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Steps Magazine | Reaching Out Through A Lens

Focused on creating socially responsible media, an innovative Visual and Performing Arts course at CSUSM is empowering students to learn about and serve the needs of their community from behind the lens of a video camera. Developed and taught by professional filmmaker professor Kristine Diekman, Video in the Community is a course that connects students with nonprofits to identify critical social problems and produce high-quality videos that bring about social awareness and change.“It’s a two way street,” said Diekman, “one that goes beyond the course and truly speaks to the heart and vision of CSUSM to simultaneously develop the strengths of our students and our community.”Since the course’s introduction in 2003, Diekman’s students have filmed, edited,and produced more than 30 videos for different nonprofits at no cost to the partnering organizations. Whether creating public service announcements or an educational video, students help bring awareness to a variety of social issues from homelessness and gang violence to education, health and nutrition.“It’s an inspiring experience to hear and capture the stories, struggles and triumphs of people in my community, and then, using their testimony, produce a video that empowers others to take action,” said senior art and technology student Lauren Radel. Working in a production team of four, Radel and her classmates partnered with the Transitional Youth Academy (TYA), a gang prevention and intervention program for at-risk teens. To emphasize the positive impact the program has on its youth, the crew of students filmed the video from the perspective of the teens. In addition to the final three-minute video which was produced to share with potential donors, the team edited 15 hours of interview footage to create several short vignettes of student stories that the nonprofit could also use for promotional purposes.“With funding sources dwindling, this is the time when we really need to shine and communicate the value of our program,” said Jeannine Guarino, program manager for TYA.For many of the partnering nonprofits, like TYA, finding the resources or funding to develop a professional video had previously been well out of reach. Through this unique course, video services are provided for free to help nonprofits connect with broader audiences and share their mission. Past partnering organizations have included Casa de Amparo, San Diego County Office of Education, Palomar Family YMCA and Operation HOPE, a homeless winter shelter based in Vista.“Using socially responsible media to drive civic engagement is not just about advancing one nonprofit’s mission, but rather advancing our entire community forward and affecting positive social change in North County,” said Guarino. “Video in the Community is an important catalyst making that change possible.”For Sarah Taylor, a junior studying theatre arts, the opportunity to give back while also earning academic credit was what initially piqued her interest in Video in the Community. Working full-time and going to school full-time leaves little opportunity for community service, she explained.“The course enabled me to learn video production skills and apply those techniques in a hands-on environment while also helping better my community,” said Taylor, who helped produce an eight-minute video for the Vista Community Clinic’s teen center.While working on her group’s video, Taylor also enjoyed being able to contribute her unique skill sets to the creative process, including utilizing her theatre experience to coach the teens as they role-played different scenarios on camera.“It’s those little subtleties in our body language that visually communicate so much when on stage or in front of the camera,” described Taylor. “Working with the teens, I was able to help our novice actors feel more comfortable and ensure that their reenactments appeared natural.”Bringing together students from diverse fields of study strengthens the creative process and produces a well-rounded video, explained Diekman. More than 250 undergraduates from a variety of majors including business, psychology, computer science and performing arts have taken the upper-division humanities course, which is offered each year for the spring semester. On average, students dedicate upwards of 70 hours to create a three- to five-minute professional video, which is in addition to classroom instruction and online writing assignments.“In many ways, the community becomes the teacher,” said Diekman. “For these students, the experience is not only academic, it’s eye-opening and gives them confidence that they can contribute in shaping their community.”“Video in the Community is nothing short of inspiring,” reflected Radel. “It’s given me a perspective that I would never have experienced in a traditional classroom setting and enabled me to use my passion for art to empower positive change.”Learn more at www.communityvideo.org