Category: CIS News

Raimist to Direct Episode of Queen Sugar

Journalism and creative media professor, Dr. Rachel Raimist, will direct an episode of Queen Sugar in New Orleans during the month of June. The invitation comes from notable film writer, director and producer, Ava DuVernay of Selma, 13th and A Wrinkle in Time.

Directing this episode will place Raimist in the Directors Guild of America, the preeminent organization of more than 17,000 members representing directors and members of the directorial worldwide.

“I have made independent films and documentaries, but for a long time I thought that breaking in to television might not be possible,” said Raimist. “DuVernay has been intentional about giving opportunities to first-time television directors from legendary independent film directors like Julie Dash, Cheryl Dunye and Patricia Cardoso to new directors with recent festival wins and folks like me, who don’t fit into either of these categories.”

Starring Rutina Wesley, Dawn-Lyen Gardner and Kofi Siriboe, Queen Sugar follows the life of three siblings, who move to Louisiana to claim an inheritance from their recently departed father—an 800-acre sugarcane farm. The siblings’ complicated lives are put aside to help their family revitalize the struggling farm.

The award-winning show’s executive producer is Oprah Winfrey and features all women directors over its three seasons. According to Women and Hollywood, women represented 32% of first-time episodic directors, a sharp increase from last season’s 19 percent and is nearly three times the number of the 2009–10 season.

Raimist is directing episode 311, titled,” Your Passages Have Been Paid,” which takes a deep dive into the lives of many of the show’s lead characters. Filmed on location in New Orleans, the episode will air in the fall on Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network.

“So many of us knocked on countless doors trying to wedge our way into TV directing work only to get every door shut in our face,” said Kat Candler, Show Runner for Queen Sugar. “‘Come back when you have an episode under your belt’ they’d say. But not until Ava ripped the hinges of those doors, built her own house and invited us all in did things in this industry start shifting. She’s revolutionary in that way. People try to ask us, ‘what do we do how can we change things?’ they come up with all these panels, programs …  to try and fix things when it’s pretty simple, ‘Just hire us’.”

Raimist agrees.

“Episodic television is a particularly difficult medium to “break in” to as a woman of color director,” said Raimist. “To be called by Academy Award winning filmmaker Ava DuVernay and be invited to direct an episode of her show is a career-defining moment for me.”

Made in Minerva

UA’s creative portfolio specialization goes beyond ordinary.

In most classes, detailed syllabi are handed out at the beginning of each semester, but in a small classroom in Reese Phifer, something different happens on the first day.

Students are asked to sketch out hundreds of concepts on small pieces of paper. Scribbled in pencil, these ideas are then put on a wall and judged for their merit. After editing and critiquing the drawings, an idea emerges. From that original idea, Minerva students are guided through an intensive process of creativity for the rest of their time studying creative advertising.

From the initial concept sketches to the finished product, Minerva students craft and perfect their messages in the most creative ways possible.

This small group of students make up the Minerva program. Minerva, named for the Roman goddess of wisdom and arts, is the name given to the cohort of students selected to join the creative specialization within advertising. Students are selected through a rigorous application process, attracting some of the most creative minds on campus. They care about the identity of Minerva and intentionally represent it in nearly every facet of their lives.

These creative minds influence campus conversations on how to think about social problems, campus issues and student relationships. Students in Minerva are expected to care about the process of design which includes a deep understanding of their environment. Just as their first-draft ideas are crafted into something bigger from the first day on, the students themselves feel a change within as they complete the program.

Britt Buzan, a recent graduate of Minerva from Jacksonville, Ala., knows this to be true. Moving from political science to Minerva, Buzan pushed himself in the program to become the artist he is today.

Last year, Buzan won a Gold ADDY in the full-page magazine ad category of the local American Advertising Student Awards. His ad, “Super Natural,” for BurgerFi highlighted the restaurant’s vegetarian burger options. The ad is a testament to Minerva’s commitment to teach students to dream big and think outside of the box. Every ADDY in the student division went to University of Alabama students.

“Minerva became my place, it was the perfect outlet for me,” said Buzan. “We want to creatively solve problems and we are challenged in this way. The process shapes us.”

Buzan and other students have found solidarity in the process, becoming mentors for one another during late nights in Reese Phifer 332. The hard work is worth it because they get a taste for agency life while completing their undergraduate degree. No matter the challenge, Minerva students face it together, head on.

Mary Buzbee (Birmingham, Ala.), a senior in Minerva, discussed the program’s desire to change the campus conversation about the creative focus and to introduce more collaboration.

“We want to dispense the information we have, and we want to widen the scope of Minerva on campus,” said Buzbee.

The final advertisement created by Britt Buzan (above) and additional ideas Buzan created before the final selection of the most creative and effective ad (below). Buzan won a Gold ADDY in the local American Advertising Awards for this BurgerFi ad, “Super Natural.”

For each student in Minerva, widening the scope looks a little different. While on campus, they may work with students in other majors to create a project or provide feedback on design and creative initiatives. The program is working to become a student organization in addition to the creative portfolio specialization, which exemplifies their desire to reach more people with the creative influence.

After their time in Minerva, many graduates go on to work in an agency, pushing the limits in the creative world. Some go on to work as freelance graphic artists and others look for ways to engage with creative issues around the world on their own terms. No matter the arena, Minerva students tackle problems with the backing of a creative community.

Led by Mark Barry, a former creative director and part-time sculptor, Minerva seeks to go beyond the ordinary for student growth. As Barry put it, “early on, they realize the level of work and work ethic we expect in the program is really high.”

Minerva students’ creativity is highlighted and encouraged through relationships with their peer cohort, but also with their professors like Barry.

“[The faculty] are usually kind and positive, but sometimes they have to be brutally honest,” said Caleb Ledbetter (Columbia, Tenn.). “No matter what, I always know that they care most about helping me create my best work, so that I can land that agency job.”

Larissa Magera is a Minerva alumna and current designer at Batten, Barton, Durstine and Osborne (BBDO) in New York City. She knows the Minerva mission and how it facilitates collaboration among students, first hand.

“Every week, we had to come up with ideas for our assigned products. During class, we’d critique everyone’s work and push our thinking to be smarter, bolder and more surprising,” said Magera. “It’s uncomfortable having your ideas in the hot seat, but the comradery that emerges eventually builds a more collaborative environment.”

Beyond the work load and creative expectations of the program, the cohort style fosters relationships among students. Eventually it is the students, not just the faculty, that keep the creative standards for the program alive.

“They hold each other accountable for the amount and level of work they do,” said Barry. “No one gets to slack off because everyone wants to succeed.”

In addition to their cohort’s cohesive mentality, the comradery plays right into Minerva’s culture. The group of students molds the program into what they want it to be.

“Everyone cares about creativity and ideas,” Ledbetter said. “We get along well, which is good because we spend hours together every week in group meetings, we eat together, and we go out together. As a group, we are free-spirited, progressive and positive.”

The students are excited to be a part of building the program. It is within programs like Minerva that leaders are created.

These leaders steward the arts and create pieces that offer creative solutions to communicate messages. As Buzbee said, their art opens the door to a broader conversation and invites collaboration in new ways on campus.

The Minerva community is dedicated to designing compelling, creative advertising, and for most students, the specialization is just the beginning.

No matter the next step for students, Minerva goes with them. At its core, Minerva is a tight-knit group of creative minds. These minds are part of an international creative movement.

To learn more about Minerva, visit their website and follow them on Twitter and Instagram.

Toxey Awarded Curtis and Edith Munson Foundation Grant

Public relations student, Anna Claire Toxey, has received a grant from the Curtis and Edith Munson Foundation to work with Black Warrior Riverkeeper, a nonprofit clean water advocacy organization. A senior at The University of Alabama, Toxey will work as a public relations intern throughout the group’s service area, the 17-county Black Warrior River watershed.

The Curtis and Edith Munson Foundation provides funds to programs that focus on the conservation of natural resources in North America and the Caribbean Basin, with an emphasis on North America. The foundation’s internship grant to the Department of Advertising and Public Relations is an on-going relationship which will yield $54,000 for APR students from 2017-2019.

“I am very grateful for this grant and for the opportunity to work with Black Warrior Riverkeeper this summer,” Toxey said. “Being a Tuscaloosa native makes it even more rewarding to partner with an organization whose primary focus is protecting the historic Black Warrior River. I am looking forward to using my public relations knowledge to help support the organization and its mission.”

As a member of Waterkeeper Alliance, Black Warrior Riverkeeper identifies pollution problems and works to fix them while increasing public awareness. The organization also engages partner groups and individuals in its efforts. Last year, 520 volunteers donated 6,983 hours of community service through Black Warrior Riverkeeper’s projects. The majority of those volunteers were students from The University of Alabama.

“Our great state leads the nation in freshwater biodiversity, but we are plagued by pollution and apathy,” said Charles Scribner, executive director of Black Warrior Riverkeeper. “I am so thankful for The University of Alabama’s nationally renowned PR program helping us spread awareness of these urgent facts.”

“By generously providing students with a grant for the internship, the Munson Foundation helps both the conservation organization as well as the student,” said Dr. Joseph Phelps, chair, Department of Advertising and Public Relations. “It is a wonderful opportunity for students to practice what they are learning in their classes while helping the nonprofit organization meet its objectives.”

Alpine Living Wins National Mark of Excellence

From Left: Mary-Margaret Schmidt, Dr. Kim Bissell, Lane Stafford, Elizabeth Elkin and Jonathan Norris.

C&IS student-produced magazine, Alpine Living, has been awarded a national Mark of Excellence Award from the Society of Professional Journalists in the category of Best Affiliated Website.

This is the seventh national honor for the latest edition of Alpine Living featuring content from the travels of 15 UA students from the department of journalism and creative media to New Zealand in March 2017. The students produced a 100+ page, full-gloss magazine promoting the art, history, culture, people and traditions of New Zealand.

“I am incredibly proud of this team because they have demonstrated that when the bar is high and they strive for excellence, anything is possible,” said Dr. Kim Bissell. “Within three weeks of returning from halfway across the world, we had a print and online version of this magazine with content that was created and produced during our two weeks of travel. Alpine Living is unlike any other student-produced magazine in the country, and I am incredibly proud of this team’s efforts.”

The Society of Professional Journalists’ Mark of Excellence Award recognizes the best in student journalism nationwide. Other national finalists include Harvard University and the University of Texas at Arlington.

Other national honors for the New Zealand issue of Alpine Living include:

  • Best affiliated websiteRegion 3 winner, SPJ Mark of Excellence,
  • Honorable Mention, Feature Story of the Year, Associated Collegiate Press Award, “The Story of the Māori,” Elayne Smith and Madison Sullivan
  • Fourth Place, Multimedia Feature Story of the Year, Associated Collegiate Press Award, “Resilient,” Christopher Edmunds, Cara Walker, Taylor Armer and Thomas Joa.
  • Second place, Online Magazine, AEJMC Magazine Division,
  • Second Place, Service and Information Feature Story, AEJMC Magazine Division, “Sea of Dreams,” Matthew Wilson.
  • Third Place, Single Issue of an Ongoing Magazine—Editorial, AEJMC Magazine Division,

The Alpine Living staff includes UA students: Jonathan Norris, Mary Kathryn Carpenter, Taylor Armer, Hailey Grace Steele, Christopher Edmunds, Madison Sullivan, Kaylin Bowen, Lane Stafford, Elizabeth Elkin, Danielle Waddell, Thomas Joa, Cara Walker, Mary-Margaret Schmidt, Matthew Wilson and Elayne Smith. Students who are a part of the editorial team include graduate and undergraduate students in journalism and creative media and go through a competitive and selective process in order to participate.

Minerva Finishes Out Strong Year

Minerva finishes out the academic year strong with a total of 28 creative advertising awards won in regional, national and international competitions. June 8’s National American Advertising Awards brings C&IS students, Charlotte Frank and Elizabeth Swartz, to Chicago, capping the statement year for Minerva.

Minerva is the creative portfolio specialization in the Department of Advertising and Public Relations. The two-year program places selected students into a cohort through a rigorous application process and guides them through an intense process of creative discovery.

“It’s been a very successful year with Minerva students winning more local, regional, national and international awards for their creative advertising campaigns in 2018 than any other previous year by more than double,” said Mark Barry, Director, creative portfolio specialization. “We will be working hard to build upon this momentum moving forward.”

Two student teams brought home Awards of Merit from the Young Ones Student Awards put on by The One Club for Creativity in New York. The Young Ones competition is considered one of the premier competitions for creative students internationally. The student submissions responded to a creative brief charging the students to partner with FCB Health on an awareness campaign for the ongoing opioid epidemic.

Click on the following links to view the winning student campaigns: 


The complete list of the 2017-2018 Minerva student awards is as follows:

19 Local American Advertising Awards, ADDYs:

6 Gold Winning Teams:
-Mary Buzbee, Elizabeth Swartz
-Emeline Earman, Olivia Ledbetter
-Caroline Clark, Alexia Korte
-Sydney Estill, Joanna Gaylard
-Serenity Lamprakes, Olivia Ledbetter

10 Silver Winning Teams:
– Lauren Meadows, Sydney Pellegrini
– Charlotte Frank, Lauren Meadows
– Mary Buzbee, Julia Hall
– Caleb Ledbetter, Caleb Moon
– Emeline Earman, Sydney Pellegrini (2x)
– Julia Hall, Sydney Pellegrini
– Julia Hall, Caleb Ledbetter, Lauren Meadows
– Alexia Korte, Lexi Warren
– Charlotte Frank, Elizabeth Swartz

2 Judge’s Choice Winning Teams:
– Elizabeth Swartz
– Mary Buzbee, Elizabeth Swartz

1 Student Best of Show:
-Sydney Estill, Joanna Gaylard

6 District 7 American Advertising Awards, ADDYs:

2 Gold Winning Teams:
– Caroline Clark, Alexia Korte
– Elizabeth Swartz

3 Silver Winning Teams:
– Caleb Ledbetter, Caleb Moon
– Emeline Earman, Sydney Pellegrini
– Charlotte Frank, Elizabeth Swartz

1 Judge’s Choice Winning Team:
Caroline Clark, Alexia Korte

1 National American Advertising Award, ADDYs:

Winning Team, will know level June 8:
-Charlotte Frank, Elizabeth Swartz

2 Young Ones One Club Awards of Merit:
-Emeline Earman, Lauren Meadows, Charlotte Frank, Nelle Thomas, Rick Molinaro
-Mary Buzbee, Sydney Estill, Mk Holladay, Sydney Pellegrini, Elizabeth Swartz

For more information about Minerva, visit their website.

Training Days

Communication and Media Preview gives high school students an educational head start.

Luke Winstel and Cheney Harden came to Communication and Media Preview (CAMP) wanting to learn more about sports communication. Luke, a junior, works as a sports announcer, covering six different teams for St. Pius X Catholic High School’s webcast. Cheney is a senior cheerleader at Cherokee High School and has a passion for photography and digital editing. They both live in Georgia, they both love sports, and they are both asking big questions about their futures. In other words, they are exactly the kind of students who benefit from the College’s newest high school program.

“I wanted to come to C&IS CAMP because I wanted to learn more about the sports broadcasting field and what it would be like to work on a broadcast team in college,” said Luke.

“The more I looked into CAMP, I realized that it would provide me with tools to use in the industry I want to enter: sports communication,” Cheney said. “My ideal career path deals with athletic management with a focus on image repair.”


Participants enjoyed a simulated press conference experience with UA Men’s Tennis coach, George Husack, and toured the indoor football practice facility, and the set of the Nick Saban Show inside the College’s Digital Media Center.


After an intense week of diving headfirst into sports communication, they traveled home a step ahead of their peers. Through hands-on learning and classroom discussions, 50 students like Luke and Cheney discovered a variety of career opportunities surrounding sports communication at the very first CAMP. They engaged in specialized skill seminars, interactive presentations from industry professionals and C&IS faculty, a team lip-sync battle, collaborative workshops and a final group campaign.

“Getting experience through the campaign helped me hone my skills and develop as a communicator,” said Luke. “We were able to participate in a press conference with the UA men’s tennis and women’s gymnastics teams, which gave me valuable experience I can use as an aspiring sportscaster.”

Before ever stepping foot on campus as a college freshman, CAMP participants experienced what it’s like to learn from some of the nation’s leading educators in areas such as advertising, public relations, video production, news media and public speaking. The participants were immersed in an atmosphere that offered a real glimpse into what college is like.

“It was very beneficial to work with professors from The University in a smaller, group setting when it came time to work on our skills,” said Cheney. “I was one of the people in my group not as accustomed to visual design, so having the professors there to help teach us the skills we needed was awesome!”

No matter the task at hand—a skill session with a C&IS faculty member or taking notes during the hype video presentation from Crimson Tide Productions—CAMP encouraged participants to grow in areas where they may have had little experience. Introducing high school students to highly technical camera and production equipment and industry-leading, video and photography editing software comes with a steep learning curve. The students rose to the challenge and produced campaigns worthy of the UA Athletics teams they represented.

“A part of CAMP that was difficult for me was video editing,” said Luke. “I had never attempted it before, and it was very tough to learn at first. The faculty and CAMP leaders were extremely helpful, and I improved in two or three days.”

Our award-winning faculty members worked alongside CAMP participants in state-of-the-art University facilities using some of the most cutting-edge equipment and software available.


Whether it is print journalism or a web-based video broadcast, finishing assignments under a deadline somewhat defines the communication industry. CAMP participants gained valuable experience completing their campaigns while working against the clock. The adversity of a hard deadline and the teamwork needed to complete a major project went hand in hand in forging relationships.

“This was by far one of the best experiences I have ever had, bonding with the people at CAMP,” said Cheney. From my roommates to my team members and even to participants who were on other project teams, I formed amazing friendships which will last.”

Luke agrees.

“I got to meet a multitude of peers with similar interests and learn from them,” said Luke. “I still stay in contact with them, and made many new friends I would not have if I did not attend CAMP.”

C&IS CAMP brought together students from across the country to experience the
world of sports communication. Altogether, this new program required a year of preparation and collaboration from C&IS faculty and staff, partners in UA Athletics and a small army of student leaders. According to Luke, it was all worthwhile.

This experience was one of the best I have ever had in my life. Before CAMP, I was not really considering The University of Alabama as an option for college, but after CAMP, it is number one on my list.


Registration is now live for C&IS CAMP 2018! For frequently asked questions, registration information and pricing, visit our CAMP website here.

Secret Meals for Hungry Children Feeds 1,200

Over the last 15 semesters, more than 440 public relations students have fed over 1,200 children, raising a combined $149,791.18 to date.

Susan Daria’s APR 419, Concepting and Implementation, takes public relations students and gives them a semester-long project that benefits West Alabama’s needy children through Secret Meals for Hungry Children.

The class allows students to use skills they learn in their public relations courses to attract media attention, earn social media placements and radio spots. This semester, 37 students earned four WVUA feature stories, five articles, two iHeart Radio announcements, a spot on the Kip Tyner Show, a feature on the University’s website and various other social media placements. They raised over $11,890 which will feed more than 84 local children.

SMHC works with teachers and school counselors to place pre-made food packs into each needy child’s backpack while they are at recess on Fridays. Daria began partnering with Alabama Credit Union and her students in 2011 to support this organization.

“Just when I think they have tried it all, my students come up with even more unique ways to engage and educate the public about childhood hunger and simple ways to make a positive change, locally,” said Daria. “Their ideas have been everything from a fishing tournament to a spin-a-thon to a battle of the bands event! You name it. What inspires them, inspires me, and then we all work together to figure out how to make their ideas come to life! It is really gratifying.”

C&IS students are positively impacting the community where they live. For more information about SMHC, visit their website.

The group also has a YouTube channel, where you can check out many of the various project this class has produced to raise money to feed children in need.

Alabama Public Radio Wins National RFK Journalism Award

Back row, from left: Steve Hecmanczuk, Christina Turner, Rachel Buzzotta, Allison Mollenkamp, Alex Richey. Front row, from left: Alex AuBuchon, Pat Duggins, Stan Ingold

Alabama Public Radio has been named the winner of the national Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award for their yearlong investigation and documentary, “Help Wanted: Alabama’s Rural Health Care Crisis.

Each year, the Washington D.C. based advocacy group, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, selects winners in 13 categories with only one radio news operation chosen. APR is the 2018 winner. Previous radio winners include National Public Radio and the Bob Edwards Show on SiriusXM.

“I am so proud of the APR news team and delighted that their work has been recognized by the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award for radio,” says Elizabeth Brock, Director of the Center for Public Television and Radio. “Pat, Stan and Alex are dedicated to reporting stories of importance to Alabama’s diverse citizenry—and taking on the state of health care was an important and ambitious endeavor. The support of the University of Alabama and our colleagues at the College of Communication and Information Sciences and the generosity of our listeners and community leaders make it all possible.”

APR’s investigation of rural health care in Alabama takes on a variety of issues, including diabetes, pregnancy and childbirth. Studies often rank Alabama as having the highest infant mortality rate in the nation, and the greatest number of diabetics. Furthermore, seven rural Alabama counties do not have a hospital, and only sixteen counties have a hospital capable of delivering a baby.

“The deeper we dug into the rural health issue in Alabama, the worse it got,” says APR News Director Pat Duggins. “The news team and I can’t describe how flattered we are with this generous award. Hopefully, it will help shine an even brighter light on the challenges rural Alabamians face in obtaining the medical care they need.”

Founded by the reporters who covered Robert F. Kennedy’s historic 1968 presidential campaign, the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards honor outstanding reporting on issues that reflect Robert Kennedy’s concerns, including human rights, social justice, and the power of individual action in the United States and around the world.

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights will present its national Journalism Award to the APR news team at a ceremony at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. in May.

Alabama Public Radio is a network of public radio stations licensed by The University of Alabama and located in Bryant-Denny Stadium’s Digital Media Center. Its affiliation with the College of Communication and Information Sciences gives students opportunities for practical training in a variety of production activities.

2018 Holle Award Winners Announced

From Left: Blake Hudson, Dean Mark Nelson, Mary Clay Kline

The College of Communication and Information Sciences has announced the winners of the 2018 Holle Awards for Excellence and Creativity in Communication.

The awards are designed to celebrate and reward student achievement in the areas of book arts, filmmaking, media writing, public speaking and screenwriting.

  • The Holle Award for Excellence in Book Arts is awarded to 2017 University of Iowa MFA graduate, Lisa Miles, for her piece, “Codex Chup Cabal.” Judges prized the piece for its considerable display of historical and technical research that offered the reader a beautifully crafted book with universal meaning and impact.
  • The Holle Award for Excellence in Filmmaking is awarded to UCLA student, Kristopher D. Wilson, for “Mid-City Blue,” a film about a hopeful police academy graduate who experiences a routine traffic stop in civilian clothes, providing him with a newfound perspective on his career of choice.
  • The Holle Award for Excellence in Media Writing is awarded to UA’s Mary Clay Kline, of Cleveland, Mississippi. Her submission led one judge to remark, “[Her] work is a demonstration that better reporting leads to better stories.”
  • The Holle Award for Excellence in Public Speaking is awarded to UA’s Grace Meagher of Joliet, Illinois. Her speech cast a light on the gender gap in children’s literacy ability, that young boys read less than young girls. She directed the audience to curb this trend by encouraging the young boys in their lives to read more.
  • The Holle Award for Excellence in Screenwriting is awarded to UA’s Blake Hudson, of Clanton, Alabama, for his work, “The Last Resorts Club.” This script was praised by judges for its structure and its ability to lead the reader to great empathy for its characters.
Holle Award for Public Speaking winner, Grace Meagher, with Dr. Adam Brooks (left) and Dr. Alexa Chilcutt (right)

“The 2018 Holle Award winners have proven to be a uniquely talented and inspirational group of students from across the country,” said Dr. Mark Nelson, dean of the College of Communication and Information Sciences. “These students excel in communication and creativity, two things Brigadier General Everett Holle believed in and supported through his generosity in funding these awards. He will be missed but his legacy lives on in the Holle Awards.”

The Holle Awards are named for the 1950 graduate of The University of Alabama who served as an announcer, director, writer and producer during his 40-year career at NBC 13. Holle was a member of the College of Communication and Information Sciences’ board of visitors where he passionately invested in the success of University of Alabama students for years.

Tough Crowd

A small group of kindergartners huddles closely together on the carpet of their classroom, sitting criss-cross, applesauce. They inch forward all throughout the readings, jockeying for the best positions to see each book’s illustrations. Angela Billings’ oral interpretation students feed off of the children’s excitement. Each student’s reading grew in confidence and quality from “Once upon a time” to “Happily ever after.”

As a part of her course curriculum, Billings, communication studies, sends her students to the toughest group of critics around: kindergartners. Throughout the semester, her oral interpretation students read to classrooms full of elementary school students to develop their skillset in areas such as tone, resonance and eye contact.

This process is an integral part of how she teaches oral interpretation—a class she describes as pooling together several elements of a public speaking class, an acting class, a literature class and a voice and diction class. The activity presents a unique challenge to the students and reinforces their course material through experiential learning.

“One of the first assignments we do is children’s literature, because, for most of us, this was our first introduction to oral interpretation—our parents orally interpreted our books for us,” said Billings. “When my dad read Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs to me, he made the characters, the sound effects and the descriptions all come alive. [Our parents reading to us] is what creates our love of reading.”

Oral interpretation is more than just reading out loud or public speaking. The presenter at the front of the room has to stand the way a character would stand, imitate their voices, act out all their movements and mimic sounds to drive home the audience experience. For some students, this can be overwhelming.

“A lot of students come into this class with high levels of anxiety. The thought of getting up in front of a classroom is terrifying,” said Billings. “But you get them in front of a group of kindergartners and eventually, they don’t want to leave.”

Such was the case on Wednesday, April 25. Billings students read and voiced characters for books such as Where the Wild Things Are, Pete the Cat: Robo-Pete, and Dragons Love Tacos. By the mornings’ end, their excitement matched that of the kindergartners’ smile for smile.