Professor at Cabrini University for 50 years now, Dr. Jerry Zurek, “JZ,” has seen it all and lived it all. He is the image of the university’s mission and the heart of the Loquitur.
Zurek’s journey at Cabrini university started in 1971 after he received his undergraduate degree in English, philosophy, Latin and Greek at Fordham University in 1967, his master’s degree in English in 1968 and his Ph.D. in English in 1975, both at Bryn Mawr College. Working at Cabrini University, Zurek became chair of the then-combined English and communication department in 1978. When the departments separated, he stayed with the communication department because he was the visionary leader of digital communication. He was then later named the US Professor of the Year in Pennsylvania in 2005.
During his time at Cabrini, Zurek worked closely with the school’s student-produced newspaper, The Loquitur. Zurek digitized most of the newspapers that can be found on the Loquitur’s website, dating back to 1959. Witnessing the very first computers being made and hand gluing the pieces of the newspaper together, Zurek watched as the technology advanced and evolved. Zurek took over as the Loquitur’s adviser in 1972.
“It was the transition between literally cutting and pasting the newspaper together,” retired adjunct professor Cathy Yungmann said. “Before that, they [the staff] would type out the stories and use hot glue to glue the stories down on a page to put the paper together. Then they started using very basic beginning word processing, called WordStar. He really integrated all that technology and kept ahead of it. He saw the potential of it, and wanted students to learn it.”
Zurek believes that journalism storytelling was not solely about what was written in the text, but also includes visual and oral communication as well as still photography. With this, the university’s communication department became one of the leading places in the country that practiced multimedia storytelling long before most other universities started.
Through this, he found ways to integrate the university’s mission on social justice issues in journalism articles and the courses in which he teaches.
“He believes that talking about social justice issues, equity and Human Rights is part of every student’s education,” Yungmann said. “He integrated this into journalism which made him really one of the first people to make this part of the curriculum.”
Senior digital communications and social media major Alexandra Monteiro worked for the Loquitur in 2019-2020 as the perspectives editor. “He honestly motivated me to be such a strong social justice advocate,” Monteiro said.
Jillian Smith, the associate director for student media, recalls a similar time when she was a perspectives editor for the Loquitur from 2007 to 2008. “I remember I was assigned a profile article on the woman who ran the cafeteria and who had just battled breast cancer,” Smith said. “I was nervous to write the article but handed it in and I remember JZ telling me that it was a great story and that I was finally becoming a reporter and not just someone who writes.”
Zurek’s superpower with the Loquitur, as explained by Yungmann, is being able to see where the evolution of technology is taking communications. He is also on the cusp of everything, always one step ahead, before any other colleges were doing anything.
Associate professor and chair of the communication department Dawn Francis recalls a time when she was the managing editor of the Loquitur from 1991-1992. “I remember Dr. Zurek’s emphasis on being voracious and critically aware consumers of journalism,” Francis said. “If we, as staff writers and editors, wanted to be responsible practitioners of the craft, then we needed to study how others did it. I recall dissecting all these elements in classroom conversations with him and my peers, and it really taught me so much about journalism.”
Working six out of the seven days of the week, Zurek works constantly on the school’s newspaper by finding stories, working with the staff and reading students’ articles. “He would watch his kids play sports in high school and college,” Yungmann said, “and while he was watching the game, he would grade journalism stories.”
Senior digital communication major Aislinn Walsh worked as the editor in chief of the Loquitur in 2019-2020. “When I was on The Loquitur, he’s always taking the time to discuss an issue, even a minor one with me at any time of the day,” Walsh said. “In dealing with crises or issues, he always encouraged me to think independently through ideas while giving me the right amount of guidance.”
Zurek has impacted many students, staff and faculty during his career at Cabrini. During his 50 years at the university, he has taught his students’ students, has been invited to students’ weddings and guided and helped students through their college journeys.
“I am lucky enough that I got to spend the past four years with JZ as a professor, adviser, and mentor,” senior digital communication and social media major Amy Kodrich said. “He has made such a large impact with not only me, but Cabrini’s entire campus. He is so caring, generous and willing to help any student.” Kodrich was the writing managing editor for Loquitur in 2019-2020.
“Thank you for everything you have done for me. I have had so many opportunities made and I don’t think I would have gotten to the place I am today without him,” Monteiro said.
“Thank you for all the support I’ve received from you these past four years,” Walsh said. “I’m so grateful that you’ve not pushed me to develop my skills in digital communication but have given me an opportunity to exercise my talents to benefit the Common Good.”
“Jerry, thank you so much for being a wonderful professor and a mentor who I now consider family,” Smith said. “Cabrini will not be the same without you but it’s a better university because of you. I hope you and Sue travel the globe in your retirement!”
“He has been my professor, mentor and friend for over 30 years,” Francis said. “He’s irreplaceable, and all of us at Cabrini will feel the impact of his retirement profoundly. We will work hard each day in the Communication Department to carry on your tremendous legacy.”