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March 3, 1997

Social Sciences Media Lab provides unique learning opportunity

By Jennifer McNulty

Tucked away in an editing suite in the Social Sciences Media Lab, anthropology major Glen Williams puts the finishing touches on a videotape about the intersection of culture and tourism in Nepal. A critique of the costs and benefits of ecotourism, the video features tourists and Nepalis discussing appropriate behavior in one of the poorest countries on earth.

"It's intended to welcome visitors to this great place and to show them how they can earn the respect of Nepalis by respecting basic customs, like wearing pants and shirts in the temples," explains Williams, who is getting academic credit for the project through an independent study.

Williams hopes the video medium will reach tourists and others who might not read about the impact of tourism. His goal is to get a grant to show the video to tourists on airplanes bound for Nepal, or perhaps in the airport on a continuous loop.

Like hundreds of students a year, Williams is using the lab's facilities and staff expertise to expand his educational horizons. The lab offers training in photography, video, audio recording, and multimedia production for students in the Division of Social Sciences. Faculty turn to the lab for help preparing classroom presentations and putting together lab facilities, and an increasing number are offering two-credit media production labs in conjunction with courses.

Manager Jon Kersey says the lab offers students an opportunity to express their ideas in a different medium. "Video and photography can allow people to see things that are very hard to describe in a paper or a book," says Kersey. The hands-on experience of producing media can be eye-opening, too.

"To do a production gives students insight into the process," says Kersey. "It's easy to be critical of the media, but once you start doing it, you learn the constraints that come into play on a production--time and money, for starters."

Psychology, community studies, and anthropology students are the heaviest users of the lab. Laura James, a sophomore in Anthropology 2 this quarter, checked out video equipment recently for a class assignment to document an American ritual. Her group chose to document a fourth-grade bilingual classroom; other topics include a beauty pageant, the Chinese New Year parade, holistic medicine, and surfing.

"It's really been a big help," James said of the lab. "I'm not real fond of cameras, but I see the educational value of it now. I know the instruction we've gotten has been really good."

Social sciences dean Martin Chemers is a great champion of the Media Lab, which he calls "very avant-garde educationally." Indeed, it appears to be unique in the UC system. "There's nothing else like this set aside for social science students," says Kersey.

Begun on a shoestring in 1974, the lab has evolved from a student-run volunteer organization to a well-equipped facility that loans out 35-millimeter cameras, video cameras, and field production equipment, including tripods, lights, and audio production gear. The tightly packed College Eight facility has three postproduction editing suites, a classroom, and an editing facility for staff who have prepared videos for the division and several departments; darkrooms are located in Kerr Hall.

About 100 students are trained each quarter, says Kersey. Some take 10-week, two-credit lab classes that meet once a week, while others, like James, take three-week workshops that meet twice a week to gear up for a class project. Others are engaged in senior projects and independent studies. The only fees charged are for film, videotape, and darkroom use.

In addition to Kersey, whose focus is photography and video, lab staff are Todd Phillips, who specializes in audio production and the World Wide Web, and Kevin Hoshiko, a video whiz who also helps faculty research equipment purchases and helps set up audiovisual equipment in faculty labs.

"The audio/video industry is constantly changing, so I keep track of current trends," says Hoshiko, who used the lab as an undergraduate. "I've always been interested in motion picture and video production, and this job fits perfectly with my interests." Kersey and Phillips are UCSC graduates.

To support student projects, the Division of Social Sciences awards $2,000 in grants each year. For Eva Rubin, a senior majoring in community studies, an $800 grant is making it possible to mount a show of 20 framed photographs from a recent field-study trip to Havana, Cuba.

"There's no way I'd be able to do something like this without the grant," says Rubin, who took her first photography class at the lab and now works about 10 hours a week as an assistant in the lab.

Timothy Kao, a photographer with the San Francisco Chronicle, completed his first documentary photography project in a Media Lab workshop. "I've never seen a student so motivated to do photography," says Kersey. Former student Gimel Everette is now a producer of major Hollywood motion pictures, including Lawnmower Man and Virtuosity, as well as music videos.

Another lab graduate, Flavyn Feller-Mendoza, is a video producer for Los Angeles City Schools and also produces independent videos, including one that aired on PBS. "She did her first video here," says Kersey, adding that many students who initially got their training at the Media Lab have gone on to professional careers in the film, video, and radio industries. Others have taken a more academic route and gone on to graduate programs at the major film schools or have incorporated film, video, and audio production technology in their fields of study.

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