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Eleanor Novek (ASC ’90, GR ’04)

Quite a few of the fond memories I have of the Annenberg School for Communication involve coffee. Coffee (with a cranberry scone) in the Gold Standard (is it there any more?) with my dissertation advisor Professor Oscar Gandy, discussing my field work at West Philadelphia High School. Coffee (strong and black) at the White Dog Café, arguing about race and class, gender and determinism with my fellow student, Bernadette Barker-Plummer. Coffee (pots of it, early in the morning) in my apartment, writing and rewriting chapters of my dissertation.  


In fact, the Annenberg school seemed less like an ivory tower than a percolator. The atmosphere in the seminar rooms, offices and hallways was caffeinated too; sometimes my brain would buzz for hours after a densely theoretical chapter, vibrant seminar, or colloquium presentation, as abstractions battled with pragmatics for ascendancy. Oscar Gandy, Klaus Krippendorff, Carolyn Marvin, George Gerbner, and other professors with stimulating research agendas showed us how to inquire after truths, philosophically and empirically, that might otherwise escape us. We drank down their advice and clamored for more, jittery with ambiguity and paradox. 


Back then, nobody warned us that the air elsewhere would be less rare, but we suspected as much. Today, as a professor and director of a master’s program at Monmouth University, I see students trying to juggle the demands of work, family, and school, squeezing their intellectual growth into tiny spaces between other commitments. With great empathy, I encourage them to stop and smell the coffee, to take as many big gulps as they can of unfamiliar ideas and contradictory concepts, to drink deeply of that big pot of stimulation that sustains the inquiring mind.