Juan-Carlos Molleda starts each day with a cup of freshly ground Colombian coffee and a good dose of NPR. Then he scans The New York Times, Washington Post, Oregonian, Economist and his Twitter feed to see what’s happening in global news.
“It’s a challenge to remain optimistic, but for me it’s a priority,” he says.
Optimism is a given for the new Edwin L. Artzt Dean of the School of Journalism and Communication, who also brings a fresh perspective and a firm commitment to ensuring a vibrant future for the SOJC.
“I have big shoes to fill but I am so excited,” Molleda said. “I will be articulating the message of the school and building bridges not only in local and state communities, but nationally and internationally. I’m also looking forward to collaborating with my colleagues and helping them achieve greater heights.”
Formerly chair of the Department of Public Relations at the University of Florida, Molleda created and directed UF’s online master’s program in global strategic communication, was an affiliated faculty member of UF’s Center for Latin American Studies, and served as a Fulbright senior specialist.
Before his career in academia, he garnered years of experience handling communications for an international financial consortium in Venezuela.
“Juan-Carlos’ experience in public relations, online education, global business communications and Latin American studies makes him uniquely qualified to lead the School of Journalism and Communications in its next century of innovative discovery,” said UO Provost Scott Coltrane.
Molleda’s philosophical alignment with the three pillars of the SOJC — ethics, sustainability and social progress — first attracted him to the position. He was also drawn by the diversity of interests among the school’s faculty and the unusual amount of financial support the SOJC has cultivated, as evidenced by the number of endowed chairs.
Add to that Oregon’s pristine landscape, emphasis on entrepreneurship and commitment to social equality and freedom, his decision to move 2,950 miles across the country was an easy one. The local culture, which he and his husband have happily embraced, is another plus.
“We love the food scene, the wineries and breweries, and how laid-back people are,” he says. “We are already motivated to get involved with outdoor activities like running and river rafting.”
Molleda started his new job July 1, a month before he actually had to be here.
“This is a good time of year to get to know the institution, the SOJC, and the faculty,” he said. “I will listen carefully to the expectations and concerns of my colleagues and the students.”
He will be the first to tell you that he’s not a traditional dean. His path through academia happened almost by accident.
While growing up in Maracaibo, Venezuela, his father died when he was 13. His mom had little experience with running the family, and it was up to him to find his own path.
At 18, he went to work full time while attending university at night. After trying business administration and accounting, he changed his major to audiovisual journalism, a decision influenced by his day job. He was working as the advertising and promotion manager for an international financial consortium when the firm — and his country — began to experience major problems. He was advised to leave Venezuela.
He moved to the United States at 29 to become fluent in the English language and pursue a master's degree in corporate communication at Radford University in Virginia. “I had been living the high life as a corporate communicator, flying around the country in corporate jets and appearing on TV,” he said. “And then I started from scratch.”
With a dictionary by his side, he navigated the master’s program while learning the intricacies of the English language. “It taught me to be humble and resilient,” he said.
He had planned to go home and continue working in corporate communications after receiving his master’s degree, but with conditions still deteriorating in Venezuela, he decided to stay on and study for a doctorate at the University of South Carolina.
He began teaching at the University of Florida in 2000 and was there for the past 16 years.
While this might seem like a logical progression to most academics, “it wasn’t in my playbook,” he said. “I really appreciate all the opportunities I’ve had. For me, this is the American dream. If you work hard and are dedicated, you can really blossom in this country.”
Throughout his journey, he has maintained the same principles, he said. “Be truthful, provide access, provide facts and never lie. Those were my principles from the beginning.”
A strong proponent of hands-on learning, Molleda loves the fact that SOJC students travel to far-flung places such as Alaska and Ghana to practice what they’ve been learning in the classroom.
“These trips allow students a chance to ponder the challenges that society faces,” he said. “The resulting reporting engages both the public and the media.”
He hopes to enhance the immersion experience. “I want to foster experiential learning, internships and special programs led by faculty that tackle real challenges,” he said.
He also plans to expand the SOJC’s international reach, especially to Latin America and the Pacific Rim.
His former dean says he’s just the right person for the job. “Juan-Carlos is a standard bearer for internationalism and diversity,” said Diane McFarlin, dean of the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications. “I was struck time and again by his global reach as we traveled together to conferences and events, and people from around the world, both academics and professionals, would greet him warmly.”
Another goal is to make sure the SOJC continues to invest in innovative new technology platforms so that graduating students are job-ready. And he’s committed to being on the road much of the time, articulating the message of the school.
“Juan-Carlos is perfectly suited to lead a contemporary journalism school,” McFarlin said. “He is an instinctive leader who brings both scholarly achievement and professional sensibilities to the role. He is a visionary who is guided by ambition — not for himself, but for the institution, especially students.”
Molleda acknowledges the complex challenges facing the journalism and communication professions.
“In order to succeed, we need a deep understanding of our craft,” he said. “We must keep up our ethical standards. There is so much misinformation, so much distortion. I believe we can alleviate some of the issues, and indeed excel, by being committed to very good professional journalism.
“I believe in the contribution we will make to democracy, public discourse and civic engagement,” he said. “I do believe brighter days are ahead.”
— By Rosemary Camozzi, University Communications