Flint Hills Media Project has covered the event since 2010
While the annual Symphony in the Flint Hills allows concert spectators to enjoy and appreciate the beauty of the Flint Hills, it also allows a learning opportunity for a group of students at Wichita State University.
The Flint Hills Media Project, an immersive communication course in WSU’s Elliott School of Communication, has covered the annual concert every summer since 2010. The project is the product of Les Anderson, who taught at the Elliott School from 1977 until his death in 2011.
Amy DeVault, project faculty, assisted Anderson during the first two years of the project. She said Anderson wanted to give the symphony some coverage, which it had lacked up until 2010.
“Les was friends with some people who were involved in Symphony in the Flint Hills,” DeVault said. “He commented that he could not believe there were 5,000 people out in a pasture with a symphony concert and there was no coverage of it. No newspapers covered it. That sparked the idea of, ‘Why don’t I bring some students out there to cover it?’”
Anderson asked DeVault to co-instruct the class with him, and they brought a group of 21 students with them.
After Anderson’s death in November 2011, associate professor Kevin Hager, another Elliott School instructor, jumped on board the project. Hager’s focus during the project is video, and can often be seen both shooting video and instructing students on how to get the best shot.
Since the project’s inception, DeVault said, it has grown significantly. After the first year, Anderson and DeVault had the students taking the class trek out to the small towns surrounding the concert site, and tell stories of life in those small towns.
“With it being in a different location each summer, and being in locations where most of our students have never been — many of them have never been in the Flint Hills, other than just driving through the Turnpike — we thought it was a really good opportunity for them to meet people and practice those real storytelling skills with people,” DeVault said.
This year, students will cover El Dorado, Rosalia, Cassoday, Beaumont and Eureka.
One of the best parts of covering those towns, DeVault said, is giving students a chance to find their own stories, instead of just being assigned coverage.
“It’s a nice blend — a combination of stories we assign to them, but much of it, and I think the most valuable piece of the project, is the enterprising, where they go out and find their own stories. Find people who have interesting stories to tell, who no one would ever know were there, or never know those interesting stories. And photograph them and write about them.”
Often, students say this class is one of the best classes they take, both within the Elliott School and within WSU.
“It’s been awesome so far. I didn’t realize Kansas was so pretty,” senior Jake Trease said. Trease is a first-time student of the course.
DeVault agreed that the project is extremely beneficial to students. She said one huge takeaway for students is that Kansas is an interesting place.
“It has interesting landscapes, interesting people,” she said. “So, for the students to get out there and meet those people and see those parts of Kansas they’ve maybe never experienced before is huge.”
For DeVault and Hager, they get a chance to have a closer relationship with students, DeVault said, especially in terms of getting to know students on a more personal level.
“It’s one thing for us to stand in front of a classroom and tell people how to do it, but to be able to mentor them in the field, it’s more of an apprentice situation, where you work alongside them,” DeVault said. “Kevin and I both have professional backgrounds, so we can show them, ‘This is how we interview,” or, ‘This is how we would shoot that photo,’ or, ‘This is how we would tell the story,’ and hopefully that helps them learn to do their craft.”
Getting to cover Kansas is something students are looking forward to with the project.
“Kansas is so absolutely beautiful,” senior Kevin Brown said. “The fact that I have been able to document it in-depth with twenty-one other people is one of the coolest experiences of my entire life.”
Ultimately, DeVault said, students are getting the hands-on experience doing what they think they want to do for a living.
“They’re not just sitting in a classroom listening to someone telling them how they’re going to do their job someday,” she said. “They’re getting out there and they’re learning how to do it in the field, literally.
To follow the work of the project online, visit www.flinthillsmediaproject.com, like “Flint Hills Media Project” on Facebook and follow @WSUfhmp on Twitter.