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2022-23 Professional Media Capstones Address Climate Change in Colorado

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Media, Film & Journalism Studies

MFJS students solve real world problems and gain real world experience

Blog  •
Dr. Polson and Strategic Communication Capstone Students are posed for the photograph in 2 rows behind a large desk covered in laptops and papers

Written by Naila Martinez (Strategic Communication, DU Class of ‘23)

The Department of Media, Film & Journalism Studies (MFJS) is an exceptional example of DU’s mission to set students up for professional success while also learning to serve their local communities. Each of the department’s four undergraduate programs — Media Studies, Journalism Studies, Film Studies & Production, and Strategic Communication — has a Professional Media Capstone course that helps students build bridges to their futures as “soon-to-be working” adults by tackling a real world project. This year, for the first time, the department created a theme to connect the work of the capstone classes across each major: Climate Change in Colorado. The annual event for the Estlow International Center for Journalism and New Media also highlighted this theme with a slate of Gen Z climate activists. 

One Department, Four Majors, One Event, One Theme

As MFJS faculty members are especially active and engaged in local communities, they decided that using capstones to explore local perspectives and impacts of climate change could inspire in students the importance of community and collaboration. Considering that the MFJS department’s majors cover a broad and diverse media landscape, faculty hoped to use the capstones to show students how their own major might connect to other specialties in media production. They also aimed to show students they could make a difference by contributing to one aspect of a larger issue.

Media Studies Research (Fall 2022)

Media Studies majors kicked off the themed capstone with a research project analyzing state-wide news coverage of climate change and focusing on whether climate impacts were falling more heavily on low-income communities, communities of color, and indigenous communities. The result was a collaboratively written essay titled, “An Analysis of How Disproportionately Impacted Communities are Represented in Colorado Media.” The professor, Rachael Liberman, commented, “I am so proud of how my students collaborated throughout the entire process, and, as a group, navigated the dynamic experiences of qualitative research and co-authorship. As a result of their communication and compassion, they co-created a meaningful study that highlights issues of local reporting, frontline communities, and the news framing of environmental racism in the state of Colorado.”

Advanced Multimedia Journalism (Winter 2023)

Three student teams in the Advanced Multimedia Journalism course produced climate-change themed stories, one focused on the ski industry,  another on snow plowing along I-70, and a third story that addresses sustainability and sustainable living that aired on Rocky Mountain PBS. For DU Media and as part of the Multimedia Journalism course, journalism studies student Cassis Tingley produced a story titled, Federal government provides recommendations for state water cuts. The journalism capstone was created by MFJS Professor Kareem El Damanhoury to follow the Multimedia Journalism course. Its highlight is a partnership with Rocky Mountain PBS begun in Winter 2022. Again in Winter 2023, students pitched story ideas, gathered information, and shot and edited video, all with feedback from professional journalists at Rocky Mountain PBS. Many of these student-created stories have aired as segments on Colorado Voices, a program of Colorado’s Channel 6, the Rocky Mountain PBS station.

Strategic Communication Seminar (Spring 2023)

Professor Erika Polson’s Strategic Communication capstone students created a public relations campaign for HECHO (Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors) to help attract Gen Z Latinx audiences into the organization’s climate advocacy network. One of the students’ most popular proposals was a Spanglish hashtag campaign (stemming from the class research findings that Gen Z Latinx audiences prefer bilingual speech rather than just Spanish-language messaging) with a Call to Action asking #QuehasHECHO (“what have you done”), which draws from the literal translation of the organization’s name and can be attached to various campaign messages--for example: #QuehasHECHO to save the Colorado River? Students also suggested creating a series of monthly climate change-themed trivia nights to be led by HECHO but involve other conservation groups, which they branded, “Climatrivia.” These are two examples from a much larger proposal that the class created for the client, who noted, “the support and insights from you and your students far exceeded anything I could have imagined when we first met a few months ago.”

Filmmaking for Clients (Spring 2023) 

This Film Studies and Production capstone, taught by Roma Sur, worked with Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado, a non-profit organization that helps people become active stewards of Colorado’s natural resources. Students created a promotional brand video and documented one of the organization’s events in order to expand awareness of the organization and its important work.

Youth Voices: The Next Generation in Climate Activism (May 2023) 

To “cap” the capstone theme, the Estlow Center for Journalism and New Media, part of the Department of Media, Film and Journalism Studies, partnered with several classes and student groups to host the event Youth Voices: The Next Generation in Climate Activism. The event consisted of three master classes that brought together more than 200 University of Denver students from more than 20 classes over the course of a single day, hosting young Latinx and Indigenous climate change activists to explore issues of environmental racism. In addition to MFJS, groups involved included the Native Student Alliance, the Interdisciplinary Research Institute for the Study of (In) Equality, and classes from PLP, the writing program, the College of Arts, Humanities, & Social Sciences, and Natural Sciences and Mathematics. Highlights of the day included an interactive game that involved students in learning about resource allocation and the inequitable effects of climate change, as well as a talk with young environmental and tribal affairs reporter Jeniffer Solis of the Nevada Current, a talk with youth climate activist Sophia Kianni who served as a communication strategist for Greta Thunberg, and talks with Tony Soto, Esperanza Garcia, and University of Denver ‘23 graduate Leala Pourier. Solis received the Estlow Anvil of Freedom Award, Kianni was named Margolin Family Distinguished Lecturer, and Soto, Garcia, and Pourier, each of whom are members of  the Indigenous group Earth Guardians, served as Marsico Lecturers. Lynn Schofield Clark, Professor and Director of the Estlow Center that organized the events, noted that “it was rewarding to see so many students engaged in conversations with our guests. The master classes gave students a chance to think with their fellow students about connections between climate justice, their coursework, and their own pursuit of lives of purpose.”

MFJS Professional Media Capstone courses offer opportunities for students to work with media professionals while strengthening their field-specific areas of expertise in the final year of their university education. By focusing on climate change, a top concern for many members of Gen Z according to the Pew Research Center, students across a variety of majors were able to advance their intellectual growth and explore the effect that they would like to have on their communities today and in the future. As Polson explained, “The best thing about the themed capstones is to see how proud and motivated the students are when they recognize what they can accomplish by working together, drawing from each other’s strengths and perspectives. They are really able to understand how the topics they’ve been learning about suddenly connect to something much larger than just an assignment.”