With an extensive background in research and building narratives, Tara Conley joins Montclair State University’s School of Communication and Media as Assistant Professor of Transmedia Storytelling. Conley will be teaching two sections of Transmedia Projects and a course on Communication, Media and Gender.
Conley has extensive experience with issues in gender and race, she recalls, “I served as the Research Director for Race Forward: The Center for Racial Justice Innovation. While there I led a research project on racial equity in workforce development and also supported the organization’s mission to build narrative strategies for racial equity across various sectors in the United States.”
While speaking about what led her to Montclair State University, Conley states a pivotal moment in her life; “I always tell people that the events of hurricane Katrina back in 2005 started me on the path of making media that matters. I was a Red Cross volunteer in Houston, Texas when the storm struck the Gulf Coast. When NOLA residents were bussed to Houston I was volunteering at the Reliant Center with my best friend from college…I learned so much from that experience about racial politics, community identity, and about aspects of media production that I never thought of before… The events of hurricane Katrina taught me how to be a media maker, an organizer, a citizen journalist, a researcher, and how to be a good neighbor.”
After the hurricane, Conley went on to release a visual ethnography called Brackish, she says she, “shot over 10 years that chronicles the aftermath of the hurricane and highlights the story of Kellen Smith, a Katrina survivor and friend I met after the storm. Viewers can watch the film and experience the story online.”
When asked about what teaching expectations she has for The School of Communication and Media, she says, “I want to support students throughout their academic careers and provide access to opportunities for them to advance in their careers. I have high expectations for students in SCM. They already come to the school ready to work and do well. So it’s my job to do whatever I can to facilitate their growth as learners, producers, and media makers.”
When prompted to consider what her philosophy of teaching might be, Conley says, “I teach because I want my students to leave my classroom and do good in the world. I teach students to think critically and produce meaningful work that actually matters to people and communities…I encourage students to attend to lingering questions or sudden insights in the their learning because I believe this is when shifts in understanding and knowledge production happen. I want my students to be reflective in everything they do.”
Conley states that what makes her valuable to the field of communication and media is her interdisciplinary approach. She says, “ I’m both a scholar and media maker. I know theory and I can conduct meaningful research, but I can also shoot, produce and edit films, and create interactive media. I’ve worked in broadcast and print media as a cultural critic/news pundit, and in social media management in the non-profit sector. So I have a good sense of how to frame media messages and narratives…I do know that having the breadth and depth to do this work across many different fields and sectors has made me a better teacher, scholar, and practitioner overtime.”
When it comes to recent anecdotes that Conley has experienced, one has stood out to her. She says, “Just recently I was approached by a new student in SCM. She was a young Black woman. She said, “I just want to say that it’s so good to finally see a professor that looks like me.” We both teared up and hugged. I think that moment best captures what I hope to be about here at MSU… I want my presence to make a difference in my student’s lives. Being at MSU is allowing me the opportunity to do just that…”