Studio space breeds video creativity

Alumnus Lance Funston’s $1.5 million contribution to the Jack J. Valenti School of Communication was one of a kind, and funded a bigger space for communication students.  |  Justin Tijerina/The Daily Cougar

Alumnus Lance Funston’s $1.5 million contribution to the Jack J. Valenti School of Communication was one of a kind, and funded a bigger space for communications students. | Justin Tijerina/The Daily Cougar

Media equipment, half a dozen students and an entire set for practicing news anchors easily fit into the current Jack J. Valenti School of Communication studio. However, until a donation from an alumnus in 2009, students and faculty made do with a studio two-thirds smaller.

Lance Funston’s $1.5 million contribution went into a construction project that cost more than $3 million and lasted two years. Students’ tuition funds the majority of the Valenti school. Contributions are extremely rare, and Funston’s donation was unprecedented in size. The project, funded by the University and other donors, remodeled and expanded the entire School of Communication building.

“It provided a real morale boost for faculty and staff members,” said the school’s director, Beth Olson, “as well as the students, by raising our profile on campus.”

In the last five years, the number of communication majors has increased by 32 percent, and the number of students with a media production concentration has increased by 53 percent. This growth is one of the primary reasons the expansion was necessary.

“Plus, the space was outdated and cramped,” Olson said. “The majority of it was a television studio designed in the 1970s.”

Prior to the expansion, students and faculty were hampered by the limited space. Assistant professor Randy Polk said that closets and corners of rooms housed equipment and other materials because the school lacked proper storage area. Classes share studio space, and each class has its separate set. In the old studio, there was not enough room to set up and leave a set when other classes were being taught.

“So every time (students) did their projects, they had to come in and build the sets, shoot it and then strike it, all in one lab period,” Polk said. “This (current studio) allows us to set up a set, leave it, and that way we have more time during the lab for actual instruction and actual shooting.”

Polk said the lab is where students become competent with the equipment they will later use in classes, where they get an idea of how a crew works and how they can contribute at the right time to make the show happen. The lab is essential to students’ learning experience.

“I’m a visual learner,” said broadcast journalism junior Jasmine Bass. “A workbook doesn’t do much for me.”

Toward the end of the semester, students in Polk’s Television Production I class create their own shows. Students get to practice and experience writing something and see it actually get shot.

“The expansion gave us a teaching environment that is closer to what they’ll find out in the real world,” Polk said.

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