Student-produced TV special named nation’s best

April 24, 2015

An hourlong TV special created by Penn State students based on a weeklong educational experience in Cuba was named the nation’s Outstanding Magazine Show at the 36th College Television Awards in Hollywood.

“Centre County Report in Cuba” was honored with the equivalent of an Emmy Award for college television at the awards program conducted by the Television Academy Foundation.

“We’re happy our students were recognized in such a prominent setting,” said Dean Marie Hardin of the College of Communications. “We know how hard they worked on this project, and how much they benefitted from the expertise of our faculty members and the support of our donors.”

The show -- with several segments focusing on Cuban culture, its people and politics -- resulted from a trip to Havana for an international reporting class in 2014. Seventeen students and five faculty members made the trip, which garnered important support from donors and produced hands-on experience and unrivaled educational opportunities. 

Students were working throughout the trip on stories that were later shared with partner news organizations in the United States, or that became part of “Centre County Report in Cuba.”

Steve Kraycik, director of student TV and online operations in the College of Communications, made the trip to Cuba with the team last year. He also accompanied the team’s representatives -- Christian Heilman and Rachel White -- to Hollywood to accept the award this week.

“To see our students’ work honored at the national level with this award is a tremendous source of pride. The level of competition was extremely high,” Kraycik said. “It’s clear the judges were impressed with the unique stories our students told in Cuba.”

Even before the award, the international reporting class in general and the trip to Cuba in particular were successful by many measures.

Collaboration between the College of Communications, the University Office of Global Programs and the Center for Marti Studies, Penn State’s academic partner in Cuba, were necessary to make the trip possible.

Donors such as Larry and Ellen Foster and Helene Eckstein also provided vital support. And students consistently have praised the experience and opportunity provided by a semester-long course, COMM 402 International Reporting, that includes an intensive, weeklong work session in a foreign country.

Tony Barbieri, a former international correspondent who serves as the Larry and Ellen Foster Professor of Writing and Editing, created the class to present a global perspective of journalism to students, and to immerse them in it. “Students should know that it doesn’t matter where they end up working; they are still going to have to look for stories beyond what they can see,” Barbieri said.

Included in Barbieri’s criteria for choosing a destination is a country’s political and economic significance in relation to the United States. In the previous years the class has visited: Mexico City (2009), Shanghai (2010 and 2013), Cape Town (2011) and Rio de Janeiro (2012), Cuba (2014) and Hong Kong (2015).

The trip to Cuba proved especially timely, with the students’ work getting additional attention as U.S. relations with the nation have officially warmed in recent months. Faculty experts such as John Nichols were happy to share their expertise before and during the trip. Nichols, professor emeritus, has conducted 30 years of research focused on communications in Cuba. He also traveled with the team last spring.

In addition, Maria Cabrera-Baukus, a senior lecturer in the Department of Telecommunications, brought videography, technical insights and Spanish fluency to the trip while Will Yurman, a senior lecturer in the Department of Journalism, assisted students because of his extensive multimedia and photojournalism experience.

The Television Academy Foundation is the charitable arm of the Television Academy, which coordinated the Primetime Emmys. 

“Centre County Report,” a weekly newscast produced by Penn State students, had previously been honored in consecutive years as the nation’s best student newscast by the Broadcast Education Association.

Last Updated April 27, 2015