Dean Dennis: NU-Q prepares students for global careers

January 03, 2016

NU-Q Dean & CEO Everette E. Dennis talks withAl Watan about the growing media and communications sector in Qatar, NU-Q's degree programs and its new facility at Education City, and more. View the original publication in Arabic. 

[Al Watan:] We heard about the new building and its fascinating facilities, but when will it be ready and what will it add for students and community individuals?  

[Everette Dennis:] The new building replete with theaters, studios, classrooms, a library and lifelong learning center will likely open in the 2016-17 academic year though some functions will be moved in earlier. There will be many events, activities and programs aimed at the public as well as specific groups. A media museum called The Media Majlis at NU-Q will especially welcome Qatari citizens and residents, including children.

Is there any intention to launch master's degree programs at NU-Q? And when are you going to launch it?

We are eager to launch master’s programs in collaboration with HBKU and other Education City partner schools, especially one in media industries and possibly one in health communication, depending on interest. These await more planning and funding after the new building is occupied. 

In your opinion, what does NU-Q offer for the Qatari community?

First and foremost we offer a worldclass education for the Qatari community since most of our students come from Doha and the region. We also conduct important research on media use and industries as well as social media, available to all on an interactive website. Other research projects have involved Qatari women, changing driving habits in the country, and other topics of local interest. Increasingly we have a range of conferences, programs, and speakers available to the public. With our own building, we will do more, possibly including community classes, depending on interest. We have several major programs for high school students already—a leadership conference and a film festival plus other pre-college programs for local citizens and their children.

What does NU-Q add to the media industry in Qatar?

We organize and convene the Qatar Media Industries Forum, held twice a year, that brings together media leaders and senior managers for problem-solving sessions aimed at advancing media industries here. We also do the most extensive research on how people use the media across the region and make it publicly available on an interactive website that is easy to use. In addition, we conduct strategy workshops for various organizations including Al Jazeera and others in ministries as well as other media organizations. Importantly, we provide a talent pool for local and regional media by virtue of our students and graduates.

“Our students are well educated and flexible in terms of career choices, whether in media and communication or in such fields as business, education, and law.”
- Dennis

How do you attract Qatari students? And how many does NU-Q have now?

Yes, of course, that’s our highest priority. We have about 40 percent Qatari students at NU-Q with others coming from the Doha community, the region and international sites as well, thus producing a student body worthy of the university at large and Qatar's requirements. Qatari parents, we find, want their daughters and sons to be tested against the best of global competition, which is what we do. We do special recruiting for local students and also work closely with the Academic Bridge Program, which provides a pathway for students to our program. While we have approximately 80 percent women in the school, we are eager to attract more Qatari men who need to be ready to lead the growing communication sector in the country. Already our graduates are in key positions in media industries, major institutions in health care, museums, and other industries. Qatar’s national vision needs a communication strategy and we are doing our best to prepare young people who can help make that happen.

Please talk to us about the NU-Q curriculum and its differences with NU in the U.S.

For the most part it is the same—the same courses, the same degree offered by the university. What’s different is our emphasis on Middle East studies and other fields of special interest to Qatari society. We also have offsite programs—study and visits at the home campus in the U.S., study tours/courses that take students to key locations in the region and globally. We have a global media experience program, service learning, and other opportunities for students. We have worldclass studios, control rooms and other electronic media equipment well integrated into our classes. We are very self-consciously preparing our students for global careers both here in Qatar, but with the capability of working anyplace on the globe. 

Our degree programs include journalism, which in today’s world means news and content development as well as strategic communication—and communication, which includes media industries and technology with a strong interest in film and video, especially documentary production. At the same time, we have a compact, rigorous liberal arts and sciences program so we can guarantee that our students are well educated and flexible in terms of career choices, whether in media and communication or in such fields as business, education, and law. Increasingly our students are doing master’s degrees at some of the world’s greatest graduate schools—Harvard, Cambridge, Oxford, Science Po, LSE, New York University, UCLA, and, of course, Northwestern, all of which provide an outside validation of the quality of NU-Q graduates.

Please tell us about NU-Q partnerships with Qatari organizations, and do you have any partnerships with any Qatari academic organizations like Qatar University?

We have formal partnerships with Al Jazeera and the Doha Film Institute with multiple activities as well as other projects with Qatar Museums, Qatar Computer Research Institute, ICT Qatar/Ministry of Telecommunication and several others. We participate in various activities at Qatar University and have some joint research interests and collaborations. We work with scores of local businesses and media outlets as well. Our students are also engaged in public service projects in the community.       

Tell us your opinion about the Qatari media industry, and from your prospective is it professional?       

Media industries in Qatar are on the rise. Digital media here is extremely sophisticated and highly competitive. Al Jazeera, of course, is a global powerhouse while local newspapers, magazine groups, film production companies, and PR/advertising firms are professionally operated with a noticeable change in the quality of the content, which is stronger than it was when I first arrived here. Change is incremental in media content, but web-based operations are pushing for greater and robust new developments. Some media here are quite strong and on a par with other media outlets in the world, while others are less well developed. As with media everywhere there is great disruption in the marketplace, which will require creative solutions. Qatar has the wherewithal to be on the forefront of that development with specialized media in sports, health care, culture and other fields. There is a great need for more effective business models, something true in the West, as well.

“Qatari parents, we find, want their daughters and sons to be tested against the best of global competition, which is what we do.”
- Dennis

How can media deal with big data on the Internet?       

By learning about Big Data and how to manage it for the benefit of media audiences and even business developments. That also means knowing what the sources are and how to use them as well as how to critique them. Big Data embraces web analytics, for example. NU-Q led the way with a major conference on Big Data in 2013 and has attempted to integrate some of these lessons in the classroom as students learn to navigate statistical sources, conduct and analyze survey research and in other ways as well. We also look to some of the great examples of Big Data implementation elsewhere that are making the media smarter and more disciplined. As this develops, media organizations such as newspapers will be able to better track their audiences and connect news and other content with consumer needs.

What’s your plan to communicate with Qatari media?

We regularly visit with media leaders, editors and others as well as conducting the Qatar Media Industries Forum and providing regular releases on activities in our school to media sources. We have briefings for reporters both for general background and especially in connection with our media use study, which has valuable information for all media professionals. And we are always open to suggestions.

It is an honor to converse with media leaders here, learning from them how we can be more effective in the local community, and we invite them to come speak to classes and interact with students. Internships are another way for our school and its students to be connected in the Doha community and beyond. Increasingly students from our home campus in the U.S. come to Doha to have internships and residencies in Qatar media outlets, which attests to the robust state of local media.  Most important the contacts we have with local media are mutually beneficial, we hope, as we learn a great deal from them and have been well received by local media leaders both in the Arabic and English language media.

Read this interview in Arabic | قراءة في العربية