A temporary piece by Ogrydziak Prillinger Architects called Nuclear Thresholds commemorates the 75th anniversary of the first controlled, self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction. Photo by Richard Barnes
This fall the University of Chicago, together with Argonne National Laboratory, celebrated the 75th anniversary of the first self-sustained nuclear reaction. UChicago has a reputation for producing world-changing ideas, and it was fitting to honor the contributions of the scientists whose major scientific discovery shaped human history in profound ways. Yet, at a time of renewed international nuclear tensions, this could not be purely a moment of celebration—it also required serious reflection.
The range of events, stories, media coverage, and multi-media content that UChicago created is a wonderful case study in how to take a single idea, explore it from multiple directions, and have it reach a huge audience with messaging that reinforces the university’s intellectual brand.
Holocaust survivor Bertha Frank at her home Thursday, March 9, 2017. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)
Julie and I often counsel college and university clients about the powerful storytelling impact of photography, hoping to encourage a greater use of imagery in institutional communications portfolios. We know it can be a challenge in environments with constrained resources. Yet riveting photographs—those that capture an authentic tone and very “real” experience—can create an evocative narrative in an instant, and even build a shared sense of community.
I’ve been fascinated and increasingly troubled by the steady stream of faculty, students and staff in colleges and universities who have blown up their careers in social media. It’s possible these episodes will not create lasting harm in all cases, but for many of these individuals the experience is potentially life-changing. I also suspect that the majority of these episodes are stemming from naïveté about how overwhelming the response can be when you wander into the path of an online mob.
My film producer friend Josh Buoy and I talked recently about the power of video storytelling for universities: A well-told video story animates the discovery, learning and inspiration that happens every day in our institutions. Videography can help us connect with the subject matter in a more human and more personal way. Film shows us, not tells us about, a university’s transformational power and impact. Here are a few examples:
This week we attended the Association of American Universities’ annual conference of the Public Affairs Network. This group, which includes the leaders of communications and public affairs from 62 leading research universities, frequently discusses the best ways to communicate about university research and higher education more broadly.
The dialogue is particularly urgent this year in light of recent attacks on science, efforts to close off international exchange, and proposals to sharply cut federal funding for agencies that support science and medical research.
Lisa and I wrote an essay together following the conference, and it is published in Inside Higher Ed today. Our hope is that we will see the current climate as a call to action to marshal our best arguments and our most effective allies, in business and in public life, to make the strongest possible case for public investment in research.