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Faculty Spotlight: Curtis Lawrence

By Jon Graef (MA '11)

Students making connections is the theme associate journalism professor Curtis Lawrence is focusing throughout this school year.

In fact, that connection with other students and with society at large was a part of Lawrence’s Intro to Journalism class and the freshman seminar for journalism – the first time Lawrence has taught either class. The University Village resident has even spearheaded Columbia J-Connect.

 J-Connect is a website that helps students write personal essays based on a given theme. Each year, J-Connect has a different theme, and this year’s is “Rights, Radicals, and Revolutions.” Students can write about people who they view as being radicals and how they influenced their lives.

Through J-Connect, Lawrence says he can see how the incoming freshmen journalism students write and where he can help improve their writing.

Lawrence is so invested in making sure students connect with one another that he also is part of Columbia Connections, a program run under the direction of the Office of New Student Programs. It helps freshmen and transfer students network and talk about their experiences. Lawrence helped to organize Connections events in the Journalism Department. Lawrence also is involved in other activities on campus, such as the Barbershop Night mentoring and retention program, organized by the African American Cultural Affairs office. The Barbershop event allows young men to network with others on staff and faculty. These events help otherwise marginalized students gain a sense of community, Lawrence says.

“Everything that hits the general society hits those groups harder,” he added. “They just need extra support. You don’t teach the kids you have in class. You teach everybody.”

Through Columbia Connections and J-Connect, Lawrence says he’s able to teach students better, as well as help fulfill his professional ambitions.

“I feel like I’m still able to do journalism,” Lawrence said. “[Columbia]’s the best of everything. I get to not just write, but to talk with and teach young people. I play some part in people changing their lives.

“I can get closer to exposing people to different things. This is a great place for that—not just for the students, but for me as well,” he said.