Demystifying the Newhouse School’s Graduate Boot Camp

The term “boot camp” might call to mind visions of military recruits crawling through mud under barbed wire at 4 a.m. on a sticky, summer day. 

The Newhouse School’s version of boot camp doesn’t come close to demanding that level of physical exertion. But the six-week summer session held before the start of the fall semester is meant to provide graduate students with the tools to succeed in their upcoming academic year. 

The biggest misconception about boot camp is that the rigor and intensity are meant to discourage students, said Joel Kaplan, associate dean of graduate programs.    

a man stands at a podium with his arms outstretched
Joel Kaplan welcomes graduate students on the first day of boot camp. (Photo by Molly Irland)

“We’re not trying to wash anyone out like they would in the military,” Kaplan said. “We’re really trying to imbue them with those skills that they’re going to need for the rest of their program.” 

The typical boot camp structure consists of six weeks of classes, Monday through Friday from about 9 a.m.-5 p.m., with the schedule fluctuating depending on the program. Some cohorts might have a night class or classes Monday through Thursday, with Friday reserved as time to shoot, write, report or complete a project.  

2 students sit in an auditorium and read a piece of paper
Newhouse graduate students get to enjoy an empty campus and beautiful weather during boot camp. (Photo by Molly Irland)

“Almost every day, I was exposed to new knowledge,” Jiaqi Jin, an advanced media management master’s student, said of boot camp. “It was a fascinating experience to feel my brain racing and thinking, understanding more about the media industry and thinking about the possibilities unseen before.” 

Boot camp was the brainchild of the late Nancy Weatherly Sharp, a professor emerita of newspaper journalism and the school’s first assistant dean for graduate and professional studies. Observing the beautiful but empty Syracuse University summers, she had the idea to bring graduate students in when faculty could have their complete attention and campus is quiet, Kaplan says. 

students sit in a classroom and introduce themselves
Graduate students introduce themselves on the first day of boot camp. (Photo by Karen Z Velardi)

The Newhouse School’s graduate programs draw students from different universities with myriad skill sets and educational backgrounds, so the main purpose of boot camp is leveling the academic playing field and preparing students for the year to come. 

“This is the evening out process, right? We’re going to assume that you don’t really know anything, even though some of you do and those who do will be in good shape at the beginning,” Kaplan said.  

“But we have this intense six weeks in their topic areas so that when [the students] come out, they’re all pretty much on the same level,” he added. “So now we can go into the heavier academic courses in the fall and the spring and no one’s saying ‘I’ve never done that before.’ It’s a building block.” 

2 students laugh while waiting for ice cream
Even with the academic rigor, there are many opportunities for students to relax and connect with each other. (Photo by Molly Irland)

Every cohort takes different classes tailored to their program. Magazine, news and digital journalism students might take news writing and data reporting while television, radio and film students take a production class and the history of television with professor Bob Thompson, the director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture

Boot camp provided Goldring arts journalism and communications student Gloria Rivera inspiration for the fall semester.  

“I think it could be a wonderful time to be a journalist, but also challenging,” Rivera said. “I’m hoping to be in an environment that pushes and encourages me to think critically about the type of writer I want to be.” 

students look at a laptop while sitting at a table
Students work while enjoying ice cream outside Newhouse 3. (Photo by Molly Irland)

Even with the academic rigor, Kaplan and his graduate program colleagues make sure there’s time for fun and bonding amongst the students, allowing them to make the types of connections that can help them support each other during the academic year.  

James Roberts, a master’s student in the public diplomacy and global communications program, said the best thing about boot camp was meeting his cohort.  

2 students talk at a celebration toast
Two students chat during the boot camp celebration toast. (Photo by Molly Irland)

“We became great friends very quickly and got even closer throughout the course of the summer,” Roberts said. “We explored the city together and got to know the campus very well.” 

The overall boot camp goal: developing poised graduate students who have grown comfortable at Newhouse, looking forward to the upcoming year. 

What does Kaplan want future students to know? 

“There’s a huge support system here to not only make sure you learn a lot, but that you actually have a good time,” Kaplan said.