WFAA-TV’s John McCaa finishes with Ph.D. in History of Ideas
Known for his straightforward broadcasting on WFAA’s nightly newscast, John McCaa isn’t a typical student.
McCaa graduated from UTD with his Ph.D. from the History of Ideas program last month.
It took him seven years, but he said it was a wonderful experience.
McCaa said making the decision to come back to school wasn’t easy. Finding the right balance in his life could be challenging at times, he said.
As conventional media outlets are making the transition to a focus on digital techniques of providing news, McCaa said he felt a drive to continue his education.
“Journalism is changing, and we have to learn to embrace the world in a different way,” McCaa said. “It was perfect for me. I wanted to broaden my own mind on where we came from and where we are going.”
Daniel Wickberg, associate professor in American studies, served as McCaa’s dissertation adviser throughout his time in the program
“I think he really had to push himself and learn an entirely new set of skills that went beyond his journalistic background and training, but he was always eager to do so,” Wickberg said. “I am thoroughly impressed by his character, humility and intellectual openness.”
McCaa met with professors from the school of arts and humanities to collaborate on his dissertation papers, including Dean Terry, associate professor and director of the EMAC program.
“They were all great; Dean Terry, professor Towner, Dr. Wickberg, Dr. Channell and professor Nils,” McCaa said.
McCaa — who has covered stories ranging from the terrorist attacks on 9/11 to the John F. Kennedy Jr. plane crash — first got interested in broadcasting as a high school student in Madrid, Spain, where his father was stationed on an Air Force base.
His fascination with the radio quickly turned into a passion for communication. As a senior, he worked as an intern at American Forces Network Spain, the only available radio station.
“My time working in the internship at the station peaked my fascination and is what sparked my passion for broadcasting,” he said.
He went on to receive his undergraduate degree in journalism and mass communications from Creighton University and a Master’s in political science from the University of Dallas.
Now, McCaa is more interested in balancing school and life.
“The History of Ideas program fascinated me and also gave me the flexibility to write my dissertations while keeping my life in harmony,” McCaa said.
As a local public figure, McCaa said it was important to him to maintain a low profile.
“I made an attempt to dress like a graduate student as much as possible,” McCaa said
Although McCaa tried to stay inconspicuous on campus, when approached he would engage students on intellectual topics and his knowledge of broadcasting.
“If the students wanted to talk about television or the news, I’m happy to share,” McCaa said.
He said he felt the pressure of any other college student to focus on grades.
“If I’m talking to a student about getting the best grade, I will tell them, ‘If this teacher is giving out one A, you are going to have to fight me to get it,’” McCaa said.
During lectures, discussions of historical events like the Vietnam War allowed McCaa to bring firsthand knowledge to the class, having lived through it.
McCaa said he has seen the campus grow exponentially since enrolling in 2008 with the number of students doubling.
“It’s a whole new campus,” McCaa said. “It really makes you feel like you are part of this exciting vision for the future”
Juggling a full-time broadcasting job, a family and school, McCaa said finding moments of solitude was an around-the-clock endeavor.
“This is actually the first weekend since 2008 that my wife and I haven’t had anything school-related that I had to worry about,” McCaa said.
As for the future, he said he sees himself lecturing at universities on the changes of media in society.