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Faculty Spotlight: Catherine Luther

Formerly a Japanese TV reporter in Los Angeles, Dr. Catherine Luther has navigated the world of Journalism around the globe. From Los Angeles, Luther took a job as a producer for ABC News and relocated to Tokyo to continue developing her passion for journalism and media. Through that role, and as a way to give back, she often spoke to groups of high school and college students about the field of journalism and events related to US-Japan relations. From those experiences, her passion for journalism began to merge with the idea of teaching in a college or university setting.

Although some may have not supported her new dream, she did not let the seeming lack of support at the time slow down her desire to shift into a potentially new career path. As she learned more about what it would take to teach in a college or university, it only strengthened her resolve, and she soon began pursuing a doctoral degree at the University of Minnesota. Upon graduating with her doctorate, she was offered an opportunity to begin her career at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, and she has been here ever since. She continues to lead, and she inspires her colleagues and students to attain their dreams, as the Director of the School of Journalism and Electronic Media in the College of Communication and Information.

Her past as a journalist has had a great impact on her teaching practice as well. The ability to critically analyze situations and question the evidence presented, has given Luther the capability to teach her students similar strategies for approaching new learning experiences in the classroom.  Asking her students to be open to speaking up, and seeing things with a “critical eye”, has often impacted students all the way into their careers after graduation. The smallest anecdotes from Luther’s experiences, and the way that she teaches her students with compassion, has led former students to express their gratitude to her in many forms. One specific example that comes to Luther’s mind, is of a former doctoral student whom she had seen great potential in and encouraged him to complete the doctoral program here at UTK. He was from an underprivileged population, and he would often come to Luther for mentorship and guidance. He earned his degree a short while later, and before his dissertation defense, he presented Luther with a poem showcasing his gratitude for her strong faith in his abilities.  “The sense of satisfaction is unmatched”, Luther says, when she receives notes and messages from her former students thanking her for all that she has done for them regarding her teaching style and overall passion for the industry.

Her passion has not only been felt by her students, but her colleagues as well. The world of journalism and media is one which is constantly adapting and updating, which Luther knows well. As a solution to the ever-changing way of journalism and media, Luther encourages her colleagues to participate in webinars, workshops, and conferences, and to stay up to date with the times. Her role as the director of the department has many responsibilities, and it has allowed her to help other colleagues reach for new opportunities as well. Not long after being promoted to her current role, she met with some of the faculty in her department to see if any were interested in taking on leadership roles themselves. Some of those colleagues were inspired to do so with the encouragement and help of Catherine.

Journalism and media have played critical roles in society as individuals have had to face hardships brought on by the pandemic and other world events. Out of those hardships, Luther has also witnessed positive and beautiful signs of humanity. She recalls watching students and faculty alike supporting each other like never before. She hopes that this new sense of community will continue as we all seek to successfully navigate the years ahead.