For Sandra Jeppesen, joining Lakehead Orillia in 2010 to design and coordinate the Media Studies program presented an exciting way to encourage greater social justice across the globe.
"But my background is probably not what you'd expect," this activist and Interdisciplinary Studies professor says. "I have an undergraduate degree in Systems Design Engineering from the University of Waterloo." Jeppesen studied biomedical engineering, a new field when she graduated in the late 80s. "I had the idea that technology and science could have a positive impact on people's lives."
She worked as an engineer for six years before deciding to become a writer to explore a more creative relationship to life and, perhaps, leave a more lasting cultural legacy. She returned to university to complete a master's degree in Creative Writing at Concordia University followed by a PhD in English Literature at York University.
Although creative writing may seem like a surprising graduate degree for an engineer, Jeppesen was composing poetry by the time she was eight years old and has always believed in the power of words. Her new focus brought her into the orbit of artists, writers, and social activists. She soon branched into spoken word performances and explorations of media produced by grassroots movements as forms of political self-expression, community organizing, and protest mobilization.
"We are the only undergraduate Media Studies for Social Change program in Canada."
- Sandra Jeppesen
By the time Jeppesen began her PhD, activism, including anti-globalization and anti-poverty initiatives, took centre stage. She was making punk zines (small pamphlets) with artist friends critiquing disparities caused by contemporary capitalism. She also came to be a proponent of anarchism, a political system that attempts to eliminate economic, gender, racial, sexual, geographic, and other inequalities.
Jeppesen had finished her doctorate and was teaching Communications Studies at Concordia when she learned that Lakehead University Orillia was developing a Media Studies program – it was an opportunity she couldn't pass up.
"There are only a few Canadian programs that combine critical media literacy skills with media production," Jeppesen says. "We are the only undergraduate Media Studies for Social Change program in Canada."
Students learn how to decode media biases and become more engaged with media production. "Media is so pervasive that you need to understand it in order to understand the world," Jeppesen declares.
"I use teaching approaches that empower students and facilitate the complex analysis of power relations in society, from local to national to global."
The other part, she explains, is that with the explosion of social media like Facebook and Twitter, media literacy has become an indispensable requirement for many jobs. Lakehead students are mastering this new arena by producing everything from digital and media arts to print media, videos, websites, and photography.
The program also offers two media production internships in media outlets, non-profits, or non-governmental organizations. "We are not merely teaching the students good skills and critical thinking and then hoping for the best," Jeppesen says. "The internships give students work experience and connect them with potential employers."
She hopes that these future communications specialists, teachers, artists, and advocates will graduate with a strong belief in creating a world where everyone is able to live a life of dignity and mutual respect.