2015 Editions of 'Lafayette Lens' a Resounding Success

Posted by Helene Barker Kiser on

The room is in happy chaos, with platters of wings, pizza, and cheese sticks and pitchers of drinks swarmed by college students. A steady stream of arrivals swells the standing room-only throng. Friends shout greetings over the crowd, and laughter punctuates the festive atmosphere in every corner.

At precisely 7:00 p.m., the room erupts in a cacophony of cheering. Suddenly, as if a plug has been pulled, the room falls silent. Every face turns toward the wall-mounted flat screen televisions in rapt attention. Someone grabs the remote and turns the volume to maximum.

This is no sporting event, awards show, or music event. It’s public television.

The Lafayette Lens broadcast has begun.

A joint project of the Lafayette College Policy Studies Program, PBS39, and the IDEAL Center, with additional support from an Assante Think Tank award and George Rossmann, Lafayette Lens is a student-run public affairs program produced entirely by Lafayette College students.

Ask any student about his or her involvement with Lafayette Lens and you’ll hear such gushing phrases as “one of my top college experiences,” “a life-changing event,” “the best class I ever took,” and other lofty descriptors on par with “a defining moment in my life.” And it’s no wonder.

Like other public affairs programming, the mission of Lafayette Lens is to address complex and important issues that lie at the intersection of business, technology, and public policy. What makes Lafayette Lens distinctive is its singular partnership with PBS to confront these issues from the perspective of the students, the next generation of global leaders and future policy makers.

“PBS is consistently ranked one of America’s most trusted brands, and we don’t throw that trust around. It‘s essential that we partner with people we can trust to maintain our mission to educate, inspire, inform and entertain,” says Laura McHugh, executive producer at PBS39.

Indeed, while the station has relationships with students in internship programs, the Lafayette Lens partnership is unique because of the level of PBS39’s immersion with the students who create the show. Working collaboratively with the executive producers—McHugh and Lafayette faculty—students are involved in all phases of production: brainstorming, research, story development, interview tips, techniques, and scheduling; shooting; writing, revising, and editing scripts; and post-production and technical work.

Students care deeply about the topics, which are both timely and relevant. Previous subjects have included drone technology, hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), and 3-D printing. For spring 2015, the complex, multifaceted issues of immigration and cybersecurity were the focus of two expanded half hour broadcasts.

“Immigration leveraged the knowledge students gained from coursework across campus and their passion for the subject,” said Nicole Crain, associate director and visiting professor at the IDEAL Center. “Cybersecurity may seem a more dispassionate topic, but the very real effects of breaches on people’s lives motivated students to understand it and educate others.”

The opportunity for students to conduct in-depth research on topics that matter to them and present their work to the millions of people who tune in to PBS39 is second to none.

“Students work to convey multiple perspectives on a major policy issue,” said Lafayette College senior Anne Kaplan. “In doing so, students learn about the topic, hone their communication skills, and help the viewers to be better informed about an issue that impacts their lives.”

“The PBS brand legitimizes the project in a way that the students’ prospective employers take very seriously,” added Jack Shaw, a sophomore at Lafayette.

Lafayette College students frame every aspect of Lafayette Lens themselves. Because the students—73 worked on the 2015 broadcasts—come from different backgrounds and interests, the production is a true interdisciplinary experience; one that yields a rich and engaging product, as well as the opportunity to be immersed in a real-world collaborative process.

“Lafayette Lens forced me to come out of my box,” said Lafayette College senior Kelsy Wright. “One of the most important lessons I learned was that you can’t do everything by yourself. You need your team to succeed.”

“I learned more from this experience than any other class, without a doubt,” Lafayette junior Randall Goldfarb added. “It was amazing to work with so many different personalities to create something informative and artistic.”

Instead of describing a problem in a 20-page paper, students might have just a minute and a half to tell the story in 12-second sound bites. Condensing complicated stories into a simple narrative is an essential part of the process; one that requires discernment to discover and make decisions about what is essential information.

Making that narrative visually engaging, as well, can prove challenging.

“While you could theoretically film a robbery from start to finish, someone breaking in and stealing something and running away, cyber security is invisible—you can’t see the actual hack,” explained Abby Williams, a Lafayette senior. “We were challenged to show the information in a visually engaging way.”

Throughout the process, students learned a wide variety of transferrable, real-life skills. These included problem-solving, leadership, project and time management, organization, collaboration, storytelling, research, writing, editing, critical thinking, public speaking, and interviewing. They also learned how to think on their feet when things went wrong, as well as the importance of meeting deadlines.

Wiley Houldin, a Lafayette College senior, noted that the Lafayette Lens experience challenged him to use skills he hadn’t yet fully developed.

“(It made me) feel better prepared and more excited to enter the workforce,” Houldin said. “While most classes might give you a textbook about clocks, and you can read about and pass tests on clocks, Lafayette Lens hands you a clock. As you take apart the clock and build it back together, you really understand, on a deep level, what a clock is all about.”

As the students worked together to create compelling stories on complex issues, they found themselves pushed to understand the issues’ significance.

“Living a meaningful life demands the ability to discover not only what is most essential, but also to think critically about why it is,” said Mark Crain, Lafayette College Policy Studies program chair. “Producing Lafayette Lens is all about that process.”

For more information on the Lafayette College’s Policy Studies program and Lafayette Lens, go to: https://policystudies.lafayette.edu/students-produce-lafayette-lens-at-pbs39/

Watch the complete broadcast on cybersecurity:

On immigration:

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