I had the opportunity to interview Jennifer Cook, a doctoral student at NSCM and an Interim Executive Director of WUCF. She talks about her goals, inspirations, and reflections about her journey and experiences.
- Please discuss your journey with WUCF. What motivated/inspired you to join?
“I joined WUCF in 2014 as a Communications Manager after 20+ years working in commercial media. I had previously worked at two other public media stations earlier in my career, WKAR in East Lansing as a college student and WMFE for a short time in 2001. I have such a passion for the public media space. Producing content that makes a difference in the lives of so many is incredibly fulfilling. I paid close attention when UCF bought the FCC license to create WUCF. I knew I wanted to get back to public media, and I thought the idea of aligning university resources and research with PBS could be a huge win for the community.”
- What does this mean to you? What difference has this made in your career?
“Media has the power to inspire and transforms lives. I feel very fortunate to have worked in media organizations that try to add value to the conversations and the community. I feel the opportunities UCF and WUCF have given me in my career are immeasurable. I have grown as a leader, as a researcher and as a person. As a first generation college student, being surrounded with people who value life-long learning, a core value of public media, really makes you want to strive to not only keep learning, but sharing and extending learning opportunities to everyone regardless of access. I feel a great responsibility to the community to provide a valuable service to all.”
- I’m sure you learned a lot during this time. Can you share some things you’ve learned or have reflected upon?
“Media consumption and viewer habits are changing at a faster pace than any other time in history. The pandemic has certainly changed our lives in ways we don’t even fully understand. One of the most critical things I’ve learned is the importance of being agile and flexible to new ideas not only in the workplace, but in life. I try to approach all conversations and situations from the standpoint of what can I learn from this conversation. We are having conversations about emotions and feelings in the workplace more than ever. We are trying to be flexible and accommodating, all while trying to keep a 24/7 media operation on the air and continue to raise the bar on our content and engagement. I’ve also learned the in times where the asks are continuous and your team is at capacity, we have to prioritize and outline the greatest needs in our community in the order that they need to be met, and that sometimes means not being able to do everything. In actuality, it’s not about doing everything, it’s about serving our audience in the way only we can and ensuring we are filling that void in the community – which requires alignment with our UCF and community partners. I think the last few years have been full of fear and uncertainty for many people and we are still figuring out where we go from here. And now, more than ever, what we do requires taking a breath, focusing and seeing the bigger picture to connect the dots.”
- What do you hope to achieve? What are your goals as Interim Executive Director of WUCF?
“I have three strategic areas of focus as leader of WUCF is pretty simple: our people, our sustainability and our content.
It starts and ends with our people. Our people being our community members and our team members. To ensure we are serving our community members to the level we strive for, we have spent a lot of time making sure we have aligned our people into the roles that best showcase their strengths and best serve the needs of the station. As we enter the 10th year of WUCF TV, we are in a position of growth. As a public media station, our work is driven by the contributions of our partners and community members. The landscape of what community giving looks like has changed drastically over the past few years – with a pandemic, huge evolutions in technology and the like – we have to explore new methods to diversify our revenue streams to ensure we continue to provide valuable services and programming to Central Florida. And we have to continue to provide valuable local content to our community. Our weekly history/travel program, Florida Road Trip, is one of our most popular and award-winning programs. We hear from our viewers and listeners how much they appreciate and love seeing and hearing music, culture, history and the impactful stories from their own backyard in our local content, and we certainly love making this content that highlights our community, but it requires that we continue to bring in the financial resources to sustain it – which we are committed to doing.”
- How do you balance work, life, and being a PhD student?
“Well, I am still figuring this one out!! I have always been a person who likes to have many different things to do. The one thing I love about my job is that every day holds something different. I don’t know if there is such a thing as work/life balance. I think it’s more about being your whole self no matter where you are. When I’m at work, I try to focus on work. When I’m home with by husband and children, I try to focus on them and not about work. Same goes for when I’m in class. I am a big fan of organization and time management. As someone who worked in media for so long, I’m pretty deadline driven and will go out of my way to get things done when I say I will. I think this is one of those areas that comes with age, I’ve learned shortcuts and hacks to manage it all.”
- What motivated/inspired you to pursue a PhD in Strategic Communication at UCF? What are your goals as a PhD student?
“I’m obsessed with the idea of lifelong learning. While getting my Masters degree, I started doing some research around a work project called Meet the Helpers. This started after the Pulse Nightclub shooting, and involved this idea of talking to kids about how to respond to a community crisis. Is it possible to use media to better prepare children in our community for a potential crisis? This work only expanded in the pandemic and talking to kids about Covid-19. It has been very successful, and I really want to continue the work and research. So it seemed like a perfect fit to continue the journey on the PhD track. Also, as a first generation college student who is now in a PhD program it’s a pretty cool feeling to look at my two sons and think about the influence this may have on their journey – we can do it!”
- What kind of impact do you want to leave?
“The conversation about impact is part of everything we do. At the end of the day, I hope the work we do honestly changes lives and helps our community feel represented. I hope we impact children who need the PBS KIDS and Meet the Helpers resources the most. I hope we are able to take viewers on journeys around the world, including introducing them to the amazing aspects here in Florida, and I hope they learn something along the way. I think public media has the potential to change lives in Central Florida, and I think we are on our way.”
- What do you enjoy most about your job?
“I get to do amazing projects, and work with some really smart people, who all have the same goals – to change lives. I get to inspire children with some amazing content, and it’s amazing what a powerful motivation tool that can be.”
- What is your advice to anyone who is interested in having a career in radio/television and/or pursuing a PhD?
“Learn everything. Watch everything. Read everything.
Look for opportunities and say yes. Don’t get caught up in “status” – learn every role, answer phones, support each other. You’ll learn the importance of every single component of the organization and that every role is critical to success. That’s been my guiding light as a leader. In short: Do the work, flashy or not, and it will pay off.”
By Majdulina Hamed.
Published to Nicholson News on October 7th, 2022.
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