by Aria Mia Loberti
This July, Justin Wyatt, Ph.D., assistant professor with a joint appointment in communication studies and film/media, will step into a new role as associate director of the Harrington School of Communication and Media. He will work on matters of curriculum development and student engagement, alongside Associate Dean and Harrington School Director Dr. Adam Roth.
“We will work together to grow an even stronger national and international reputation,” Wyatt said.
Roth is looking forward to adding Wyatt to the school’s leadership team.
“We are all excited to see Dr. Wyatt expand his responsibilities to further support the evolution of the Harrington School,” Roth said. “Dr. Wyatt is ideal for the position, with executive experience in the media industry and celebrated academic credentials.”
Although Wyatt has strong credentials to tackle the challenges of this new role, he took an unusual path to his current position.
“As an undergraduate,” he said, “I studied economics, which is rich in terms of narrative. But, I was also very interested in film and took as many film classes as I could.”
He applied to several graduate programs in economics, as well as two in film on a whim.
“I got accepted into both film schools; I knew how badly I wanted it. The decision was easy.”
He attended the film and television studies program at University of California, Los Angeles. Wyatt’s research focuses on marketing, advertising, critical theory, and film history. While working on his dissertation, he worked with the National Research Group, gathering audience feedback on new studio and independent films to help with fine-tune editing and marketing strategy. He then pursued professorships, first at the University of North Texas and then at the University of Arizona.
“I didn’t realize it at the time,” he said, “but we have such power as educators. It is a real privilege to play such a special role in helping to shape someone’s life.”
It was during his tenure at the University of Arizona that he received the call to return to Hollywood to conduct market research.
“I worked initially for a consulting company, Frank N. Magid Associates, and then for the ABC TV Network, doing everything from testing talent and pilots to working with branding and advertising campaigns. …This exploratory work dealt with consumption at a time—the early 2000s—when technology was changing all the rules of media engagement.”
Then, he transitioned to NBCUniversal. As vice president of research, Wyatt studied reality television and how viewers connect with those they see onscreen.
“I got a new perspective and a much greater sense of empathy through listening to and understanding television viewers. Anything that is of deep interest to someone is worth asking about; you learn as much about them as you do about yourself.”
What he thought would be a brief hiatus into Hollywood, to gather some practical experience to bring back to students, ended up a fifteen-year journey.
“By that point, I was ready to be a professor again,” said Wyatt, who describes URI as his ideal fit then and now. “I just love it,” he said of his teaching. “Among the real joys of educating are appreciating new perspectives and having a generosity—an open heart towards students and their insights.”
On top of his new position, Wyatt has several upcoming projects, including: The Virgin Suicides: Reverie, Sorrow, and Young Love available here as part of the Cinema and Youth Culture series; and a media marketing research book on “capturing the phantom viewer.”
To current students, Wyatt shares this advice: “This is the time when you can experiment and engage with lots of different areas and passions. The learnings from my liberal arts education, thirty-odd years ago, I am still using today. …[T]here is a productive overlap between intellectual inquiries, which develops important skills. The liberal arts are crucial to expanding ways of engaging with the world and new ways of thinking.”
Wyatt is a member of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences and the Society for Cinema and Media Studies. Wyatt earned a Ph.D. and M.A. from the University of California, Los Angeles’ Department of Film and Television and received his B.A. from the University of British Columbia’s Department of Economics. He was born in the United Kingdom and raised in Canada. He became a citizen of the USA in 2002.