Catherine L. Covert, Ph.D.


Catherine L. Covert, Ph.D.The brilliant insights into the life and work of Dr. Samuel May are part of a lifetime of stellar writings by the late Dr. Catherine Covert, eminent historian and Professor of Journalism at Syracuse University from 1975 until her death in 1983. As a daughter and granddaughter of Presbyterian ministers, her interest in church history and culture came naturally, having also authored “The Founding of Park Central Church and Society” (of Syracuse, New York) in 1971.


Nationwide, Dr. Covert was known as a foremost scholar in mass communications. Those who knew her personally knew her as a woman of remarkable intellect, quick and often impish wit, and generous personal warmth. She was the mother of two children, Carolyn Stepanek Holmes of Cazenovia, NY and Frank N. Stepanek, III of Syracuse, NY.


Raised and educated in Iowa, Dr. Covert was a graduate of the University of Iowa’s prestigious School of Journalism, where she was awarded the Brewer Torch Key for Journalistic Excellence. After serving on the staff of the Des Moines Register, Dr. Covert moved to Syracuse where she began a relationship with Syracuse University that was to last the rest of her life. She received her Ph.D in history in 1976, serving on the university faculty first as Associate Professor of Journalism, then as full professor in the Newhouse School of Public Communications. She was the first woman in her department to achieve that rank.


Among Dr. Covert’s professional honors was the Lasker Foundation Award for Distinguished Science Writing, citing her painstaking research and probing interviews with leaders in the field of medicine, especially regarding the advent of the polio vaccine. She also received the Blakeslee Award of the American Heart Association for Excellence in Reporting Heart Research, and the Empire State Medical Writing Award from the Health Department of New York State. She was a member of several professional associations, and in 1983 received the award for outstanding achievement presented by the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications. In honoring Dr. Covert, the award stated: “She has a skill and elegance that have gained for her a special measure of distinction among scholars.”


Dr. Covert authored numerous articles, papers, and publications, and at the time of her death had just completed a partnership with John Stevens in co-authoring the book “Mass Media and The Unexpected.”


The roles of teacher and mentor were especially close to Dr. Covert’s heart, and her accomplishments included numerous lectureships, consulting positions, and appointments to teach abroad. But perhaps her most lasting influence has been on her students, who reveled in her lectures and her ability to demonstrate the love of learning, stimulate curiosity, and inspire the desire for excellence. A former student, in a written memorial tribute, offered this personal observation: “Cathy… was humorous, stimulating, enlightening. She was an extraordinary teacher…the ideas and lessons she communicated will continue to unfold and grow in her students for countless years to come.”


July 31, 2006
Carolyn Covert Reynolds (her sister)