“We took a few trips to Roxborough, started looking at their projects — which were fascinating and really interesting — and we just couldn’t let them go,” said Elena Maris, a Penn Ph.D. student who with other doctoral students is mentoring young cinematographers from Roxborough’s Academy of Visual Arts Production.
To enrich the high school students’ educational experience, their teacher reached out to Carolyn Marvin, Frances Yates Professor of Communication at Annenberg. Marvin recognized the value of a collaboration between Penn and Roxborough High and recruited doctoral students to be unofficial mentors.
On June 1, 17 Roxborough students visited Penn’s campus to get a slice of college life in an informal day of communication studies at Annenberg. The young filmmakers sat in on presentations designed to empower them and to stimulate creativity. They spent time in a classroom learning advanced communication theories and in a media lab learning video production and editing techniques.
Their day began with an Annenberg School tour led. Next, following welcome remarks by Annenberg Dean Michael Delli Carpini, Marvin gave them a crash course on why we study communication, how the communication curriculum is organized at Annenberg and what kinds of jobs communication students take after graduation.
Afterwards, they were split into two groups. Half remained in the classroom for a series of mini communication lectures presented by Ph.D. students.
The others participated in a digital editing workshop. Waldo Aguirre, Annenberg’s director of multimedia services, taught them methods to improve their post-production work, focusing on color-correction tips.
The Penn visit marked the first time many of the students had ever entered a college classroom. The presentations they heard provided a sense of the breadth and depth of communication studies at Penn. Their public high school, located in the northwest section of Philadelphia, has a large percentage of economically disadvantaged students, and many of the young visitors who choose to go to college after graduation would be the first in their families to attend.
“For me and for kids like that it’s great just to know this is what a college classroom looks like, this is what it’s like to sit in it and to raise your hand and answer a question.”
Midway through the day, the high school students heard stories about what it’s like to be a college student and cautionary tales about “the freshman 15” pound weight gain when they dined in Houston Hall with several undergraduates from Marvin’s spring semester “Public Space, Public Life” course and Annenberg’s graduate-undergraduate reading group, Teaching and Reading in Identities and Power, or TRIP.
Some of the students enthusiastically talked about how they plan to incorporate what they learned into their cinematography work.
“They love post production. They love editing. They love creating,” said Derek Stevenson their cinematography teacher at Roxborough High. He accompanied them to Penn along with Jonathan Jacobs, a project based learning specialist with Philadelphia Academies.
"The engagement with the Penn students,” Jacobs said, “was phenomenal.”
Roxborough senior Trae Taylor has already won local recognition as a director for a public service announcement he produced about drunk driving and a short film about cyber bullying. He came to Penn hoping to brush up on post video production skills.
Besides the hands-on technical lessons, the students learned communication principles covering techniques of persuasion and messaging, what’s good and bad about communication and other advanced concepts not covered in as much depth in their high school courses.
“I think the students know what they want to say on some deep level. We all do,” said Annenberg doctoral student Rachel Stonecipher, the program coordinator. “I can’t wait to see what happens when they take some of what we’re teaching them, some of the multilevel conceptual concerns, and apply it to their work in film.”
As many as 10 Penn communication Ph.D. students volunteered over the course of this past academic year, traveling to Roxborough to consult with the young videographers and give them constructive criticism on their work.
Natalie Herbert, John Vilanova, and Allyson Volinsky joined Maris and Stonecipher in planning the day at Annenberg.
Maris says the partnership with Roxborough Academy will continue in the fall.