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Journalism professor spends Fulbright year in Rwanda

Sep 20, 2018

Posted in: News

By Adam Hamza, Communication Intern

Dr. Karen McIntyre will spend the academic year as a Fulbright scholar at the University of Rwanda.

Robertson School journalism professor Dr. Karen McIntyre is spending this academic year as a Fulbright scholar at the University of Rwanda in Eastern Africa. There she will expand her research on solutions based journalism and teach undergraduate mass communication students. She arrived in Kigali, Rwanda in early September along with her fellow Fulbright Scholar and fiancé Dennis Hopkinson.  

As part of her Fulbright, McIntyre teaches three courses at the university: introduction to communication and media studies, science journalism and communication and introduction to research methods. The exact detail of the courses, like what the university wants to be covered, were not finalized as she planned her departure.

“I just found out a couple days ago what classes I will teach,” McIntyre said. “I’ve been warned: don’t spend your summer prepping for classes ... because it just won’t play out the way you think.”

In Rwanda, and other developing nations that deal with regular uncertainty, academic calendars and other events are not planned far in advance as they are in the U.S. and other Western nations. This is a cultural change that McIntyre, a self-described "Google calendar addict," will have to adjust to.

McIntyre received the Fulbright Scholar award to study the journalism industry in Rwanda and teach at the University of Rwanda. The Fulbright Scholar Program allows college and university faculty with Ph.D.’s to teach or conduct research in more than 125 countries. The goal is to increase intercultural understanding between the U.S. and other countries.

McIntyre did a research study two years ago on how journalists in Rwanda used constructive and solutions based journalism to help the country recover following the 1994 Rwandan genocide. She plans to continue this research and study public trust in Rwandan media.

“During the genocide in the 1990s, the people had high trust in the media, and they played a role in the genocide … some people said when they hear the voice on the radio they almost feel like it’s a message from God,” McIntyre said.

“They seem to have more trust in the media than we do, yet their media is not completely free,” she added.

McIntyre will also study professionalism among journalists in Rwanda. She said there are differences in the level of training, or the lack thereof, among journalists in the country and this can lead to unethical behavior.  

“There seems to be a pretty sharp divide between journalists who went to journalism school and those who didn’t,” McIntyre said. “So I want to look more into that, study the training and professionalism.”

Once she returns, McIntyre wants to continue establishing herself as an international scholar in the solutions and constructive journalism field. She also hopes to examine freedom of the press in relation to their post-conflict development in other Sub-Saharan countries, like Uganda and Kenya. This would involve writing articles for academic journals and hopefully a book on the state of press freedom in the region.

McIntyre also talked about the possibility of creating an exchange program between Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Rwanda.

“I think it’s such a good way to fulfill Fulbright’s mission ... to have people of different cultures better understand one another,” McIntyre said. “I think if I can connect VCU with the University of Rwanda and allow our journalism students to learn from each other, that would be the ultimate goal.”

You can follow Dr. McIntyre's experiences during her Fulbright year on her blog.