Last Fall, Avonlea Schnitzius spent continuous hours sifting through old records and documents at Bracken Library and St. Mary Catholic Church in Muncie so that she and her team tell the church’s story.

Today — with COVID-19 moving in-person classes to virtual platforms — the group of students is collaborating for hours together online to finish the book and videos showcasing the historic church and its impact on the community.

“The goal of this immersive learning project is to preserve a Muncie historical landmark,” said Avonlea,  who is studying organizational communication with a minor in journalistic storytelling, “This has been an extremely rewarding experience. We are creating something that the church can cherish of its history and community but also use as aids for new members.”

Under the guidance of Peggy Fisher, associate teaching professor of communication studies, the students’ creations will feature archival photos, members’ stories, and much more of the church’s rich history.

The course in the College of Communication, Information, and Media spans two semesters. Last Fall, students examined resources in the archives, visited and filmed the church, and interviewed members of the congregation. Their work continues with the students and professor collaborating via cloud technology. The students found out the congregation held its first Mass in the basement of Noll Hall, a building on the grounds, in 1930, and constructed its current church in 1965.

Serving neighbors

Fisher said her students’ adaptability and commitment demonstrates how Ball State is about more than educating students. Cardinals also serve their neighbors.

“One day,” Fisher said, “we spent almost three hours online together going through the book we are working on page by page for edits. We are close to turning it in for its final printing. Students are also editing video on their own personal computers and making great progress. I am in frequent contact with St. Mary Church, and they have been very supportive.”

Scott Anderson, a junior telecommunications major from Naperville, Illinois, said the team has used Box, Google Hangouts, and Slack. Yet the course has taught him more than how to employ technology and hone skills for his dream job as a creative content producer.

What I’ve learned is really how to problem solve. Everyone has had a real sense of professionalism and calmness to counter obstacles we’ve encountered. I think each one of us had doubts that we would be able to pull all this off at certain times, but we just kept a great work ethic to drive us forward. I’m so happy to say we are almost done, and everything is coming together.

“Ball State has helped me find my passion by surrounding me with just brilliant professors who have offered not only valuable technical skills but soft skills. How to act on set for videos, how to make someone comfortable before interviewing them—there are so many skills they teach that go a long way.”

Learning the art, and technology, of storytelling

Students work at St. Mary's

Nate Gulde and Avonlea Schnitzius collaborate.

Nate Gulde, a junior telecommunications major from Cambridge City, said the immersive experience is helping him prepare for a career in broadcast management, advertising and promotion, or producing content for a museum.

“This project is giving me practice planning, working with a team preserving a story, while sharpening my video skills,” he said. “Ball State has given me several opportunities through classes and organizations to develop my media career and skills. Each opportunity allows me to learn more about storytelling, the business behind it, and how to technologically execute a story.”

Avonlea, a senior from Fishers, is considering graduate school.

“I am gaining so many different skills that are applicable and vital to any future career,” she said. “Learning to organize, brainstorm, and research in effective ways alongside several other individuals is a valuable experience that I will carry with me to all my future endeavors.

“Ball State has given me so many different opportunities to grow not only as a student but as an individual. I have gotten the opportunity to learn from amazing peers and professors who motivate and inspire me.”

Gabrielle Glass contributed to this report.