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Simmons University Magazine

Work in Progress

When the Gwen Ifill College of Media, Arts, and Humanities opened this fall as one of four new Simmons colleges, it welcomed students to a strikingly renovated space in the Main College Building. A few paces down the colorful first-floor hall is the office of Dean Brian Norman, who’s charged with guiding the College forward in a way that honors Ifill’s legacy.

Photograph: Ifill Display photograph by Sinai Sampson-Hill

“She is an icon of excellence and integrity, the model of what a liberal education can do. Not only a model of professional excellence but also of civic engagement, intellectual curiosity and a commitment to community and mentoring,” says Norman. “This is what the workforce needs, this is what democracy needs and this is what an education in media, arts and humanities fosters.”

Norman sees Ifill’s legacy resonating across the University. “It’s really special to place an African-American woman’s experience at the center of the Simmons experience for everyone—across rank, across role, across identity.”

“The best ideas will come out of conversation, and the community aiming high.” —Dean Brian Norman, The Gwen Ifill College of Media, Arts, and Humanities

This first year involves big thinking and planning, especially with faculty and students, explains Norman. “The best ideas will come out of conversation, and the community aiming high. The kinds of questions I’m asking are, ‘How can we take the best of our fields in media, in arts and the humanities and put them in service of the public’? That’s what Gwen did with her commitment to the highest quality of journalism and writing.”

Norman sees the College doubling down on Simmons’ commitment to combining the liberal arts with professional preparation. “We know that deep engagement in arts and media and humanities is one of the best
ways to go out into the world, able to read well, write well, think well, speak well and do well. Those are the folks who end up having long careers that grow and evolve over time,” says Norman.

Roberto Ifill, Gwen’s brother, is among the many people sharing insights with Norman about the College’s namesake. “As part of the origin story, Bert suggested I think about Gwen’s faculty mentor at Simmons, Alden Poole.” Duly noted. Norman has announced the creation of a new faculty mentor award in Poole’s name, to be presented to current Ifill faculty members based on nominations from Ifill College alumnae. “They are in the best position to tell us what good mentoring looks like because they’re experiencing it,” says Norman.

Ifill Display photograph by Sinai Sampson-Hill; Dean Norman photograph by Jeremy Solomon