Most folks who’ve met the new dean of Medill will tell you that Brad Hamm is a calm, thoughtful leader and a good listener. “I guess the major impression I have is someone who is collegial,” said Professor Loren Ghiglione, who enjoyed his own time as Medill’s dean from 2001 to 2006. “What seems clear to me is that it’s not top-down management, but an effort to say ‘okay, let’s talk about what’s going on here and what can we do better.’”
Interim Assistant Dean Jack Doppelt agrees with that description, adding that the changing of the guard came at a fortunate time for Medill. “I think we’re coming off a period where Medill students were in a good place, but where Medill itself had gotten sapped of its energy,” Doppelt noted. “Faculty and staff were not motivated to want to care and own. And I think that’s what he gives us a moment in time to do, and I think that he does it well.”
For his part, Dean Hamm treads a line between two worlds, dividing his time between the hundreds of students, faculty and staff within the school and the thousands of alumni without. “Being a dean is a very public role,” said Hamm himself, his voice tinged with an unmistakable enthusiasm. “So it’s important that while you have a lot of time you spend in the building, there’s also a great need to be out.”
That enthusiasm, instead of forcing his words out in a rush, imbued his sentences with a sort of smiling assurance. Dean Hamm wants to tell you his plans for Medill, but he will take his time to do it. Few words will enter his speech without his thoughtful consideration and express permission.
But what are some of those plans? In general, they focus on broadening the experiences of Medill students during their four years here. “My goal has been to develop the kind of unique experiences that change people’s lives,” he said. “From the time they arrive until the time they leave.”
He put a special emphasis on bold ideas, on not just improving but taking chances and aiming “as big as possible.” He mentioned the Medill Justice Project, calling its drive to analyze a database of over 1500 cases of shaken
baby syndrome “unmatched in the world”. But more than the boldness of these ideas, Dean Hamm appreciates the collaboration encouraged by such ambitious undertakings. The Justice Project, for example, has partnered with the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science to better analyze the vast amounts of information.
Hamm’s words carried a theme of collectiveness and cooperation as he talked about his plans. The Dean himself has already spent countless hours connecting with alumni, drawing strands across the vast web of Medill students past and present. “When you have 15,000 alums and many of them are as accomplished as any in the world, you can learn a lot, and you have to find the best way to link that into our program,” he said.
It’s certainly a drain on Hamm’s time to spend so much of it traveling. “I’ve carried around my Netflix video for a week now, expecting to drop it off,” he said, but the chuckle that followed revealed how much he actually enjoys the lifestyle.
“You have to sort of jump in and sink with the overload of information and new people,” he said. And with over 7 years of experience as a dean, Brad Hamm would be one to know. Overall, the dean emanates a persona which is both quiet and driven. He appreciates good work, and he isn’t here for the spotlight. “Medill has an incredible history, and I’m a part of it,” he said. “But fifty years from now it will still have a great history,” Hamm makes it clear that the school’s heart lies very firmly in its students, faculty and staff, and that everything he does, he does for them. “A dean is there at a moment in time to try to make sure that all of those people can achieve their goals and dreams.”
“I’m here,” he said. “And I’m available for anything.”