March 5, 2013

SCA Family Stories: Kylie Nicholson and Jack Morgan

Students from SCA’s New B.A. in Media Arts + Practice Give Advice

The School of Cinematic Arts is proud to announce the new Bachelor of Arts in Media Arts + Practice as its newest B.A. To celebrate the new degree program, SCA Family Stories sat down with students Kylie Nicholson and Jack Morgan to talk about the new degree program, how students can prepare themselves for the new major and how collaboration is the key to success in the new program and the real world.

Let’s start with your name and proposed graduation year.
KN: My name is Kylie Nicholson, and I’ll be graduating May of 2015.
JM: I’m Jack Morgan, and I’m graduating this December.

You are both proposed students for the Bachelor of Arts in Media Arts + Practice. Tell me about the degree program.
JM: You can take it a lot of different routes. For me, I’m a business student as well, so I took a lot of the classes that were more focused around business. So there was the web design class for business students, the mobile apps class on how to make mobile apps, and then it was all about enriching your studies and focusing on different media aspects that deal with the kind of things you don’t necessarily talk about in business classes, like search engine optimization all the way to non-linear storytelling and how that affects film and TV and whatnot.

KN: It’s grown out of the Digital Studies minor from the IML (Institute for Multimedia Literacy). For me, I came in as an undecided freshman. I was a math major but I also loved digital photography. I wanted a space that would let me pursue both of these passions, and I found that within the IML minor because it was creative yet also technical. There’s also a little bit of philosophy, like what are the implications of what we’re doing, what are social implications, such as racism still existing in cinema. For me, it’s been a space to explore my passions while doing that in the sphere of new media, be it photography, video, web design, social media, locative media, that whole gamut. So the program really is what you make of it, but it places a large emphasis on making sure we use digital media in a scholarly and socially conscious manner. The program claims that a digital argument, be it video or a web piece, can be as effective if not more effective as the traditional essay, and emphasizes how digital media can be used in scholarship.

JM: I think the thing that people don’t realize is that, when they think of media, they immediately

Jack Morgan

think of entertainment in films and TV, but they don’t realize that media has so much more of a scope than that. There’s apps, there’s websites, interactive games, and you kind of see the B.A. in Media Arts + Practice as this intersection of games, TV and film and interactive stories with scholarly work. I don’t know of many other classes that have students from all different types of majors. We have computer science majors, people from the film school, we have people from the [Dornsife] College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, we have neurologist majors; we have all different types, and they all bring such different perspectives, so it helps to shape and make your ideas well-rounded and hit from all different sides.

Do you find it hard to explain to people on the outside of the new program exactly what it is that you do?
KN: Not really -- up until now since it hasn’t been a major, the program has pulled from different departments. But now that it’s its own major, I kind of have my little spiel concocted—pretty much what  I mentioned before: it’s new technology, so it combines photography, video, web design, interactive media and how you can use that in a scholarly manner with philosophical elements.

Is it primarily scholarly or pragmatic, or is it a blend of the two?
JM: It sort of depends on what you’re going for. A lot of people are really interested in the scholarly work. For me personally, I’m much more interested in the practical uses of certain technologies with business and sports. I’m working with a bunch of sports teams on using a bunch of cameras and analytics and sensors to create a more valuable experience for fans and coaches. But other people are doing interactive games for film students, or a person is changing the way that you view an eBook, for instance, like making it fully interactive and actually utilizing all of the features of an iPad instead of just making text on a screen appear.

KN: But it’s impossible to make it through the program without having that scholarly component. When I came in, I just wanted to do photography and be artsy and techy, but you get into the foundational courses of the program and they emphasize the scholarly approach. So it’s very structured in that, but then it’s basically up to the student which direction they want to take it.

JM: They really push you to make sure that you really capture all the different elements, to make sure you’re thinking about it from the design aspect, from the organizational aspect, from the data aspect, why you’re showing it one way and how that will have meaning. There’s all these encompassing values, things that people don’t really realize when they just post something on a website or put it on a blog. There’s intentions behind every little code or action that you do, and making sure you describe what you do in your code and making sure people can understand what you did and why you did it.

KN: The form of whatever you’re arguing becomes an argument in itself.

That’s an interesting thought. Can you explain it further?

Kylie Nicholson

KN: Well, the B.A. provides you just so many avenues to express yourself. In the foundational course, we do video, web design, still images, and they teach you the technology, so Photoshop and the basics so you’ll get the pragmatic aspects. Then it’s about using whatever form of media will best make your point. For one person, it may be excelling in mobile technologies, whereas I’m more image-based. But the great thing about the Media Arts and Practice program is that is expands your personal repertoire; rather than sticking with what media you know best, you learn all different media. If you feel that whatever point you want to make will be better served with an interactive iPad novel rather than an image, the program equips you with the knowledge and resources to realize that vision.

What kind of students do you think should look into applying to the new program?
KN: Anyone who wants to explore! I think the program is great for people who have an idea and want to see it realized or are just curious. I came in with these disparate interests; when I told people that I wanted to study math and photography, the majority of people said it was impossible since they’re at opposite ends of the spectrum. I just had an inkling that it wasn’t true, that there had to be some way that images and mathematics and technology interacted. In my first IML class, my professor said, “You’re right, you can totally do that. Let’s explore together how to do that.” You’re not being taught at; it’s as if your teachers are your mentors and are encouraging you to think and grow and be creative. They’re never going to say no; they’re going to push it further.  The program’s perfect for the innovative, the curious, for the people who want to explore the world in a different way. It’s very interdisciplinary. I didn’t want to feel stuck in a box with one very specific major, and this program really welcomed me with open arms.

JM: I think the  B.A. is really great in bringing ideas to life and showing people how they can take their creative aspects within their own field of study and then expanding and distributing that to the world.

Do you find the classes within the program to be more hands on?
KN: Definitely. The first all-nighter I pulled in college was in the course Creative Coding for the Web, and I didn’t even have to do that. I just felt so inspired and wanted to push it even further. For a website project that was just a little during-the-week exercise, I spent 8-12 hours designing this elaborate website that had to do with my photography and the Popular Music Program [within the Thornton School of Music] and the pictures I was taking there because I was so inspired and finally had an avenue to express myself. Just to feel that inspiration and passion about something was awesome.

JM: And the students are very helpful. I’m personally not very good at coding, but I like being able to understand it because, if I’m going to run a business, I want to be able to understand the language of all of my employees, be it the code or the finance or the accounting or so forth. So for instance, I couldn’t do any of the coding work, but we have all these other students that are really good in coding and all different languages that can help you. Everyone’s so collaborative and there’s no real competition for grades - there’s no real GPA requirements or anything like that. When I’m in a Media Arts and Practice class or an IML class, I feel like I’m in a community or family; we’re not competing with one another to get jobs, we’re trying to help each other out with our connections. I had mentioned I was doing a sports thing, and someone was like, “Oh, I know Eli Whiteside, he’s a catcher for the Giants [now the Texas Rangers]. You should come and meet him."

Let’s finish up with the theory behind Media Arts + Practice, which is that you have to be fluent in the moving image to be effective in the global marketplace. Do you agree with this theory, and how has it affected your approach with your work?

KN: Definitely. Children are so much more media-saturated today; they’re exposed to the moving image through cinema, video games and so much more all the time, and I think it’s imperative that this moves into the classroom. Media Arts + Practice is making huge strides in recognizing that as something worthwhile and pursuing and bringing it within the classroom. It’s almost impossible to not have the moving image cross any boundary of what you’re doing.

JM: I’m working for an Internet-television service where we use an HTML5-based Cloud system to connect to devices and TVs, and it’s really interesting to me that, I’ve learned so much about the backend but also the frontend of how that works, and that the new program has such a scholarly background but also has all of these connections within the industry and within the entertainment world. I think the new program is perfectly positioned to handle that dynamically changing picture of entertainment and media going on today.

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