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Enhanced funding would help make Flint Hills Media Project a more powerful experience

Flint Hills media project
Two WSU students participating in the Flint Hills Media Project prepare to conduct an interview at the site of the Symphony in the Flint Hills. This year’s concert event was held June 11 on a ranch in Chase County.

The terms “hands-on” and “real-world” learning perfectly describe the Flint Hills Media Project. So does the word “unpredictable.” That’s because you never know what to expect when your assignment is to cover a symphony concert in a remote pasture in the Flint Hills.

“A lot of the students are from Wichita or other urban areas,” says Amy DeVault, an instructor for the Elliott School of Communication at Wichita State University. “It’s not an exaggeration to say they have never walked into a pasture, climbed over a barbed wire fence or been face to face with a cow.”

But they do all that and more in the three days they spend interviewing people, taking photos and shooting video during the Symphony in the Flint Hills, a fundraising event for the Kansas City Symphony held each June and attended by about 5,000 people. Students return to campus after the event to produce a slick, 100-page magazine distributed to thousands of people. They also post photo galleries and videos on the project website and Facebook page.

All of this occurs in an intensive four-week class that marked its seventh consecutive year this summer. DeVault has been at the helm all seven years, with associate professor Kevin Hager joining her the past five.

They work with virtually no budget to cover expenses such as transportation and food while on-site. Students pay their own way. It’s not unusual for DeVault and Hager to chip in personal funds for necessities such as memory cards, batteries and other supplies.

The Flint Hills Media Project was the brainchild of Les Anderson, a WSU journalism professor who died in 2011. Anderson believed strongly in learning experiences that show students what life in the real working world is like. Students echo that belief.

“I’ve never participated in a class so hands on,” says James Kellerman, a 2014 WSU graduate who now works for the Hutchinson News. “From the field experience to the instruction, the class taught me how to function as a professional reporter in a multimedia environment.”

How you can help

 

Provide hotel rooms during the two or three nights students work on-site. Currently, the students drive back to Wichita each night, typically a two-hour drive after a hot and exhausting day. The cost for six or seven hotel rooms for two nights would be about $1,200. A separate fund for food and beverages in the field also would be helpful.

Buy at least two new cameras at a cost of about $3,500. Replace lenses for existing cameras and have them professionally cleaned.

Purchase two laptops dedicated to the Flint Hills Media Project, at a cost of about $3,000. Currently, DeVault and Hager use their work-issued laptops for the project.

Hire a graduate teaching assistant to build an archive of the photos, video and notes that have been collected over the project's seven years. "This is an invaluable resource about the people and places of the Flint Hills," DeVault says.