Chinese painter LuFei Sun, who goes by her English name Vera, sits in a quiet cafeteria in Champlain College’s summer-deserted IDX Student Life Center and shows friends her artwork on her smartphone. “I used many dry brushstrokes here to create this texture,” she says. “I created this to imitate traditional Chinese paintings, but I hope to incorporate more technology and emergent media into my art.”
Vera, in addition to three other students from Shanghai, China, are currently living at Champlain College’s Burlington, Vermont campus to take two courses towards earning their Masters in Science degrees in Emergent Media from the College’s new international graduate program. Four students from the inaugural class are working within the College’s Emergent Media Center with the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) students, undergraduate students, staff and faculty on a multitude of group and individual projects. Slated to graduate July 9, the students have enjoyed outings on Church Street, weekend trips to Boston, and plenty of time with their classmates.
The MS in Emergent Media program at Champlain, which began in 2013, provides a personal and rigorous experience for creative thinkers looking to build and refine careers around media, technology and design. Initiated last fall, the program attracts students and young professionals from different backgrounds looking to gain knowledge to apply to their individual interests.
“After two semesters of study in Shanghai, before coming to Burlington, the most valuable knowledge for my career is learning about user interface design and social media,” said Ming Hu, a development director of a software company in Shanghai. “With new consumer trends having emerged in recent years, such as mobile platforms and rich interactive websites, we have to pay more attention to the user experience we provide.”
Kang Jing, who goes by her English name Kiki, is excited to learn how to incorporate new media into her job in journalism at Shanghai Media Group. “If I use new multimedia technology to deliver my report, it might influence the audience more; if I use a new channel [like social media or a mobile app] to deliver this report, I also need to consider producing content relevant to this channel and its users.” With a background in traditional journalism, Kiki saw the importance of personally adapting as media evolves around her. “Journalism in the US has adapted to new technology faster than in China,” Kiki noted; she is excited to be studying Emergent Media in the states.
“The American students’ attitudes towards class discussion and homework is different than in China,” continued Kiki. Ming agreed, noting that learning about the American education system, culture and values is one of the greatest takeaways from the experience.
“Now we have two courses and we study with nearly 10 American MFA and undergraduate students,” said Vera. “I often communicate with American and international students when we’re doing projects together that help me to develop more creative ideas.” Vera is the only Shanghainese student that had not been to the United States prior to the graduate program.
In the two courses the students are currently taking, they are working to create and promote emergent media products to use in higher education and other industries in the Puzzles and Prototypes course, and to collaboratively design a game for psychiatrist Albert J. Levis, founder and director of the Museum of the Creative Process in Manchester, Vermont. Their task in this course, Collaborative Production, is to introduce and promote his art and science ideology to the public.
“The Collaborative Production class allows me to utilize my background in marketing,” said ZiChen Liu, who goes by Jin. “I had to write the scope of the project, collect user feedback, do research and development for the product, create a budget, and write a full reflection and formal business plan.” The Collaborative Production course is the only 6-credit course in the 30-credit program.
“When I studied at Shanghai University in the college of fine art, we mostly studied art theory and painted to imitate traditional masters of painting.” Vera noted that the classroom did not incorporate much open discussion, as Champlain’s MS in Emergent Media program does.
Fellow MFA student Jonathan Mikulak of Burlington noted that all of the class formats are different, but he appreciates getting to share his personal experiences, projects and ideas with classmates. Recently having attended the HOW Design Live Conference in Boston, Mikulak, who is also a senior graphic designer in Champlain College’s marketing department, got to share his impressions on the keynotes and art from the conference. This discussion format allows students to get to know each others’ backgrounds, interests, and strengths within art and technology; the opportunity to collaborate and get thorough critiques on their work is always at their disposal.
“We have a concept we call ‘critical friends’, which is where people are working together, looking at each others’ work, and trying to make everything they do better on a daily basis,” said John Banks, program director of the MFA in Emergent Media. The concept is important for network complexity and working with the unknown. “All these things are better addressed by a group then by an individual,” he continued.
This collaborative production environment immerses students in the latest technological advances. The program is housed in the Emergent Media Center (EMC) at Champlain College, an award-winning hotbed of digital innovation specializing in the design and production of electronic games, mobile applications and other interactive experiences. The EMC fosters intense collaboration between undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and staff, as well as sponsoring organizations through its unique academic-business hybrid model. The multi-program academic Center of Excellence even includes a new MakerLab, a space where people from across disciplines evolve ideas and collaborate on projects at the intersection of art, technology and entrepreneurship. In this prototyping facility, students have the opportunity to learn how to use new equipment, such as 3D printers, laser cutters, vinyl cutters, and more traditional tools to manufacture physical components.
“I could use the new high-technology we are working with in the MakerLab to enhance my career, as well as my personal creation of art. By combining the emergent media skills with traditional art, I could even create a new art form,” said Vera.
“As Vera has once said, Chinese universities and colleges seldom have this kind of major, and we are happy to be able to provide it to students in Shanghai,” said Associate Dean of Emergent Media Ann DeMarle. “The program provides them with the understanding of the tool sets, the dynamic of managing a team, and also the processes that can lead to more creative development.” She also notes the new global viewpoint, which brings the MFA students in Burlington together with the Shanghainese MS of Emergent Media students.
The MFA students in Burlington already are benefiting from collaborating with the MS in Emergent Media students in Shanghai via web-based tools and then work alongside them during their residency in Burlington. Plans are in place for added real-world opportunities that will result in a broadened global perspective and increased international fluency. By the spring 2016 semester, MFA students will have the chance to travel to the new Emergent Media campus in Shanghai as part of a collaboration and connection exchange program.
“Everything is fresh to me, including the life, people and the environment here in Burlington, Vermont,” said Vera, “And I think the two weeks I’ve spent here so far have been the most relaxing and enjoyable times of my life, especially after having worked six years in the marketing industry in China.”
After his experience in Burlington, Ming concluded that people in the program are enjoying creating ideas for fun, and instead of focusing solely on profit are focusing on the research and development process. “New ideas have value to make our lives better, and although it might not be profitable to the market at present, people just want to experience that process of creation. I believe the encouragement of innovation in the United States’ academic atmosphere will make the US a leader in emergent technologies.”
Jin agrees that the style of learning in the States challenges one’s hands-on and problem solving abilities more than strictly one’s intellectual capacities. “A major difference between here and my home country is the creative atmosphere,” Jin said. “In China, students are limited by time and have to put all of their energy into homework and exams; they rarely get the chance to participate in ‘maker activities’ or find the time to create things by themselves. The US has a very mature maker culture, and this program provides a great opportunity to improve not only your business mind-set, but also your hands-on skills. It trains you from different perspectives and on different dimensions.”
The first class of MS in Emergent Media students from Shanghai are to graduate on July 9, and Frank Liu will be the Commencement Speaker. Frank Liu currently serves as the Chairman of Jiuyou Fund, Deputy to the National People’s Congress, Executive Committee Member of Shanghai Commission of Science and Technology, and Vice President of Shanghai Modern Service Industry Association. Liu is one of the best-known and accomplished leaders and practitioners to aggressively develop Chinese modern high-tech industries and help international companies achieve success in the Chinese market.
The MS in Emergent Media is just one of many new initiatives at Champlain College building international bridges with Shanghai. The Freeman Foundation funded a second annual grant to the Stiller School of Business for 10 or more students to experience internships in China. “The Freeman Foundation grant recipients for the summer of 2013, and now 2014, represent a dynamic and diverse group from Champlain’s Stiller School of Business,” said Director of Study Abroad Noah Goldblatt. “The participants are outstanding ambassadors for the United States, and leave their Chinese hosts asking for more Champlain College students. The 2014 cohort will benefit from a new intensive four-week Chinese immersion program in Shanghai. This immersion program aims to enhance cultural competence prior to commencing the internship in China.”
The College has partnered with Shanghai University of International Business and Economics (SUIBE) for the four-week Chinese cultural immersion program, but also as a global partners program for study abroad as well.
“Shanghai is the most recent international initiative at Champlain. The goal of having a presence there is to advance Champlain’s name in China and, especially, to have the College develop close working relationships with Chinese game and new media companies,” said Champlain College President David F. Finney. “We would like those companies to rely on us the same way that North American game development companies rely on Champlain graduates.
“With the Freeman Foundation grant we are also able to provide a life changing learning experience for our undergraduate business students,” Finney continued. “Taken together, these two programs represent a multi-pronged initiative in China that will help Champlain foster closer ties between Vermont businesses and China.”
In 2013 and 2014, Freeman Foundation grant recipients from the Stiller School of Business have worked at Jiuyou Fund in Shanghai, a platform that provides a vehicle for western entrepreneurs and small to mid-sized enterprises to participate in the fastest growing economy in the world. For the MS in Emergent Media Commencement, Liu is visiting Vermont with his long time business partner Yong Zhang, Chairman of North American High-Tech Center (NAHTC). Headquartered in Massachusetts, NAHTC is a platform for regional exchange and cooperation between US and China in areas of incubation, investment, and education. NAHTC helped organize internship placements and provided an orientation for all Freeman Grant recipients.
For more information on the MS in Emergent Media or the MFA Program, the maker space, and more within Champlain College’s Emergent Media Center, visit http://emergentmedia.champlain.edu.