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July 20, 2018

travel journalismAsbury University programs are designed to give students not only top quality in-the-classroom learning experiences but also top quality out-of-the-classroom opportunities. This summer, MFA students traveled to Los Angeles, Calif. with Professor Sarah Hogencamp while undergraduate journalism students traveled to Memphis, Tenn., Washington D.C. and New York, N.Y. with Professor Heather Hornbeak.

The undergraduate photojournalism trip, credited as JRN 285: Travel Journalism, earned students three credit hours and spanned from July 3 to July 17.

For Katherine Sheets ’20, one of the most exciting parts of the trip was getting to network with Asbury graduates currently working in journalism.

“One of the coolest things we’ve done has been meeting up with Asbury alums because they can connect with us in ways that other professionals haven’t been able to,” Sheets said. “They have similar experiences to us.”

The course introduced the students not only to professionals working in traditional journalism spaces but also to those working in related fields like graphic design, nonprofit communications and private news organizations.

While in Tennessee, the group attended the Dave Ramsey Show and met with Ramsey briefly following the show’s taping. During their stay in D.C., students toured the Newseum (a journalism museum) and, in New York, the group sat in on a morning news meeting at The Associated Press.

“I’ve learned that there’s more than just your major after college,” Sheets said. “I’m a Journalism and Music major but I don’t know what that’s going to look like. Through this trip, I’ve been able to see all the opportunities. Journalism doesn’t just mean sitting on camera for CNN or writing newspaper articles for the New York Times. There are so many more opportunities through nonprofits, private news organizations and mission groups. It’s very eye-opening to know that maybe if I don’t get that one print newspaper job, it’s not the end of the world. There are so many other ways to impact the world.”

Required of all MFA students, the Los Angeles Trip ran from June 4 to June 15 and took students to several sites in L.A. where they visited major industry movers and shakers as well as Asbury alumni working in the city. The group received camera and color correction training at Abel Cine and lighting training at Mole-Richardson, the company that invented the Fresnel Spotlight.

They also met with Hollywood luminaries like head of Hollywood Prayer Network Karen Covell, X-Men film producer Ralph Winter, alumni filmmakers Brady ’93 and Andrea Gyertson ’95 Nasfell and VP of Character Voices at Disney Studios Rick Dempsey, among many others.

For two of the students on the trip, Sean O’Connor and David Stephenson, a big surprise at Jimmy Kimmel Live one evening made the class trip all the more special. The surprise? O’Connor and Stephenson were told they were going to be extras in the upcoming film Creed II.

“Most of the people we met on this trip had connections to an Asbury faculty member or even one of our students,” O’Connor said. “Because of that, our interactions were very personalized. Not only were we able to ask several different writers, producers and others in the industry specific questions about their experience, but our time with them felt less like a panel discussion and more like a personal conversation. I came away with a lot of lessons not only about the industry but also about balancing work and family life, maintaining a personal relationship with Jesus and sharing Christ with those I encounter in my community. I have a feeling that’s something few MFA programs provide, but Asbury’s sure does.”

For Hogencamp, the joy of taking MFA students to L.A. is tenfold.

“I love L.A. and love going back to L.A.,” Hogencamp said. “Having so many industry professionals pour wisdom and insight into us all day long every day is extremely spiritually refreshing.  But I also loved getting to know my students in person. Because this is an online degree, I don’t get many opportunities to interact with my students face to face. And living two weeks with them, getting to know them each on a deeper level, was a delight.”

Ryan McCormick, another MFA student who attended the trip to Los Angeles, noted that, in addition to getting to go behind the scenes in speaking with many from the industry, the connections made between class members, many for the first time, was part of what made the trip so incredible. The experience also solidified McCormick’s career goals.

“For me, my main takeaway from the trip was continually confirmed through those speaking to us,” McCormick said. “And the message that kept coming to me was to do what you want to do. It seems very simple, but I’ve always felt I needed to know everything and do everything. But, the beauty of film is that it’s a collaborative art. If you don’t want to write, don’t write. If you want to run camera, run camera. Hollywood is known as the City of Lights and each of those lights can be symbolic of a person and their dream. I only have my dream, and I know where I’m running to now.”

Adam Widener’s experience on the trip inspired him to ask big questions when it comes to the wider impact of media on society.

“I’ve gained a greater knowledge so that I can impact not just my students and my creative work, but everyone I interact with on a day-to-day basis,” Widener said. “By talking about the media we are consuming, it will hopefully influence others to look inside their own hearts. What did this content say about life, faith, hope or the world?  It’s easy to turn our brains off and watch content for the sole purpose of entertainment. But it’s clear that what we see impacts us whether we like it or not.”

In addition to all of the incredible career connections made on both trips, the groups left with many new spiritual lessons and ideas for how they can impact the world for Christ using their degrees.

“In Matthew 6:22, Jesus said, ‘The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light,’” Widener said. “Analyzing content for its message and art form can be like fuel to that light and adds layers of meaning to the impact it can have on our heart.”

Learn more about Asbury’s MFA degree here. Learn more about Asbury’s undergraduate journalism program here.