Meet New Moody College Dean Jay Bernhardt

Bernhardt, Jay 2015

On Feb. 22, the Moody College of Communication announced that a nationwide search for its new dean had come to an end. Interim Dean Jay Bernhardt will take over as permanent dean beginning March 1. The Alcalde spoke with Bernhardt about health care and science communication, a partnership involving Alan Alda, and virtual reality storytelling.

You’ve spent a lot of time in the health care sector. Can you give me some background there?

I’m a health communications scholar. During my career—even before my PhD—I’ve been focused on how we effectively use communication to improve health.

Are there any bridges to be formed between Moody and the new Dell Medical School?

Absolutely. Moody is already working closely with Dell on a number of fronts, like ways to better train future physicians as communicators. We’re also collaborating with Dell on health programs, using communication for better community engagement. I anticipate many bridges between the two schools.

I actually believe that many problems we face in health care and population health are the result of poor communication or lack of effective communication. There are many examples [whereby] improving communication we can improve health outcomes, like the Zika virus … there is an outbreak in Central and South America, and it may come to Texas in the future. Communication is going to be critical in our response.

Did the impact of the Ebola outbreak show a need for better health care communication?

I spent five years at the Center for Disease Control as one of the communication leaders. I know from experience the pandemic in flu of 2009 and the Ebola response of 2015 continued to teach us valuable lessons about communications.

Dell and Moody are partnering with the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University. Both schools are official affiliates. Alda visited campus in November as part of that partnership.


What was meeting Alan Alda like?

He was fantastic. He’s brilliant and kind and thoughtful. He’s 80 years old but very sharp and passionate about the importance of science and health communication.

What are some non-health care initiatives you’re working on?

We’re trying to expand and grow our extramural research, grow more support for faculty, and strengthen our scholarship as a college. Another important area is to continue to focus on innovation. We have some excellent pilot work looking at virtual reality—a partnership between journalism and radio-television-film. We’re also working with the Washington Post on virtual reality storytelling. That’s an exciting area of opportunity for us.

Another vision is to grow our interdisciplinary training programs, for example the new bachelor of science in communication and leadership degree, with classes both inside and outside the Moody College. Interdisciplinary training of all different kinds is an important part of our future.

What are some challenges that you’ve seen in your time at Moody that you’re looking to overcome?

An ongoing challenge of any academic college or school is facilitating interdisciplinary collaboration in research and training. It’s often much easier to work with colleagues down the hall than those across campus. By the nature of our work in communications, our work tends to be collaborative. One of the things we’ll continue to work on is helping facilitate interdisciplinary partnerships and incentives to pursue them.

Why is the success of the the communications college so integral to the success of UT?

We are already one of the largest, most comprehensive, and most respected colleges of communication in the country. We’re already at a position of strength relative to our peers. Every other field at UT—engineering, business, pharmacy—for their graduates to be successful they need communication skills. We want to help all grads achieve their full potential.

What do you do for fun when you’re not working?

When I’m not working I’m often catching up on email and spending time with my family. I have a 16-year-old daughter and a 13-year-old son who is a competitive gymnast. My wife, Sheryl, is an occupational therapist.

Can you recommend a good book or movie you’ve seen recently?

The last movie I saw was Star Wars. I did enjoy it. My reading and my movie watching catch-up usually happens in international travel. I haven’t had any in a while. I’m looking forward to my next trip.

Above: From left: Dell Medical School dean Clay Johnston, actor Alan Alda, Stony Brook’s Evonne Kaplan Liss, and Bernhardt.

Photo courtesy Marc Spier/Moody College of Communication.


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