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Cronkite professor wins Educator of Year Award

April 21, 2011

An Arizona State University professor who transformed from a veteran newspaper editor to a national leader in digital media education has won an Educator of the Year Award from the nation’s premier journalism education association.

Leslie-Jean Thornton, assistant professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, won the 2011 Newspaper Division Educator of the Year Award from the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication.

Thornton, who has taught online journalism and advanced editing at Cronkite since 2004, previously had been a top editor at six newspapers in New York and Connecticut and copy desk chief of the Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va., before obtaining her Ph.D. at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Students praise Thornton’s ability to teach complex subjects in a fast-changing digital media world.

“Dr. Thornton has an exceptional ability to relate to students and create a supportive learning environment,” graduate student Anna Consie wrote in a letter of support for Thornton to AEJMC. “The future of journalism lies in a broad multimedia skill set. Thanks to the guidance and teaching of Dr. Thornton, I know I am prepared to not only succeed but shape the future of journalism.”

Under Thornton’s direction, students in the multimedia boot camp for graduate students created award-winning final projects. “State of Change,” produced last fall by first-semester master’s students, won the Broadcast Education Association Best of Festival King Foundation award as well as first place in the student interactive division. The prior year’s class won AEJMC’s Best of the Web and first place for team innovation for its project, “Streets of Dreams,” which also received a third-place Society of Professional Journalists award for online depth reporting.

Cronkite Dean Christopher Callahan called Thornton “a gifted teacher.” In his nomination letter, Callahan wrote: “Her compassion for her students, her dedication to making sure they are well-prepared to enter the ever-changing and evolving journalism industries of the 21st century and her excitement about sharing innovative approaches to teaching multimedia have earned her a national reputation and the admiration of her colleagues.”

Susan Keith, a former Cronkite colleague now at the Department of Journalism and Media Studies at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, wrote in her nominating letter about Thornton: “She is, simply put, the best, most innovative, and most committed undergraduate instructor I have encountered as a student or in 10 years as a faculty member. She has represented journalism extremely well, both in the Cronkite classroom and in national and international arenas. She is among the best and brightest.”

Thornton has won numerous awards, including a BEA Festival of Media Arts Award of Excellence in the faculty multimedia category and a BEA Best of the Web award for faculty innovation. She also presents frequently at conferences and researches social media as it pertains to news communication patterns.

“Obviously you should be proud,” wrote Brian Carroll, AEJMC Newspaper Division Teaching Standards co-chair, in an email notifying Thornton of the award. “Your and your nominators’ submissions stood out among a strong group of submissions this year – easily the strongest in my three years of refereeing.”

Thornton said she was proud and honored to receive the designation.

“I'm surprised and thrilled,” Thornton said. “But from all I learn from my students and from the practice of teaching, perhaps I'm more accurately a ‘learner’ of the year. I am honored to join others who have won this award.”

Cronkite Associate Professor Sharon Bramlett-Solomon won the award for Outstanding Educator from the AEJMC newspaper division in 2007. Bramlett-Solomon developed the Cronkite School’s course on race, gender and media and has been a nationwide advocate for journalism diversity issues.

Thornton will receive her award in August at the AEJMC annual convention in St. Louis.