Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

Columbia University Names Sree Sreenivasan Its First Chief Digital Officer

If you know anyone in the New York media scene, then you either know Sree, or you know someone who does. And more often than not, you need only mention him by his first name: Once you and another person establish that you both know Sree, you’re already more than halfway to being friends.

For those who don’t know him, Sree — @sree on Twitter — is Sreenath Sreenivasan, who, during the 15 years I’ve known him, has been a hyperconnected, seemingly permanent fixture at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. (Full disclosure: I’m a graduate of the school, and was a student of Sree’s 15 years ago.) Having graduated from the school himself in 1993, he simply never left. Some 19 years later, as a professor, he has taught most subjects in the curriculum at least once, and spent the last seven years holding the title Dean of something or other: Most recently it has been Dean of Student Affairs.

Aside from his academic duties, he always found the time and energy to keep a foot in the media game. When I first met him, he was teaching a full course load and was a regular contributor to the New York Times Business section, and had just wrapped a gig as a freelance producer for “The Nightly Business Report” on PBS. He’s been a tech commentator for New York’s local TV news broadcasts, most recently for WCBS; he blogs on social media for CNET, does his own weekly Web-based call-in show on BlogTalkRadio, and teaches workshops for midcareer professionals of every stripe who are trying to get their heads around how to use Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn productively. He also co-founded the South Asian Journalists Association. And when this tornado named Sree finally stops whirling, he’s always got time for any student. The sign on the door to his office reads: “Yes you can bug me” “Don’t worry, you’re NOT interrupting.”

So it will probably come as a bit of a shock to anyone who has passed through the J-School’s halls during the last two decades that Sree is leaving, though he’s not going far. Today, Columbia appointed him its first Chief Digital Officer. It’s a new academic position in the office of the Provost John Coatsworth (the university’s highest academic officer), focusing on driving online education initiatives.

Columbia, like every other major university in the world, is trying to figure out how best to deliver its courses via the Web. It’s a weighty subject, covered in detail in a session with Stanford University President John Hennessy and Khan Academy’s Salman Khan at D:All Things Digital last month.

If now is the time for digital education to start having the impact that it’s going to have, Sree will be one of the people setting its agenda at Columbia. And yes, most people will still just call him Sree.

The memo announcing Sree’s new job is below:

Sent: Wednesday, July 11, 2012 5:01 PM
Subject: Sree Sreenivasan appointed Chief Digital Officer, Office of the Provost

Dear Colleagues,

I am very pleased to announce that I have appointed Sree Sreenivasan as Columbia University’s first Chief Digital Officer. Sree, who was previously Dean of Student Affairs at Columbia’s School of Journalism, joins the Office of the Provost effective immediately.

Sree’s portfolio will cover a broad range of issues at the intersection of technology, education, and digital media. His primary responsibility will be to lead the development of a coordinated university-wide strategy in response to the quickening pace of change in online education and digital media.

This effort will focus on supporting the innovative and exciting distance learning programs run by the School of Continuing Education, the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and other academic units, as well as facilitating efforts by other schools at Columbia that want to develop an online curricular presence. At the same time, this effort aims to make the most effective use of Columbia’s academic and financial resources, and incentivize collaboration and the adoption of effective practices across campus. The goal is to ensure that we deploy new tools and technologies in interactive and distance learning to ensure the richest and most dynamic learning environment possible for Columbia’s students.

Sree will work closely with schools, centers, and academic departments, as well as our existing digital development groups such as Columbia’s Center for New Media Teaching and Learning. In addition to his focus on online education, Sree will provide advisory services and programs to schools, faculty and administrators on digital technology and social media, working closely with our Office of Communications and Public Affairs to highlight areas of University leadership. (The role does not affect our existing information technology operations within the division of Student and Administrative Services.)

Sree has spent 20 years on Morningside Heights: one earning his M.S. at the Journalism School and another 19 as a professor, including seven as a dean. Most recently, he was the Journalism School’s Dean of Student Affairs, supervising admissions, student service/life and career services. All the while, he was an active member of the faculty, teaching digital journalism and social media; he will continue to be on the faculty, occasionally teaching there.

He has partnered with many departments across campus, serving as a sounding board, guest speaker, informal consultant and more. Among the honors Sree has received are being named to several lists of digital- and social-media professors to follow; AdAge’s 25 media people to follow on Twitter; and Newsweek’s list of the 20 most influential South Asians in America.

I am confident that Sree’s experience in academic administration and his widely respected expertise in new media technology make him uniquely well-suited for this challenge.

You can connect with him on Twitter (@sree) or or the old-fashioned way, via email.

Please join me in welcoming Sree in his new position.


John H. Coatsworth

(Image courtesy of Deidre Schoo)

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