leo Bertucci

As the WKU School of Media conforms to a new normal with the rest of the university, the school will be doing so under new leadership.

Ron DeMarse, who has been a part of the SoM faculty since 2007, was selected to succeed Robert Dietle as interim director of the program beginning July 1. Prior to accepting the interim director position, DeMarse had been a professor and curriculum coordinator for the broadcasting and film departments. Before coming to WKU, DeMarse was a freelance videographer and a film and broadcasting professor at Valdosta State University.

The decision to pivot into a position of leadership was a tough one for DeMarse because he will have to teach less classes and he will take on the interim director role during an unprecedented time.

“We needed someone to step up and do it,” DeMarse said. “At first, I was reluctant because I didn’t really know what I could be getting into.”

DeMarse will lead the SoM as it faces budget cuts, along with other academic departments, in an $8.1 million slash. Another challenge facing the new interim director is helping the school prepare for the fall by pulling out the tape measure to determine how they will teach in-person as they practice social distancing.

“In some classes we could fit 30 students, but now we may get to have 16 or so,” DeMarse said.

DeMarse said that the SoM is currently discussing how courses could be delivered next semester. One option being discussed could be that instructors teach half their class in-person while the other students watch the session online; students in the class would exchange roles when the class meets again. If this strategy is implemented, Zoom and Blackboard would once again become important mediums for communication, DeMarse said.

“Everyone is in a tough spot,” DeMarse said. “The faculty will have to adjust to it for a semester or longer.”

Even though the coronavirus pandemic’s presence has made it difficult to reach out to prospective students in-person, DeMarse believes that the SoM needs to show high school students “all that we do ” by offering them a place to explore their interests.

“The students are why I do it,” DeMarse said. “I watch them come in when they’re 18 and they are touching equipment that they’ve never used before. Seeing the work they do while they’re here is exciting.”

DeMarse selected Mac McKerral, a journalism professor in the SoM, as his assistant director. McKerral appreciates DeMarse’s thoughtfulness and calm demeanor, and he believes that the knowledge that DeMarse has accumulated as a curriculum coordinator will benefit his decision-making.

“Ron doesn’t talk a lot in meetings, but when he does, he provides a lot of insight,” McKerral said.

Once DeMarse assumes the interim director position in July, he will work with McKerral on the SoM’s Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication accreditation. In order to be accredited by the AEJMC, schools must perform a self-study, which takes “a year and a half”, McKerral said. As part of the self-study, the SoM will need to evaluate all of its curriculum. McKerral said that studying the curriculum is important because the school needs to know what courses will be available for faculty to teach in the future.

DeMarse has to prepare the SoM for the steep hill it’s about to climb, but he believes that the obstacles ahead will not be insurmountable.

“If it was too difficult, we wouldn’t be doing it,” DeMarse said.