Distinguished alumnus endows professorship in media effects

September 24, 2018

Penn State alumnus James P. Jimirro -- whose illustrious career has included roles as the founding president of both The Disney Channel and Disney Home Video, and who revived the National Lampoon brand -- has endowed a $1 million professorship in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications.

Jimirro’s gift creates the James P. Jimirro Professor of Media Effects, further positioning Penn State as a leader in the study of the impact of media messaging and communication technologies on the way individuals consume and process information as well as the way they think, and ultimately, behave.

“The James P. Jimirro Media Effects Professorship at the University is an important effort designed to bring continuing light to the issue of media and society,” Jimirro, 1958,  said. “Media are at a crossroads. Digital outlets are altering the legacy media landscape.

“That makes an awareness of how media affects behavior even more important. I trust the professorship will play a continuing and significant role in helping people understand and deal with this dynamic.”

For Jimirro, creating the professorship represents a continuation of his passion for media that started as a pre-teen in Pittsburgh. He performed in school plays, edited school newspapers, worked at radio stations and more in high school and college. After earning his undergraduate degree at Penn State, he followed his passion to New York City and eventually worked for CBS-TV. The positions at Disney followed later, as did the creation of his own company, J2 Communications, which acquired and revived National Lampoon.

Jimirro’s passion for media -- and its impact -- has remained a constant in his life.

“Despite the demanding work of my day jobs, I would write, read, listen to and speak incessantly about the role of media in influencing behavior: how people think, how people buy, how they vote, and so forth,” he said. “I never believed our society paid sufficient attention to helping people understand this phenomenon.”

The professorship will address those topics, and more. S. Shyam Sundar, who is recognized internationally for his ground-breaking work in media effects, has been named the inaugural holder of the James P. Jimirro Professorship. Sundar is the founding co-director of the Media Effects Research Laboratory, a leading facility of its kind in the country. Sundar’s research investigates social and psychological effects of technological elements unique to online communication, ranging from websites to newer social and personal media.

Earlier this year he was honored as the recipient of the Paul J. Deutschmann Award for Excellence in Research by the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication. It is the organization’s highest award recognizing research. In 2017, Sundar was named a Fellow by the International Communication Association. His research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation and Lockheed Martin Information Systems and Global Services, among others. In 2015, he was awarded a Faculty Scholar Medal by Penn State, the University’s highest award for research.

“Dr. Sundar is the ideal scholar for this professorship,” said Marie Hardin, dean of the Bellisario College. “His research has influenced the field dramatically as he’s brought our attention to the ways technology works with content to impact the ways people respond to media messages. His work has been groundbreaking. He is the kind of pioneer in research that Jim has been in the industry.”

The Media Effects Research Lab conducts empirical research on the psychological effects of communication technologies and media psychology. Studies involving hundreds of subjects have been conducted in the lab since its opening in 1997. Experiments have been executed by faculty as well as undergraduate and graduate students taking classes in media effects, psychological aspects of communication technologies, and introduction to communication research method.

This gift will advance "A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence," a focused campaign that seeks to elevate Penn State’s position as a leading public university in a world defined by rapid change and global connections. With the support of alumni and friends, “A Greater Penn State” seeks to fulfill the three key imperatives of a 21st-century public university: keeping the doors to higher education open to hardworking students regardless of financial well-being; creating transformative experiences that go beyond the classroom; and impacting the world by fueling discovery, innovation and entrepreneurship. To learn more about “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” visit greaterpennstate.psu.edu.

Last Updated October 11, 2018