Newly appointed Moody College Dean Jay Bernhardt seeks to build bridges across disciplines and industries
When Jay M. Bernhardt began his official appointment as dean of the Moody College of Communication on March 1, 2016, construction of the new Moody Bridge was nearing completion.
Uniting the college’s historic Jesse H. Jones Communication Complex with the recently completed Belo Center for New Media, the 300-foot pedestrian bridge over Dean Keeton Street marked a new era for Moody College.
Among Bernhardt’s first official duties as dean was hosting the March 31 Moody Bridge dedication ceremony, which featured speeches by university leaders, Moody College supporters and bridge architect Miguel Rosales, as well as a performance by the Longhorn Band.
At the ceremony, Bernhardt described the importance of the bridge for the college. He said not only will it physically unite the college’s various departments, students and faculty members, but also has strong symbolic value.
“The completion of Moody Bridge is a literal way of bringing us closer together by connecting our buildings and allowing safe passage between our classrooms, offices and labs,” he said. “But it also unites us figuratively: Communication is the bridge between disciplines, and when we bring our expertise to partners locally and around the world, everything will improve from that application.”
Among Bernhardt’s top priorities as dean is to increase the college’s work with a vast array of individuals and organizations—including fellow researchers throughout campus to industries and organizations around the world— building bridges that benefit Moody College and its partners.
“The research and programs of Moody College are highly collaborative,” he said.“Our faculty members work across departments and across campus, but also collaborate with top companies and institutions around the world. We want to build on those partnerships to make the work of Moody College even more relevant and, in turn, enhance the opportunities available to our students.”
“Through engagement with business, we can help move the best ideas from Moody College classrooms and labs into the private sector and the community.”
Prior to his appointment as dean, Bernhardt began serving as interim dean of Moody College in August of 2015 when outgoing Dean Roderick P. Hart stepped down. Bernhardt was recruited to Moody College in 2014 as the Everett D. Collier Centennial Chair in Communication and founding director of the Center for Health Communication.
A health communication scholar and practitioner, Bernhardt was recruited as a senior faculty member with a joint appointment in the Department of Communication Studies and the Stan Richards School of Advertising and Public Relations. His research focuses on the application of digital communication technologies—including mobile, wearables and social media—and public health, healthcare and medicine.
He came to the university after holding serval notable appointments, including as director of the National Center for Health Marketing at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and as a professor, department chair and founder of the Center for Digital Health and Wellness at the University of Florida.
Upon arriving on campus, he immediately began building partnerships on campus and throughout Texas, including with the newly established Dell Medical School.
In November of 2015, the Center for Health Communication launched a partnership with the Dell Medical School and the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University.
The partnership will develop a range of instructional programs and conduct research on how to effectively communicate health and science information. The programs and resources developed through the affiliation will help train students at the Dell Medical School and scientists across the UT Austin campus.
Bernhardt says that there are countless opportunities for collaboration with the new Dell Medical School and healthcare partners throughout Texas, such as improving information dissemination for health emergencies such the recent Zika virus outbreak and through clarifying key health messages to the public.
During his time as interim dean, Bernhardt has strongly supported other innovative collaborations within the Moody College.
Faculty members from the School of Journalism and the Department of Radio-Television-Film have partnered with The Washington Post and the university’s Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) to produce virtual reality content and develop a open-source virtual reality publishing framework for journalists who lack the engineering skills to publish their own VR content.
Soon, the Moody College will launch a new B.S. degree in “Communication and Leadership,” an interdisciplinary degree where undergraduates take classes across numerous departments in the Moody College to prepare for social advocacy and public leadership positions.
Bernhardt has begun reaching out to industry leaders to find new opportunities for collaboration, not only with media and communication companies, but also with other sectors that could benefit from Moody College expertise.
“Through engagement with business, we can help move the best ideas from Moody College classrooms and labs into the private sector and the community,” Bernhardt said. “There, they can create jobs and investment opportunities, foster economic growth, and generate new revenue that can help our partners and significantly benefit our college.”
Bernhardt’s other priorities as dean include improving recruitment and retention of diverse faculty members, growing the college’s infrastructure for research, furthering the applied and creative work in the college, and embracing technology in research and curriculum.
Particularly, he wants to ensure students are prepared for the jobs of the future by continuing to modernize Moody College curricula to keep pace with the rapidly changing world of digital media.
To do this, he said that he wants to grow the number of courses and centers in fields like big data analytics, social media data mining, immersive media, and coding.
“All fields of communication are rapidly changing, and technology is revolutionizing how we create and share information,” Bernhardt said. “While Moody College is already at or near the cutting edge of new technology and digital media, we always have to be looking to the future to keep an eye on what’s coming and incorporate those trends and lessons into the classrooms, the laboratories and the centers. ”
Besides building bridges across departments, campus, and the state, Bernhardt is committed to building bridges within the college to help bring everyone closer together as a highly collaborative team.
“It is not enough to be the best college of communication in the world,” Bernhardt said. “We must also strive to be the very best place to work at UT Austin. A place where we all work together, support each other, and always treat each other with respect.”
Dean, Moody College of Communication
Founding Director, Center for Health Communication
Walter Cronkite Regents Chair | Everett D. Collier Centennial Chair
Hometown: Born in Princeton, N.J., raised in East Brunswick, N.J.
Ph.D. in Health Communication, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill
M.P.H. in Public Health, Rutgers University
B.A., in Sociology, minor in computer science, Rutgers University
Selected Previous Appointments:
Founding Director of Center for Health Communication and Professor, Moody College, The University of Texas at Austin (2014-Present)
Professor and Department Chair, Department of Health Education and Behavior, University of Florida (2010-13)
Director, National Center for Health Marketing, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2005-10)
Assistant Professor, Department of Behavioral Sciences and Health Education, Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University, (2001-05)
Assistant Professor, Department of Health Promotion and Behavior, University of Georgia (1999-2001)
Family: Wife; Sheryl, occupational therapist; 16-year-old daughter; 13-year-old son
Hobbies: Reading online newspapers, attending live music shows and eating Asian food