New professor Retis eyes UA bilingual journalism program

By Andrés Domínguez

After spending most of her life in four countries on three continents, Jéssica Retis is ready to explore her new venture in the Sonoran Desert. Retis is one of two new professors joining the School of Journalism in August, and has ambitious plans to diversify the program and introduce new perspectives to students.

Retis, a Peruvian native, traces her passion for storytelling to her time working in Lima High School’s student media.

“I didn’t know at the time I was going to end up as a journalist and then a journalism professor, but I did know I was passionate about reporting and writing, and telling stories,” Retis said.

As an associate professor, Retis plans to help lead the launch of a Spanish-language or a bilingual journalism program at the UA.

Retis’ experience in Spanish-language media is a primary influence in her aspiration to bring a global perspective to the School of Journalism. Throughout her career she worked as a reporter in Peru and Mexico, where she wrote news stories for Peruvian papers.

This sparked an interest in researching comparative reporting, which increased after Retis moved to Spain to get her Ph.D. While in Spain, she saw media coverage of immigration from Latin American countries vary greatly from coverage in Peru and Mexico.

Along with journalism and research, teaching is Retis’ other passion. She discovered teaching while studying for her master’s degree at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM). Teaching a three-unit class was a required component of obtaining a master’s degree.

“I was ‘forced’ to teach—and when I started teaching, I thought, ‘Whoa! This is something I can do. This is something I enjoy,’” Retis said of her teaching experience at UNAM.

After earning her Ph.D. in Spain, she began teaching at California State University Northridge (CSUN) in 2008 and worked on the first interdisciplinary minor in Spanish-language journalism in the U.S. She twice received the CSUN excellence in teaching award.

Her students at CSUN referred to her as “La Profe.”

“I really enjoy sharing my ongoing research findings with students. I am passionate about training open-minded and critically-thinking journalists,” Retis said. “I’m proud when I see my former students publishing their stories and doing fantastic coverage.”

With her move to the UA School of Journalism, Retis sees a chance to motivate students with a need for more diverse, investigative and collaborative reporting. This includes helping launch and lead a bilingual journalism program at the school.

“We go back and forth with cultures. I think this type of program will help prepare journalists for the current society we live in,” Retis said.

Retis also would like to help adapt the school to new ways of conducting research, as both the economic and technological transformations in the industry have affected media and journalism research.

With the transformation in journalism comes the need for journalists, researchers and professors to adapt along with those changes. This includes having to learn technology as it changes, in order to be better teachers of student journalists, according to Retis.

“This is the profession that has been affected the most in the last decades, on different levels,” Retis said. “We as researchers cannot teach the way we’ve been taught, and the way we have been exercising journalism, because journalism is not the same as it was 20 years ago. The world is more connected than ever.”

With her first semester at UA forthcoming, Retis sees many opportunities to connect with communities around Tucson, particularly with indigenous tribes in the area. She also sees the move as a return of sorts to Mexico, with the city’s proximity to the border.

Moving to Arizona is another step in the migratory process for Retis, and one she looks forward to seeing through her passions for journalism, teaching and diversifying student perspectives.