In an ever-shifting media landscape, St. Lawrence’s new digital media and film major will empower students to think critically and creatively about the content they consume and produce. After four years of interdisciplinary classes and opportunities to gain real-world experience, students will be well-positioned to confidently take on careers in journalism, videography, graphic design, film, and more. Program co-chairs Sarah Knobel, associate professor of art and art history, and Brook Henkel, associate professor of German and film studies, shared what students can expect from this innovative new major.
What makes St. Lawrence’s digital media and film major unique?
BH: By leading with the term “digital” we have sought to reframe the study of film and media in relation to the rapid changes in digital media technologies and to challenge students to think critically and creatively about their highly mediated worlds. The new major distinguishes itself further with its emphasis on developing students’ skills in digital media production, a required experiential component, and a commitment to integrating social justice and media-making beginning with our new flagship introductory course, Film & Media Action. During their senior year, students in the major also assemble their work in the form of a digital portfolio, which they can use as they pursue different career paths.
What are the benefits of majoring in digital media and film at a liberal arts institution?
SK: We feel this major will fulfill the needs of a variety of students because it brings together and builds on the strengths of numerous disciplines across the liberal arts curriculum. The new major is flexible because it allows students to design a more personalized curriculum that relates to their specific interests in digital media and film. There are a variety of production and theory courses that students can take to match their interests.
BH: We also consider it important that our students find their own voices through our curriculum, specifically with the experiential component, including internships, and their final capstone projects, which encourage collaboration. We want students to have something to say with the work they create—not reiterate what they have seen. And we want them to be aware of the power and ethical responsibility that comes with creating and engaging with media.
How will this program prepare students for their careers? What kind of careers can digital media and film majors expect to pursue?
SK: There are so many directions that students can take. They can acquire a variety of skills to prepare for jobs in the media industry, but also gain specialization in areas like film, photography, podcasting, and audio. Many jobs no longer focus on knowledge of one specific media form. It is important to have a specialization, but also be aware of how to create different content. Our liberal arts program allows for a breadth of knowledge and a variety of skills to match students’ interests and directions.
BH: We imagine a range of different students in the major: those who are attracted to a more artistic approach to filmmaking; more commercially minded students who want to be part of the media industry; nontraditional journalism students who want to create multimedia stories (podcasts, video, photography); citizen journalists and activists, who can create a platform for themselves but also for other organizations; students who are interested in narrative or documentary filmmaking; students who want to be graphic designers; and those who want to have a presence online or work in social media. We’ve already had students in our classrooms who fit many of these profiles and would be great fits for the new major.
How will faculty in this program support their advisees’ career exploration?
SK: There are over 15 faculty members that support this major’s curriculum, each with different areas of expertise to support student learning toward a range of career paths. There are also many opportunities for students to collaborate with their mentors outside of the classroom, such as...
- understanding citizen journalism while working with John Collins, a professor of global studies, and his team of students who run Weave News.
- exploring a career in journalism or photojournalism as a writer or photographer for The Hill News, our student-run newspaper. The newspaper advisor is Juraj Kittler, a professor of English and Performance and Communication Arts, and supported by Sarah Knobel, an art and art history professor.
- working alongside communications professionals in our University Communications department while creating social media content and helping to capture student life on campus.
What kind of tools or programs will students be able to use to support their learning?
SK: Depending on what production courses a student takes, they will be introduced to video, audio, and graphic software used in multiple production industries. Students will also become comfortable using a variety of accessible equipment and tools, such as cameras and audio mixers, to produce visual and audio content. Students will have access to the Newell Center for Arts Technology, as well as the Digital Scholarship Computer Lab in the Owen D. Young Library. Both facilities have the Adobe Creative Suite and other equipment and tools that meet professional production needs. The Digital Scholarship Computer Lab has just recently been outfitted with podcasting equipment. We are continuing to write grants and seek funding to develop this space further and secure additional cameras and equipment to support our production classes.
Tell us a little bit about faculty expertise in the department—who will students of this program be learning from?
BH and SK: Our faculty members have a variety of different backgrounds and different approaches to digital media and film studies. We are also welcoming new faculty in the upcoming academic year, who will bring expertise in the sociology of technology, film and media production, and the intersections of film and media studies with foreign language and cultural study. We are also fortunate to have strong support in the library from Director of Research and Digital Scholarship Eric Williams-Bergen and Digital Scholarship Specialist Nicole Roche.
Here are just a few highlighted faculty who have been a part of the creation of this major and teach courses that count toward the new major:
- Professor and Chair of Global Studies John Collins covers themes of globalization, nationalism, colonialism, violence, memory, political activism, and media criticism in his courses. He is the founder of Weave News, a co-curricular independent media project focusing on underreported stories.
- Associate Professor of Art and Art History Amy Hauber teaches courses on digital media and culture that will count toward our new major.
- Associate Professor of Music, Film Studies, and Asian Studies and Chair of Music David Henderson has taught many film production and theory courses that will now be a part of the major. Some of his courses are Documentary Filmmaking, Music Video, and World Cinema.
- Associate Professor of German and Film Studies Brook Henkel teaches courses on German and European cinema, representations of WWII in German and American cinema, and film theory. He is also the co-chair of the digital media and film major.
- Associate Professor of English and Performance and Communication Arts Juraj Kittler is an experienced radio reporter and newspaper editor and a scholar of mass communications, media, and the public sphere. He teaches both journalism and media studies courses.
- Associate Professor of Art and Art History Sarah Knobel’s work focuses on ideas of the natural and artificial by creating photography, video, and art installations. She teaches a range of photography and video courses and is the co-chair of the digital media and film major.
- Maurer Professor of Performance and Communication Arts and Director of Rhetoric and Communication Allie Rowland conducts research relating to reproductive politics and bio-citizenship, especially across gender, race, and sexuality. Her course Rhetoric of Algorithms counts toward the digital media and film major.
- Associate Professor of English Penny Vlagopoulos is a scholar of twentieth- and twenty-first-century American and global literature and regularly teaches courses at the intersection of film and literary studies, such as Literature and Film at the Borderlands.
- Associate Professor of Music and Director of the Newell Center for Arts Technology Christopher Watts is a composer and multi-media artist. He teaches Music and Technology.
- Assistant Professor of Gender and Sexuality Studies Mahrou Zhaf teaches courses that explore the way gender roles and identities are constructed in relation to race, ethnicity, class, and sexuality in film and media.
What excites you most about the future of this program?
BH and SK: We are excited about our partnership with the library’s Digital Scholarship program and to see the Owen D. Young Library as a potential hub for students, faculty, and staff involved in the new major. The recent creation of a podcasting studio and digital imaging lab are examples of new library spaces that will directly benefit the digital media and film program.