CommAgency features student sustainability efforts in newly produced videos

Matthew Long
January 20, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- This past December, a team of six students from the CommAgency, the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications’ student-run media production agency, produced three videos profiling the work of the Sustainable Communities Collaborative (SCC), a program of Penn State’s Sustainability Institute. The videos showcase the SCC’s work in fostering engaged scholarship by students working in local communities on practical, community-identified projects to further sustainability goals.

Since Penn State piloted the SCC in 2013, the program has facilitated over 90 projects in the State College area alone, giving over 1,000 students practical work and research experience while advancing local campus and community sustainable development.

Ilona Ballreich, program manager of the SCC, said these videos will serve as creative and informative ways to share the work of students and local communities. “We got an excellent product and, just like the SCC students, [the student producers] also got real world experiences,” noted Ballreich.

Each video focuses on a different area of SCC work. An introductory video provides an overview of the SCC’s history and goals. The second video explores how the SCC has assisted State College Borough’s efforts in mitigating effects of excessive stormwater runoff through projects like a constructed wetland in Walnut Springs Park that treats runoff and improves overall stream water quality. 

The final video profiles design schematics created by students in Design II: Spatial Design taught by Alec Spangler, assistant professor of landscape architecture. The proposals lay out ways State College Borough could redesign Sidney Friedman Park to make the park more engaging for the community. Among the students’ suggestions were softening the park’s ground and increasing the amount of flora to create a more welcoming space for kids, Penn State students and other community members.

The CommAgency student team was led by Reilly Burton, a junior film/video major, who served as the team’s producer. Despite a limited production schedule to deliver the films, Burton coordinated the projects even with COVID-related challenges of needing to hold virtual planning and editing meetings and to observe social distancing protocols while filming locations around the State College area.

Despite the challenges they faced, Burton is proud of the quality product her team produced. “Projects like the one we completed for the SCC allow communications students like me to gain valuable and professional experiences before graduating and entering the real world,” said Burton. “After only one year in CommAgency, it has taught me many lessons that I will take with me for the rest of my life.”

Catie Grant, director of the CommAgency and lecturer in telecommunications and film/video, oversaw the production of these projects and reviewed the team’s work. Grant said the production process was difficult for students overall, with COVID restrictions changing the typical approach to carrying out interviews, filming and editing.

“This semester, more than any other in the past, required students to be flexible and plan for potentially doing more with less. No one knew from week to week how COVID would impact the project, so we had to be ready for anything,” said Grant. “With any kind of filmmaking, you have to be ready for anything because anything can happen on set. This past semester required a lot of flexibility, patience, and compassion, which I believe will make them all even better filmmakers, teammates, and people moving forward.”

Beyond the professional experience producing the videos, Burton’s production process working with the SCC offered a learning experience of a different kind. Burton said she has become “inspired to live more sustainably.” As she explains, “The SCC is an incredible program that is making real change in the world by advancing sustainability goals and serving as a resource to educate and further efforts to combat the effects of climate change.”

Last Updated January 20, 2021