HARRISBURG, Pa. -- When the Lancaster County Clean Water Consortium (LCCWC) called on Penn State Harrisburg to develop a communications program of informative videos, Russell Kirkscey saw the perfect opportunity to combine students’ scientific expertise with newfound communications skills. Kirkscey, assistant professor of English in Penn State Harrisburg's School of Humanities, teaches technical writing for science and engineering majors.
The Lancaster County Clean Water Consortium focuses on the local streams that flow into the Susquehanna River and ultimately to the Chesapeake Bay, and seeks to educate the public on ways to improve water quality for waterways in Lancaster County.
Students in Kirkscey’s classes worked in teams to produce 10 three-minute videos that will be used to inform the public about best practices for protecting water quality in streams. The videos addressed a number of topics, including proper disposal of used auto oil, safer lawn care practices with minimal use of fertilizers, efficient car washing techniques, cleaning up after pets, and farmers not allowing livestock in streams.
Kirkscey said that developing a message, targeting an audience, writing scripts, creating storyboards and filming educational videos can challenge students who are more at home in a laboratory or doing research.
For example, because the videos had to be three-minutes long, students needed to fine-tune information to use the time well. They discovered that it can be tricky to fit 15 minutes worth of material into three minutes. They also had to figure out what images to use, find friends or classmates to serve as “talent” and have a cohesive message. Then they had to present them to the client. Some of the videos will be used in their finished form, while others may serve as a starting point for LCCWC-produced videos.
“It was an excellent learning experience for the students, to learn to convey their knowledge to others,” said Kirkscey, “The students had to do everything. It was a new experience to create videos with an educational message.”
“There is great value in having a real-life client with a real project. Students learn from doing,” said Kirkscey.
LCCWC members Sharyn Young, Penn Township planner, and Kristen Kyler, project coordinator of the Penn State Agriculture and Environment Center agree. “The Lancaster County Clean Water Consortium was excited to partner with Penn State Harrisburg students on this video project. It was a great opportunity to educate the students about stormwater and water quality problems locally, while also getting to utilize their creativity to further educate the community,” said Kyler.
The students benefitted as well. P.J. Mellen, a junior structural design and construction engineering technology major, noted that working as a part of the team in production of a video provided an edge in technical writing, because it was produced for an actual client.
“I think this project was a great idea. The first-hand experience you get with working with a client was definitely worthwhile. This helped me understand how to change things and work with a client to meet all their needs. Compromise is key and needs to happen for most co-op projects to happen,” explained Dylan Zerphey, a sophomore civil engineering major.
Josh Gray, a sophomore mechanical engineering technology and kinesiology double major, appreciated that the partnership with LCCWC taught him to work in a group setting, and effectively utilize media production software for audio, visual, and lighting purposes. Austin Stehman, a junior mechanical engineering major, stressed that teamwork was crucial to the project, and that the team found themselves seeking “the holy grail of perfection,” only to find that reaching that goal was much harder than they had imagined.
“Working on a project like this with such a remarkable team gave me an opportunity to see how much we can affect our community, if we put time and effort into it,” said Ganga Bajgai, a junior information sciences and technology major.
As Kirkscey pointed out, “Projects like this contribute to the Penn State Harrisburg goal of creating sustainable living through emphasizing the need for clean water today and in the future. We hope to do more projects like this, which benefit everyone.”