The associate professor of communication design will oversee the Master of Arts in Interactive Media program, succeeding its founding director, Professor David Copeland.
When Associate Professor Derek Lackaff joined the School of Communications a decade ago, assigned to teach in the school’s then year-old Interactive Media graduate program, he immediately saw the potential of the 10-month, full-time program that prepares graduates to think strategically across media platforms.
“I joined the iMedia faculty in 2010 because it was the most interesting and dynamic academic program I’d ever heard of, and I still feel that way today,” Lackaff said. “We have this remarkable opportunity to rapidly innovate within our curriculum to keep pace with an industrial context that does the same. At the same time, our work is guided by an enduring core of humanistic and intellectual values shared with the School of Communications and the university.”
On June 1, Lackaff officially became director of the Interactive Media program, succeeding David Copeland, A.J. Fletcher Professor and iMedia’s founding director, who announced his resignation in December. Copeland will remain on faculty in the school.
Since joining the School of Communications as an assistant professor of communications in 2010, Lackaff has built an impressive curriculum vitae that includes undergraduate and graduate courses in communications, multiple sections of Core 110 and Honors seminars, several study abroad courses and visiting lectureships in Singapore and Denmark.
In 2016, he was promoted to associate professor, and the following year he began serving as associate director for the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning, where he helped faculty pursue teaching excellence through individual consulting, workshops and collaborative projects.
During the 2018-19 academic year, he went abroad and taught at the University of Bergen in Norway as a recipient of a Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program award. He joined Bergen’s Department of Information Science and Media Studies (InfoMedia) and helped facilitate the launch of its new academic programs in interactive media.
As he takes the reins of the school’s lone graduate program, Lackaff commended his predecessor’s vision and leadership of the iMedia program, which prepares students to work capably and confidently with interactive media tools and to apply their skills to any number of fields.
“As the founding director, David Copeland led iMedia from just a dream of the School of Communications to being a program that has positively and profoundly impacted hundreds of lives,” Lackaff said. “He built a culture of collegiality and enthusiasm among the students, faculty and staff, and guided us through significant technological and social shifts over the past decade. David has been a friend and mentor, and has provided a model of collaborative leadership over the past decade.”
As program director, Lackaff said he plans to continue to find ways to leverage the program’s greatest strength – its faculty, an assembly of instructors from both the school and the wider campus.
“This diversity of perspectives and knowledge provides students with a broad understanding of their field, and prepares them to collaborate across professional boundaries in their careers. Our faculty are deeply committed to excellence in teaching and mentoring, as well as to our shared project of program development.” – Derek Lackaff
Communications Dean Rochelle Ford echoed Lackaff’s sentiments about the iMedia faculty, noting that the search for Copeland’s successor included outstanding internal candidates.
“The iMedia program has been undoubtedly fortunate to have great, forward-thinking leadership from Dr. Copeland the past 11 years, building a diverse student body with the majority of students being African American in recent years. And we are excited about what Derek Lackaff, a wonderful teacher, scholar and mentor, will bring to the program,” Ford said. “The program’s future is bright because of this continued excellence in leadership and the willingness of our faculty to adjust to our changing industries and prepare our graduate students for their future careers.”
Lackaff acknowledged that his first year leading the graduate program comes on the heels of a turbulent semester impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. But his focus remains maximizing the intellectual and professional opportunities that iMedia provides to its students.
“We had a successful spring semester in spite of unexpected challenges, and this experience will help guide future decisions,” he said. “It’s clear the pandemic will continue to impact our teaching and learning processes and the wider economy next year. The knowledge and skills that students develop in iMedia will be in particular demand, but we will also be very intentional in mentoring the class of 2021 to navigate this new professional world.”
Preparation for the future is at the root of the iMedia program’s curriculum and course offerings, highlighted by its immersive “fly-in” experience and interactive media projects designed to serve the public good. It’s why Lackaff called iMedia a “once-in-a-lifetime professional learning opportunity for students wanting to pivot their careers toward interaction design.”
“Future students can expect to find in iMedia a community of peers and mentors who are committed to excellence in design and production,” he added. “They will probably be pushed harder – intellectually and creatively – than they have ever been before. But students who are up for the challenge will not find another program that provides more opportunities to grow as an interactive professional and human being.”
Prior to Elon, Lackaff earned his doctoral degree from the State University of New York at Buffalo in 2009, and then completed a postdoctoral fellowship with the Portugal Program in Advanced Digital Media at the University of Texas at Austin. He holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a master’s degree from La Trobe University in Bundoora, Victoria, Australia.
The iMedia graduate program offers students the opportunity to learn from award-winning professors and build media projects in state-of-the art facilities using the latest coding, graphic design and production techniques. Through hands-on experiences in classes and with real-world clients, students discover the creation, strategies and application of interactivity through content development and marketing, UX design, responsive web design, prototyping, usability testing, analytics, social media, app development and human computer interaction.
In total, 348 students have graduated from the 10-month program since its 2009 inception. This includes 30 graduates during the 2019-20 academic year.