‘Learn as much as you can’

By Stephanie Schwartz, iMedia Class of 2013

I have been fortunate in the past few days to be able to talk to several iMedia alums on their thoughts on the program, now that they have some distance from it.

By far the iMedia program’s biggest strength and weakness is its 10-month structure. Yes, we get out fast compared to most other master’s programs and we certainly work hard, but as many of us are discovering, it’s not enough time to really master a tool or a technology, to fully grasp all the fundamentals. For many of us, it’s the first time we’re really exposed to design principles or how to edit photos professionally, and we may not have had the opportunity to explore as much as we wanted throughout the school year. iMedia is very much an interdisciplinary and overarching program, introducing us to a lot of things in a short time.

In looking at other master’s programs that cover one aspect of the iMedia program (art, design, journalism, communication, marketing, web development, digital media, branding), many of us discovered that what makes iMedia unique is not just its structure – 10-month programs aren’t that unusual anymore – but that it is so broad. Most other graduate programs that touch on “interactive media” – however that term is defined – are siloed, very specialized.

The key is to make the degree work for us. Allie Boardman ’11 suggested twisting the degree to emphasize the portions of it that fit best with what we want – if you want a tech job, focus on that aspect and downplay the theory, while those interested in strategy or project management emphasize the holistic media approach and the more traditional graduate classes. You won’t be a master unless you go outside of what you’re being taught, she said.

Several students have already gotten that message, working on projects and gigs outside of schoolwork to gain greater familiarity with something of interest. For Anna Davis, that means working on web design for outside clients. “The only way I know how to learn is by doing,” she said, adding that with outside projects, you don’t have the same type of deadlines as you do in an academic setting.

Others pick up cameras and recording equipment, trying to integrate photography or film production into a jam-packed schedule, or design and code websites for interested parties. Some people take leadership roles, looking to become project managers. Allie is in a project management role, and she says the well-rounded nature of the degree means she understands the process and work that goes into each element, adding that she can communicate between all the parties involved.

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Sometimes we do get an opportunity to explore something we’ve always wanted to do for projects outside of class. iMedia students plan our exhibition of capstone work at the end of the year. I finally get the chance to use social media for a real cause, something my previous employers weren’t interested in, while Ruth Eckles and Audra Macri get to produce the videos that will grace the website that Rachell Carroll, Jake Amberg, Madeline Chapin and Will Neff get to build and design. All of them have indicated their interest in these areas and many of them have worked on outside projects to build up their production portfolio.

Each of us can add these experiences to our resume and can continue to hone our skills in these areas after graduation. Jackie Hartley ’11 echoed that the degree does give you the tools for you to specialize, and that you’ll have to become an expert in your particular field in your own time.

David A. Kennedy ’10 said that working with clients helps with time-management and introduces you to a broader work of working with others in an agency-type setting. Along with Allie and Andrew Mauney ‘12, he stressed networking. Allie was one of the students who did an internship during the spring semester, and she suggested finding an area where you want to work and then trying to build a network in that region. Brittany Ison ’12, who works in Burlington, reiterated many of the things our professors have told us: that putting in the extra hour or two on a project will make a big difference, especially when it comes to our portfolio, and in the end, that’s what matters.

Above all, the alums emphasize one thing: learning. For Lou Tuffillaro ’12, his capstone project was an exercise in execution and planning for deadlines. For Caitlin Smith ‘11, it was about process. Mitch Donovan ’11 echoes a tagline often used in iMedia marketing: “You learn how to learn.” While we may not be saying that exact phrase, we know what he means: tutorials, Googling, talking to others, using what resources we have, and experimentation.

Wherever we’re headed, we all know that interactive media is always being redefined. Not just the tools and the technology, but even accepted best practices and established theories. We’re being prepared to recognize when they are and how to adapt.

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