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Multi-million dollar gift to name VCU School of Media and Culture

Richard Robertson

EDITOR’S NOTE: WTVR.com is partnering with the “iPadJournos” mobile and social media journalism project at VCU’s School of Mass Communications. Students from the project reported the following story.

By Jessica Dahlberg and Caitlin Puffenberger (Special to WTVR.com)

RICHMOND, Va. – Richard T. “Dick” Robertson’s time as an advertising student at VCU was transformational for him, leading to a successful career as a senior executive at Warner Bros. Television. Now, 46 years after his own graduation, Robertson is hoping to impact future students in a similar way with an $11 million gift, which is comprised of a planned gift and an in-kind donation, that renames VCU’s School of Mass Communications into the School of Media and Culture.

“I love this place, and I really believe that my life would have been very different but not for this education,” Robertson said in an interview for WTVR.com. “I’ve been very blessed in business … and I wanted to share that.”

On Friday, the VCU Board of Visitors approved the renaming of the school. At a future meeting, the board will also consider adding Robertson’s name to the school.

“I hope it can be a transformational gift that will help the school in a number of ways,” added Robertson, who said that during his sophomore year at VCU, he took a class called Advertising Media that “blew me away” and helped launch his career. He sold and launched hundreds of television shows like The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Friends and The People’s Court.

While living in California, Robertson has remained very involved with his alma mater over the years, serving on VCU’s Board of Visitors and chairing the school’s advisory board. He has already been giving generously in the past, for instance for the university’s alumni house. With his latest gift, Robertson said that he wants to make VCU one of the top communications schools in the country.

“In the next few years, we anticipate really exciting fundraising campaigns, very exciting communications between the school and the community,” said Yan Jin, the School of Mass Communication’s interim director. “So that we can provide our students and alumni a continuing transformational experience in their life and what they do.”

Robertson said he and some of the school’s faculty members hope to see changes like improved facilities, more faculty, more opportunities for travel and an aggressive career placement center within the school.

“This is not liberal arts, this is like a high-class trade school,” Robertson said. “And if we’re serious about it, we should be teaching our students how to get a job when they walk out of the Richmond Coliseum in May.”

While some of these changes are in the future due to the terms of the gift, the more immediate change is the new name of the school, which teaches students in advertising, journalism and public relations.

“We thought the name Media and Culture would better reflect, number one, what we’re teaching here. And number two, we’d be the first school in the country to do something like this,” Robertson said. “So we felt it was kind of low-hanging fruit – let’s be the first one to make this move.”

Robertson worked with various boards, faculty and students within the school on the exact wording of the new name, and it’s a change that many feel is very appropriate.

“In public relations we’ve been having coursework in social media, and virtually every class is dealing with the new realities of how we communicate,” said Ernest Martin, a public relations professor in the school. “So the name Media and Culture allows us to look at media in all forms as it relates to audiences and the culture that they come from.”

But the new name might also take some time to get used to for faculty and students. Some said that the new name may be confusing.

“I feel like it’s a little misleading,” said Shelly Andrews, a broadcast journalism student. “If it says the School of Media and Culture on my diploma.”

Jeff South, a journalism professor in the school, had similar concerns about the lack of clarity in the name. “I admit I’m kind of old school. I would prefer to have a name that talks more about our message,” South said. “That’s why I’m not too gung-ho about Media and Culture. But it will have people talking about us.

“Ultimately you are your own brand,” South added. “Whether you graduate from the Robertson School of Media and Culture or the Columbia School of Journalism, it’s incumbent on you to show what you know and what you can do.”

Others are also curious about what now lies ahead for the School of Media and Culture.

“I am very interested in seeing any positive changes this has on me in my next two years here,” said public relations student Jeff Goonan. “I think it is interesting to change the name. I like the fact that the name Media and Culture is there. Both things are very relevant to what students are learning in their courses.”

View the full-length interview with Richard Robertson here.

This story was reported by the “iPadJournos” mobile and social media journalism project, a cooperation between WTVR.com and VCU’s School of Mass Communications. A previous version of the story incorrectly identified the new name of the school as Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. This adding of Robertson’s name will be considered at a future meeting of the VCU Board of Visitors.

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