Novotny Lawrence

November 22, 2013

Novotny Lawrence pays it forward through mentoring

Helping students realize long-held dreams – and learn about new possibilities -- is a way of paying it forward for many educators. We want to inspire students to achieve big things, just as our instructors did when we were in school.  Often, our faculty members open students’ eyes to opportunities they might not previously have considered.

During his student days at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, Novotny Lawrence, the acting chair of our Radio, Television and Digital Media department, thought about becoming an actor. Then his focus shifted to a career in advertising.

That was until he enrolled in a film course co-taught by three instructors. Novotny had found his calling. After earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in communications, he enrolled in film school at the University of Kansas, where he earned his doctoral degree.

“I wanted to become a professor,” he said, reflecting on the mentors who had encouraged him. “I wanted to do research and talk about film history.”

As often happens, a career path can take unexpected turns. Though the emphasis in his doctoral program was film, Novotny’s overall communications expertise was a great fit for SIU. He joined what was then known as the Radio-Television department in 2005 and he now is associate professor of race, media, and popular culture.

I enjoy talking with Novotny at various meetings and events, particularly campus leadership meetings, because of his valuable insights. What always comes through is his commitment to student success and how much he appreciates his opportunities to help students learn about themselves and those around them.

“I enjoy seeing students develop camaraderie, even though they come from very different backgrounds,” Novotny said. “It also is very satisfying when my students have those moments when you see they get it.”

As Novotny points out, we must stay current with the demands of industry and society to help students develop a wide array of needed skills. In Novotny’s areas of expertise, change is the operative word, something that is reflected in the recent addition of “digital media” to the department’s name.

“It is a growing and ever-changing field that presents many opportunities,” Novotny said. “For example, we prepare students to work as videographers, film and TV critics, news anchors, producers and sports broadcasters. We also prepare students who want to go to graduate school, and many of them go on to become professors and media artists. Students will have many options when they graduate.”

 We want our students to be ready to make meaningful contributions to their professions. We also want them to leave SIU with a commitment to professional responsibility.

“One of my favorite lines that I share with students is ‘you don’t have to think like me, but you do have to think,’” he said. “It is critically important that students understand the power of the media and its influence.”

I appreciate Novotny’s passion, and that of faculty across our campus, for being such a positive influence on students as they prepare to navigate the world.

“I pride myself on being here for students, because people did that for me,” he said. “If I can give a little bit back, I am happy to do that.”