Our People

Journalism and mass communication history at Drake has a long and distinguished history, beginning in 1919, when the College of Commerce, Finance and Journalism was established.

Early leaders of the program, including local executives from The Des Moines Register and Tribune and Meredith Corp., set communications education on a course that emphasized experiential learning and a professional orientation. Internships with local media organizations and at the Statehouse were encouraged from the beginning.

Full-time faculty have been expected to have professional backgrounds as well as academic credentials, and local working professionals also have brought real-world experience into the classroom.

The early curriculum focused primarily on advertising and business communication. However, course offerings soon grew to include newspaper and magazine management, advanced reporting, editing, specialized writing, journalism history, and “newspaper trends.”

Journalism moved to the College of Liberal Arts as part of the English Department in 1922, and became a separate department in 1927. By the early 1930s, the curriculum had expanded to include journalism teaching, dramatic criticism, printing and engraving, and “camera reporting,” or early photojournalism. A Radio Department began in the College of Fine Arts, then moved to the College of Commerce and Finance.

An independent School of Journalism was created in 1962, and the program moved into the newly built Meredith Hall in 1965. The first television classes were offered in 1960, and the radio program joined TV in the new building. School of Journalism majors were first accredited by the American Council on Education for Journalism in 1972. Drake has remained one of the few accredited communications programs in a private institution in the United States.

Journalism and mass communication grew from a two-year program to a four-year academic experience in 1973. The name was changed to the School of Journalism and Mass Communication (SJMC) in 1981 to reflect the diversity of its offerings.

Drake SJMC has partnered with Meredith Corp. to create a pioneering apprenticeship program, building on our commitment to hands-on education in collaboration with local professionals. Today, the SJMC offers nationally award-winning majors in advertising, digital media production, public relations, magazine media, news (including broadcast news), and strategic political communication.

A soon-to-be SJMC alum in the mid-1980s.

Drake SJMC Deans and Directors

  • Hugh Curtis (1962-69)
  • D. Wayne Rowland (1969-75)
  • Herbert Strentz (1975-88)
  • Henry Milam (acting dean 1987-88 while dean on sabbatical)
  • Michael Cheney (1988-93)
  • Janet Hill Keefer (1994-2001)
  • John Lytle (interim dean 2001-02)
  • Charles Edwards Jr. (2002-14)
  • Patricia Prijatel (director 2004-07)
  • Kathleen Richardson (director 2007-14, dean 2014-present)

The People Who Really Run the Place

The SJMC has been blessed over the years with longtime staff members who did the behind-the-scenes work that supported the success of the faculty and students. Some of those invaluable colleagues:

  • Jean Finnell
  • Lois Fredregill
  • Clarice Mayer
  • Carla McCrea
  • Jeff Nichols
  • Shari Tenney
  • Brad Toussaint
  • Ed Vilimek

Journalism education at Drake has long been characterized by hands-on learning, applied research, and close ties to the local professional community. Early leaders included Gardner “Mike” Cowles, of the Cowles publishing family, who directed the department from 1928-29 while he was managing editor of The Des Moines Register and Tribune. Cowles hired freshly minted University of Iowa Ph.D. and pollster George Gallup, who led the program from 1929-31.

SJMC dean and professor Herb Strentz also served as the executive secretary of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, among the oldest state open-government organizations, from its founding in 1976 until 2000. He was succeeded by professor Kathleen Richardson. The Council was housed in the Drake SJMC from 1976 to 2015.

Hugh Curtis, the first dean of the newly created School of Journalism in 1962, was a former editor of Meredith Corp.’s Better Homes and Gardens magazine.

School of Journalism and Mass Communication deans, from left, Hugh Curtis, D. Wayne Rowland and Herb Strentz in Meredith Hall.

Jim Duncan graduated from Drake in 1931 and returned in 1950 to start his three-decade career as a professor and mentor to budding broadcast journalists. Duncan also became known as the “Voice of the Relays” for his enthusiastic announcing of University track and field events. The track at Drake Stadium is named in his honor, as is an annual track meet.

In 1979, recent Drake SJMC alumni Larry Vint, Peter Lewis and Jon Bowermaster sat up shop in Dogtown and began publishing The Daily Planet, an alternative weekly newspaper that covered national and local news, arts, and entertainment. The newspaper (later renamed The Planet) counted Drake students, faculty and alums among its staff members. It lasted for 120 issues, before ceasing publication in 1981. The entire collection has been digitized and is available on the Cowles Library Digital Collections website. Pictured Planet staffers (clockwise from left): Peter “Duff” Lewis, Gary Gildner, Ron Briggs, Rick Strode, Rick Vint, Jon Bowermaster, and Larry Vint.

SJMC faculty in the early 1970s: Top row from left, Dean D. Wayne Rowland, Robert Largen, Joe R. Patrick, former Dean Hugh Curtis, Robert Woodward, Russell Cochran. Front row from left: Jim Duncan, Robert Bliss, Louis Wolter, Frank Mathews, William Francois, Perry Garner.

SJMC faculty in the mid-1980s (clockwise from upper right): Anne Zimmerman, Jean Nederhiser, John Lytle, Michael Cheney, Henry Milam, Tom Lansworth, Dean Herb Strentz, Robert Woodward, Patricia Prijatel, and Todd Evans. Not pictured: Louis Wolter. Cheney was SJMC dean in 1988-93; Prijatel was director in 2004-07.

Robert Woodward joined the SJMC faculty in 1972 to teach reporting, writing, editing, and history after a newspaper career at the Washington Star. A political junkie and an early and enthusiastic explorer of the Internet world, “Woody” was also known for his exhortation to student reporters: “Accuracy, accuracy, accuracy!” He retired in 2005.

Broadcaster Al McCoy, a 1954 graduate, is the legendary “Voice of the Phoenix Suns” and is the longest-serving NBA announcer of all time. He cites Drake professor Jim Duncan as a personal and professional influence. McCoy has won numerous awards, including being inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame, Broadcasters Hall of Fame, and the Iowa Hall of Pride.

Des Moines’ vibrant media scene has provided a rich pool for adjunct communications instructors over the years. Phil Stong, a 1919 Drake alumnus, taught journalism while he worked as a reporter for The Des Moines Register in 1924-25. His novel, “State Fair,” later became a movie and famous Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. Henry Gregor Felsen, a part-time journalism faculty member in 1964-69, wrote best-selling young adult fiction, including “Hot Rod” in 1951. Horror master Stephen King has named Felsen as a writing influence.

Janet Hill Keefer, a former CNN producer and writer, was the first female dean of the Drake SJMC.

Abe Goldstien, JO’76. GR’00, moved from an orthodox Jewish community in New York to attend Drake. He is a retired Des Moines advertising creative director and longtime jazz musician. Goldstien also plays accordion in the Java Jews, a local klezmer music band.

One of Drake journalism’s most iconic alumni was Paul Morrison, who graduated in 1939. He was hired as the first full-time director of the Drake News Bureau in 1945, and he also served as athletics business manager and then sports information director. He retired in 1986, but continued coming to campus every day for decades, volunteering as Drake athletics historian. Known throughout the country as “Mr. Drake,” Morrison died in 2017 at age 100.

Charles Edwards Jr., a member of the Cowles family and former publisher of The Des Moines Register, served simultaneously as dean of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication and the College of Business and Public Administration. During his tenure, day-to-day activities of the SJMC were overseen by a director in Meredith Hall. The SJMC returned to being an independent administrative unit with its own dean after Edwards’ retirement in 2014.

Phone: 515-271-3194
E-mail: kathleen.richardson@drake.edu

2805 University Avenue
Meredith Hall 118
Des Moines, Iowa 50311