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Get to know UofGH's recently appointed Media Studies Program Head Kathy Ullyott
Long before Kathy Ullyott built a formidable career spanning several disciplines in media, Ullyott – the University of Guelph-Humber’s recently appointed Program Head of Media Studies – was a teenager growing up in rural Saskatchewan with a passion for media inspired in part by her news-junkie parents.
Ullyott’s father was a wheat farmer who wrote a memoir at the end of his life. In it, he said that he felt privileged to have lived during a time of such rapid innovation; he started farming with horses, and finished farming with computers.
With a career spanning several decades and a variety of different roles in a rapidly transforming media industry, Ullyott can relate to her father’s sentiment.
“I feel like my dad did,” Ullyott said. “I’ve had the opportunity to see incredible transformations in media – from print and analog to digital technologies, and the economic and social impacts that began with the Internet. Now we’re into a period of eroding public trust in the media – how that’s resolved will see another huge transformation.”
“It’s a really interesting time to be in media, and especially interesting for our students.”
A multi-disciplinary background
As she finished high school, Ullyott knew she was interested in pursuing a job in the media. Aside from the influence of her parents, Ullyott was also inspired by the Watergate scandal several years earlier, when she witnessed the potential power of journalism to effect change and expose corruption.
After earning a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Saskatchewan and subsequently completing a master’s of journalism from Western University, Ullyott landed her first job at the venerable wire service Canadian Press. There, she covered Queen’s Park and other Ontario news stories while also working on the main editing desk in a uniquely fast-paced environment.
After spending a couple instructive years at Canadian Press, Ullyott changed directions and took a position at the global public relations firm that is now known as Weber Shandwick. In roughly four years at the company, Ullyott was the lead on major clients including Xerox Canada and Levi Strauss.
It was a rewarding experience, but Ullyott still harboured curiosity about working for a magazine. When she saw that a position opened up at a new fashion magazine being published by Canadian Living, she leapt at the opportunity.
That would begin a 20-year career in magazine journalism.
Ullyott spent time as managing editor at Flare, she was editorial director at Canadian Living, and she was editor-in-chief of Homemaker, a publication that had a rich 45-year history in Canada until it shuttered in 2011. She remains proud of the way these publications began to explore women’s issues and other social movements.
“I really loved some of the issues we tackled in that time,” she recalled. “In the ‘60s and ‘70s, women’s magazines in Canada had definitively moved from cooking and homemaking to women’s issues and women’s place in society.
“Even though it was called Homemakers, the magazine had a really long history of tackling women’s issues.”
Ullyott also found she was passionate about taking on a leadership role at a magazine, where so much collaboration is required across so many different departments to put out a successful product.
“I really liked overseeing all the different parts. It’s very creative,” she remembered. “I loved working with photographers, designers, writers and other editors, and seeing how all those different creative processes came together.”
A new challenge emerges
Ullyott’s experience juggling content, editing, photography, design and editorial direction was so rewarding, she eventually seized an opportunity to create a similarly holistic media learning experience for UofGH students.
Ullyott, who became Assistant Program Head of Media Studies in 2013, was an instructor here when former Program Head Jerry Chomyn asked her if she could conceive a capstone project that could accurately reflect the media world that UofGH students were about to graduate into. Ideally, this would be a “super-course” that would require collaboration amongst students from across Media Studies’ diverse specializations.
Drawing on her experience, Ullyott came up with the idea to create a massive, multi-disciplinary project that would involve the entire fourth-year Media Studies class. Emerge was born.
Now, Emerge encompasses a print and online magazine, an Instazine, annual events such as the one-day Emerge Conference – where some of the top minds in media and journalism gather each year to discuss the industry and pressing issues of the day – and three websites. Emerge has now won 98 awards total from competitions across the continent.
“Every year we refine it a bit, but always with the aim of having students from all disciplines work together so they can build their skills whilt getting a taste of the real media work world,” she said. “That’s a strength of our program. Our students graduate as a specialist in one area – for instance, visual communications or journalism – but they really know a lot or a little bit about everything.”
In 2015, Ullyott helped to launch the Emerge Media Awards. With the goal of creating an award program specifically for post-secondary media students, Ullyott leaned on her industry contacts to recruit dozens of expert judges to review and select the best in post-secondary student work. Media Studies students then work together to stage, promote and produce an elegant evening award show. At the most recent gala at the Assembly Hall in Toronto, nominees were selected from 252 total submissions from universities and colleges all across Canada.
“That’s been one of the jewels of Media Studies,” she said. “I have students who graduated three or four years ago who are still putting Emerge on their resumes.”
Ullyott was also instrumental in launching the new GH360.ca, a website that showcases the work of Media Studies students across all specializations, with coverage of both on-campus affairs and the community beyond UofGH.
Each of these opportunities is meant to give students a broader competency in all disciplines of media. Ullyott notes that while there are far more careers in the media industry currently than many seem to think, a broad skillset and a knack for collaboration are key features that will help UofGH students stand out.
“The paradox is that while there are fewer of what people my age would consider ‘traditional’ media jobs, there are a lot of content and information jobs – more than ever before,” she pointed out.
“Navigating those many tributaries of media now – lots of which are uncharted – is what is so interesting about teaching the media and running a media program right now.”