Communications students set for THON Webcast

University Park, Pa. — More than 100 students from the College of Communications will have the opportunity to gain hands-on experience when they work together to produce live streaming coverage of the Penn State Dance Marathon for the fifth year in a row.

Telecommunications students in two courses — COMM 498F Webcast Production and COMM 383 Production Administration, both of which are taught by senior lecturer Maria Cabrera-Baukus — comprise the core of the production crew for the THON webcast. In addition, several other students from different majors will assist with the effort, including broadcast journalism students who are members of the Radio Television News Directors Association.

THON, the largest student-run philanthropy in the world, is a year-long effort that raises funds and awareness for the fight against pediatric cancer, culminating with a two-day, no sitting and no sleeping marathon. This year’s 46-hour marathon begins at 6 p.m. Friday, Feb. 20, and runs until 4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 22, at the Bryce Jordan Center on the University Park campus.

"The webcast is most definitely a great way to give to the community. For the students participating in the webcast, it is an opportunity to experience a live television production and practice their skills," said Cabrera-Baukus, who teaches television production and broadcast programming, and has abundant professional experience in television. "It’s exciting. You can feel the energy. It’s a great experience."

The online coverage, which will be available at http://www.thon.org as well as televised on the University Park cable television system, incorporates live floor coverage, including interviews with dancers, children and other participants; pre-produced, three-minute field packages; and video of other aspects of THON.

Production will be directed from a suite on the concourse level of the Bryce Jordan Center.

The students also will receive support from faculty and staff in the College of Communications, including Chris Maurer, multimedia and computer support specialist, and Karen Mozley-Bryan, manager of facilities, and Mike Zelazny, laboratory coordinator, as well as key technical support from Information Technology Services at Penn State and Penn State Public Broadcasting’s WPSU-TV.

"My job as the webcast producer is to plan the whole production, but my main job as a professor is to train my students for webcast productions on their own," said Cabrera-Baukus, adding that the primary focus of the webcast is to provide a live feed for those who cannot attend the 46-hour event in person, such as THON families, dancers’ families, alumni and students.

Last year’s webcast attracted some 11,077 unique connections. Those visitors came from 47 of 50 United States and 32 foreign countries. The only U.S. states unable to connect to the webcast were Alaska, Mississippi and South Dakota. Foreign countries that produced the most online visitors were Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom. Among the other represented countries were: Azerbaijan, Canada, China, Japan, Peru, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Singapore, South Africa and Switzerland.

Along with the important goal to chronicle and document THON, the webcast has grown in the past few years with improved production techniques that allow truly timely updates from the dance floor as well as the ability to include taped features and interviews to better convey the work of the thousands of students who make THON a reality each year.

"Students producing the webcast get an excellent real-world opportunity to apply the skills and knowledge they have learned in the classroom," said Matt Jackson, head of the Department of Telecommunications. "At the same time, THON and the community benefit from increased awareness and more money raised for charity. For students producing the webcast, nothing compares to a live, 46-hour event. The planning and coordination required helps the students to hone their skills as professionals, and the benefit to the community is immense."

Since the live webcast efforts began five years ago, online donations to THON have increased regularly.

Established in 1973, THON has raised more than $52 million for The Four Diamonds Fund at Hershey Medical Center. Because of THON’s support, the Fund is able to offset the cost of treatment that a family’s insurance won’t cover, as well as provide for other expenses that may affect the welfare of the child. The Fund also supports the medical team that cares for the children and funds pediatric cancer research through start-up grants and the Four Diamonds Pediatric Cancer Research Institute. THON raised more than $6 million last year.
 

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Last Updated November 18, 2010