School of Communication

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Debra Tolchinsky, radio/television/film

Debra Tolchinsky, associate professor of radio/television/film, is the recipient of a 2010 Clarence Simon Award. She has a BA in film production and both a BFA and MFA from the Art Institute of Chicago.

Specializing in documentary film production, Tolchinsky has reveled in making documentaries that challenge people to think and to reevaluate their understanding of the world. Her documentaries have been screened at various international film festivals, including the Sundance Film Festival. Currently, she is working on a documentary about college debate, which she hopes can offer insight into the nature of today’s fast-paced world.

In addition to making documentaries, Tolchinsky also enjoys creating video installations that draw from and comment on controversial social phenomena. Last year she curated a gallery show in New York called "The Horror Show" and is working on co-curating another show about digital media. Always seeking new and creative projects, Debra maintains that "the most meaningful project is always my current project because that's what I'm immersed in and trying to figure out."

But ultimately, it is Debra’s passion and gift for teaching that make her an integral part of the school’s success and prestige. Tolchinsky’s Simon Award comes with the honor of being recognized by her students. "I care a lot about teaching and about whether students are learning and are inspired, so to be recognized by students is very meaningful," she said.

Tolchinsky continually strives to develop an atmosphere of trust in her classrooms, where she and her students can openly and honestly discuss the students’ works. But in the end, perhaps the reason Debra is able to foster great relationships with her students is due to the modesty and sincerity in her approach to teaching. "To me, the best classes are those where I’m learning as much as the students," she said. Building a good class, she said, is like building a good film. "It’s part science, part art, and part magic."

Reported and written by Jingyang Cheng, RTVF, Class of 2011

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Debra Tolchinsky is an assistant professor in the Department of Radio/Television/Film at the School of Communication at Northwestern University.