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Digital Dreams Come True

It’s a strange new world, but Albright College’s new interdisciplinary digital majors are cultivating its next leaders.

If you haven’t searched for a job lately, take a glance at an employment listing; it may just surprise you. The digitization and mechanization of nearly all aspects of life have made many jobs obsolete. But they have also spurred a host of new careers, not least of which is the rather trendy “social media manager.” Companies across the economic spectrum are digitizing products and processes and embracing web, mobile and social platforms to reach an increasingly connected yet fragmented audience. And they’re turning to today’s younger employees to shepherd them through this unfamiliar terrain.

“The younger generation, for the first time in history, is passing knowledge up through the generations,” says Matthew Garrison, M.F.A., associate professor of digital media.

With that in mind, Albright recently introduced four new interdisciplinary majors – digital communications, digital studio art, digital video arts, and game and simulation development. For years, students have been independently combining studies in communications, art, theatre and computer science with digital media. But these new programs, each culminating in a capstone experience, offer a more focused framework.

“We felt it would serve students better to also offer full majors intentionally designed from the ground up to mesh digital skills and ways of seeing with the disciplinary content students are focusing on,” says Joseph Thomas, Ph.D., dean of undergraduate studies. “For today’s students, digital expertise is no longer just a useful overlay; it’s part of the building blocks of knowledge.”

Today’s employers want a jack-of-all-trades, comfortable with technology, adaptable to change and adept at multi-tasking, says Karen Evans, M.L.D., assistant dean of experiential learning and director of career development.”We’re hearing from employers that they don’t get all this digital stuff. They like young people trained in this,” Evans says.

Given the tempo of change, the new digital majors focus less on particular technology or programs and more on foundational, transferable and timeless skills, including good writing, effective communication, visual literacy, problem solving and critical thinking – hallmarks of Albright’s liberal arts approach – which can help students land jobs in diverse fields.

“It makes you more employable,” says Evans. And as more companies recognize the need to go digital, and the overall economy improves, more opportunities should open. “As the industry changes, people will be writing their own job descriptions,” she added.

Digital Communications

With each passing year, fewer Americans get their news from newspapers and nightly broadcasts. Instead, they increasingly browse the web, check mobile devices and consult social media to see what’s trending. To keep pace, the advertising and marketing sectors have embraced new media to reach this increasingly fragmented consumer base. Most Americans are immigrants in this digital world. But today’s Albrightians are natives, reared on technology and, thanks to the digital communications major, poised to be the next leaders in the fields of digital journalism, marketing, corporate communications and public relations.

The digital communications major emphasizes the broader history and social effects of media and digital culture and the theories guiding digital production and advertising. Theory is put into practice through courses in writing, digital production, research and design, and experiential opportunities.

“Being a small liberal arts college, we really concentrate on marrying theory to what’s actually happening,” says program coordinator Margaret Rakus, who frequently checks entry-level job postings to stay abreast of employers’ needs. While the traditional journalism labor market is tenuous, Rakus says, there’s a strong demand in the area of strategic communication. Employers, she says, want candidates who can write for multiple platforms, develop websites and possess an artistic eye.

Digital communications major Megan Homsher ’15 experienced this firsthand during a recent internship where she was asked to write, edit, and work on a website and video. “It’s just expected,” says Homsher. “It’s hard but it makes for a fun education.”

When Nathaniel Martin ’02 graduated, Albright’s digital media department was still in its infancy. Facebook and Twitter had yet to be invented, and most cell phones only made calls. But Martin recognized that digital media was the future and combined the program with marketing. It’s paid off. The associate account director for NYM worldgroup, a media agency in Manhattan, is thriving in the world of non-traditional, outside-the-home advertising. “The evolution of technology in the past 10 to 15 years has been enormous. But I still have the root of what I learned in my digital media curriculum,” says Martin. “Digital is a skillset that can be applied in multiple areas, and it provides a huge competitive advantage in the job market.”

Digital Studio Art

Jessica Davis ’17 is a born artist. But in true millennial fashion, her passion is coupled with a love for digital. “Digital art is easy to modify and get the picture in my mind out into the world,” says the aspiring animation/video game concept designer. While researching colleges, Davis was drawn to Albright’s digital studio art major. “It’s such a broad degree but contains all the skills needed,” she says.

Digital studio art integrates the creative concepts and techniques inherent in digital media and visual arts. The major fuses the foundational principles of design, drawing and sculpture with digital illustration and web design, as well as media theories that assist students in creating integrated products. “It’s using the strengths of two areas,” says Richard Hamwi, Ph.D., associate professor of art. “It’s quite unique.”

Some students gravitate toward the digital; others favor traditional art forms. “But each recognizes that having knowledge of both increases their survival skills in seeking jobs,” says Hamwi. A digital studio art degree can lead to careers in graphic and web design, illustration, and gallery and museum work.

Digital Video Arts

Through internships and post-graduate employment, including a job as a producer’s assistant at Sprout, Gabby Fundyga ’13 has had to tackle everything from legal-related work to marketing to helping direct young talent with their acting. “You do whatever needs to be done. You have to understand every aspect,” says Fundyga, who honed her versatility as Albright’s first digital video arts graduate.

The major, jointly offered by the digital media and theatre departments, leads students through an integrated curriculum, weaving together history, theory and skills associated with the challenging arenas of pre-production, production and post-production. Whether they’re aspiring screenwriters or producers, students learn all aspects of the business, even taking acting courses to understand life in front of the camera.

“Whether your project is two minutes or two hours, here are the problems to solve: write it, cast it, finance it, film it, edit it, market it and distribute it,” says program coordinator and artist in residence Jeffrey Lentz ’85.

Advances in format, content and delivery have provided audiences a seemingly infinite number of choices of when, where, how and what to watch. Digital video arts, says Lentz, asks students to consider where they fit and what they offer. “That’s sobering and empowering,” he says.

Game and Simulation Development

Game and simulation development is not all space invaders and first-person shooters. To be sure, Albright’s new major is preparing graduates for careers in the exciting and lucrative video game market, which could see global revenue reach $111 billion by 2015, according to technology research firm Gartner. But game and simulation development is also readying students for jobs in business, education, entertainment, communications and national defense.

“Game and simulation development is a cutting-edge major that affords a wide expanse of opportunities for people in the computer science arena, software engineering and software development,” says Professor Dan Falabella, Ph.D., chair of Albright’s computer science and digital media departments. “This is an up-and-coming field, and you don’t find many four-year programs in liberal arts settings.”

The major incorporates multiple disciplines, including computer science, digital media, mathematics, music and physics. Students study programming, artificial intelligence, industry-standard software packages and game engine development, and apply software engineering skills to game and simulation development. The curriculum is structured to strengthen creative and critical thinking, oral and written communication skills, and personal, social and global awareness.

“The most exciting part with all these digital ventures is we’re inviting young artists to the academic table in a way that’s never been done before,” says Lentz. “That, to me, is extraordinary and a fantastic opportunity.”

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