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'Exceptionally distinguished scholars': Meet four incoming Hussman professors

Michelle LaRoche, Peter Sherman, Marisa Porto and Shelvia Dancy each join the faculty of the Hussman School of Journalism and Media this semester.

The Hussman School of Journalism and Media has been busy under the recently appointed Dean Raul Reis. 

The Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (ACEJMC) demoted the School to provisional accreditation in April 2022, citing the school to be out of compliance with its standards for diversity and inclusiveness, specifically in faculty retention and recruitment.

The school, which has won multiple national awards for its academics in the last twenty years, is now in a race to improve its inclusivity and protect its accreditation before its next review this October. 

Last fall, the school released its updated plan of diversity, inclusion and equity — including a goal to "increase recruitment, hiring and retention of a diverse and inclusive workforce, in a way that expands our reach into additional areas that are currently underrepresented at the school.”

This semester, the school welcomes six new hires — a notably large portion of its fifty faculty. Two lecturers, Scott Geier and Naz Knudsen, who have been with the University since 2017 and 2019, respectively, are joining the faculty as teaching assistant professors. 

Four newcomers — Shelvia Dancy, Michelle LaRoche, Marisa Porto and Peter Sherman — bring a heap of interdisciplinary experience and enhance ongoing commitments to diversity and inclusion within the school.  

"We welcome six exceptionally distinguished scholars and professionals to our growing community this semester. Our new colleagues bring a diverse range of backgrounds and experiences in a wide array of disciplines, adding a depth and breadth of expertise that strengthens our school," Reis said in a statement. "We are excited that they are joining us, and we know our students will learn immensely from them.”

Shelvia Dancy, pictured in Carroll Hall on Monday, Jan. 9, 2023, joins the faculty of the Hussman School of Journalism and Media.

Shelvia Dancy

Dancy brings extensive interdisciplinary professional experience — ranging from broadcast to newspapers — and in her first semester in Chapel Hill, she is teaching classes about television news and voice and diction. 

She earned a bachelor’s degree and a law degree from NCCU, and she completed her master’s degree at Syracuse University, where she most recently served as a professor of the practice in public communication. 

She said her law degree has given her a competitive advantage in her field, specifically in her approaches to questioning sources and covering judicial cases. 

When asked about the importance of diversity in journalism education, she emphasized that her students have to know how to speak to anyone. As storytellers, she believes it to be a pillar of the profession. 

Dancy is an educator whose career has been balanced between professional practice and classroom instruction. She was attracted to a position at UNC because of her exposure to its student interns while working in newsrooms across the state. 

“Working as a reporter and anchor in North Carolina for so long, guess what, you have a lot of Chapel Hill interns in the newsroom,” she said. “They were always very impressive.”

She said the state, in which she has traced her ancestors back to 1839, has given her a sense of home contrary to her “rootless” upbringing in a military family.

“This was a combination of ‘love the opportunity, love the location,’” Dancy said. “There’s sweet tea here.”

Michelle LaRoche, pictured outside of Carroll Hall on Monday, Jan. 9, 2023, joins the faculty of the Hussman School of Journalism and Media.

Michelle LaRoche

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An educator with lengthy experience in business and financial journalism, LaRoche believes that a knowledge of economic reporting can further a young journalist’s proficiency in any sector of coverage. 

“Sports is a business. Yes, it’s entertainment, but it’s a business. Entertainment is a business. Education is a business. Healthcare is a business,” she said. 

She has more than twenty years of experience working in national newsrooms, lastly at The Wall Street Journal, where she served as a development editor and departed in 2017. 

Following years of coordinating interns and visiting college campuses, she transitioned from the newsroom to higher education. In 2018, she received her master’s degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Now, she comes to Chapel Hill from the University of South Carolina, where she served as the Baldwin Endowed Chair in Business and Financial Journalism.

When asked about diversity in journalism education, she said she seeks to help students of color be seen and raise their voices because it's what newsrooms need.  

“As a journalism school, and as professional journalists, I think we need to partner more to help young people see that the media is for them, no matter who they are,” LaRoche said. “And that's a piece that we've really forgotten about.”

She said that her students often think her classes are tough, but they often say they learn many practical skills. 

“I’m a faculty because I want to help students get jobs,” she said.

Marisa Porto, pictured in front of the first amendment in the lobby of Carroll Hall on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023, joins the faculty of the Hussman School of Journalism and Media.

Marisa Porto 

“If you are really a journalist, part of what you want to do is be a lifelong learner.” 

Porto comes to UNC from Hampton University, where she served as the assistant dean of the Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications. Prior to her time in academia, she served in roles up and down the newsroom in states up and down the east coast. 

However, she believes she has been an educator throughout her professional career, an idea she has anchored her transition to. 

“What I found working in news organizations across the country is — if you are in some version of editing, you are a teacher. You're a coach or a mentor, you're helping whoever in your organization get to a different place to a different level,” she said. “And what you're hoping is that they get to a better level than you are, right?” 

As she steps into her new role as the John S. and James L. Knight Chair in Local News and Sustainability, she hopes to teach her students how newsrooms can survive economically, given the relatively fragile state of local news and changing infrastructure. This semester, she will be teaching classes in media entrepreneurship and media economics. 

A former executive in residence at the Maynard Institute for Journalism and Education, she said she has worked for years to bring diverse and underrepresented people to media leadership. 

“To directly confront racial issues at news organizations and outside of these organizations, for that matter, I feel like I can bring that perspective to the table, and I hope that I can help in that way as the school moves forward,” she said.

Peter Sherman, pictured in his office in Carroll Hall on Monday, Jan. 9, 2023, joins the faculty of the Hussman School of Journalism and Media.

Peter Sherman

Sherman is a pursuer of the radically different. A Wyoming-native-turned-Manhattan-executive, he’s spent his life chasing unfamiliar experiences. 

After spending nearly 40 years in corporate marketing, he was drawn to UNC — where he will serve as a professor of the practice —by its commitment to pragmatic instruction of advertising. 

“I felt that there was a real appetite (at UNC) to open the aperture to a practitioner like myself, who doesn't have a lot of academic experience, but has a lot of real-world experience,” he said. 

He hopes to bring that real-world experience to his students and said students can expect a “cut to the chase mindset” from him. 

He will be leading the school’s new certificate program in health communication, the result of years of work by the late Lisa Stockman Mauriello, who died in 2021. 

“To have an opportunity to take up that legacy, carry that torch and carry forward her vision was very compelling to me,” Sherman said. 

Sherman said he equates diversity to “oxygen” and that inclusion should be a given expectation as humans. Regardless of recent high-profile issues, he said that he understood the values of the school to be in the right place. 

“And, I think that there was a runway here for me to bring not just learning, but partnerships and networks, opportunities. And there's a real appetite for that here,” he said. 


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