South By Southwest media conference provides opportunities for Elon interactive media grad students and faculty

By Kellye Coleman

Elon University faculty and students will participate in the 25th annual South By Southwest (SXSW) media conference in Austin, Texas, next month.

The event will serve as an opportunity for nine students participating in the Elon’s one-year Interactive Media Master’s program to interact with experts, network with individuals in the media industry, and share what they are learning through a website they will create prior to their departure.

The students, currently completing Elon’s 10-month interactive media (iMedia) graduate program, participated in a competition to attend the conference. Created by coordinator of iMedia Projects, Brad Berkner and iMedia professor Derek Lackaff, the contest included a grant-writing application and a visual presentation.

“The students presented their work and presented ideas about how they would promote themselves, the school of communications and Elon and obviously iMedia at South By Southwest,” Berkner said.

iMedia student John Hartley found the contest beneficial. “The process of the actual competition and the grant proposal was a good learning experience, in case we have to write proposals in the future for anything in our jobs,” Hartley said.

The student projects were presented to a panel of iMedia staff and faculty, an important part of the competition. “If the students present their work in front of a client, it would be great experience,” Berkner said.

The selected proposal has laid the foundation for the website the iMedia students will be using while at SXSW. The site will include a Twitterstream, blogs, photos and video interviews.

Brad Mu, Elon iMedia student, believes the content on the site will be varied due to the different interests of the students attending:

“Hopefully when they go the majority of what they’ll be doing is working to aggregate a lot of information that they get form industry professionals at South By Southwest,” Berkner said.

iMedia student Charlotte Southern, a 2005 University of Miami graduate, is looking forward to attending sessions focused on narratives. Prior to the iMedia program, Southern worked as a freelance photojournalist, and she expects the conference will give her a renewed energy.

“I’ve been to different conferences before, and it’s really inspirational just to see other people’s work,” Southern said.

It will also be an opportunity to network with professionals. “I want to just talk to people and get their perspective about how they think I should broaden my career,” Southern said.

Several of the conference’s keynote speakers are young adults, something that Hartley finds inspiring. “I think that’s one of the things that makes me hopeful about this industry. It is so many young people and we’re kind of shaping how the web is going to be for years to come,” Hartley said.

The students and staff will also have the opportunity to provide information about Elon’s iMedia program. Creating the website will play a role in that.

“Obviously with all of that will come certain recognition just by interacting with everyone,” Berkner said. “It should be a great way to sort of get people’s eyes looking towards Elon and the program.”

“We’re also going as ambassadors for Elon, so we want to try to spread the word of this program while we’re down there,” Hartley said.

“We’re also going as ambassadors for Elon, so we want to try to spread the word of this program while we’re down there.”

According to Mu, the fact that Elon is sending students to the conference says a lot about Elon’s iMedia program. “I guess the one thing that has stuck with me throughout this whole process is how amazing this opportunity is.”

Elon faculty will be featured during the event as well. Janna Anderson, director of the Imagining the Internet Center and associate professor, will lead a conversation about how the Internet is evolving and the kinds of challenges and opportunities it may bring.

Derek Lackaff, faculty member for Elon’s iMedia program, will participate in a panel discussion titled “Rebooting Iceland: Crowdsourcing Innovation in Uncertain Times,” which will focus on ways in which social media may play a role in boosting Iceland’s struggling economy.

In the weeks leading up to the conference, the iMedia students have had several meetings in order to prepare.

Mu said he is unsure of what he will experience but is looking forward to attending. “I don’t think we know its value yet,” Mu said. “As far as being a young person and being brand new to the field, I think it’s going to be eye-opening.”

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