A professor speaks to a group of students sitting in the film viewing room with black and white film on the screen over his shoulder.

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York College of Pennsylvania Students Learn While Helping White Rose Music Festival Come Alive

WRMF Student Recording

Students in professional writing and production classes learned by doing at the inaugural event in October.

Renowned musicians Jamey Johnson and Grace Potter rocked York’s PeoplesBank Park as York College of Pennsylvania students and faculty, along with community members, enjoyed the sounds at the first White Rose Music Festival on October 7 and 8, 2022.   

Sprinkled throughout the audience, York College students worked video and audio equipment and interviewed attendees and artists, immortalizing the moment. This was the culmination of a semester of planning, envisioning, and experiential learning.

Forming a plan

Dr. Michael Zerbe, Professor of English, received requests for student involvement in the festival in the spring and summer of 2022. He reached out to his students, and Professional Writing major and Music minor Alex Merritt ’24 was excited to jump on board.

“I was interested in it because, having a Music minor, I’m interested in writing about the music industry,” Alex says.

Alex and Dr. Zerbe set up an independent study and, leading up to the festival, Alex took on the tasks of managing social media, creating content, and scheduling posts. Creating social media content that people would engage with was something different for Alex, who gained a new respect for the effort that social media creators put into their craft.

“There’s a lot of work that goes into it that I didn’t realize beforehand,” Alex says. “I definitely learned a lot. I learned new skills, too.”

Learning in a real-world environment

Jeff Schiffman, Manager of campus radio station WVYC, also jumped at the chance to get his Mass Communication students involved with the festival. Schiffman, who came to York College in 2006 from a career in commercial radio, was an early adopter of experiential learning at the College.

“I’m always looking for opportunities for our students to learn in a real-world environment,” he says.

He and Video Production Professor Craig Do’Vidio created an assignment for Video Production 2 and Advanced Production classes. Students would be on-site at the festival, filming and capturing audio and creating content that could be used to promote future festivals.

The early part of the Fall Semester was spent learning to use the gear, interview key players, and prepare for the event. Students in the Advanced Production class would film the festival and any interviews they could line up with the artists, while students in the Video Production 2 class would film the Advanced Production students and create a documentary about their experience.

The students formulated plans, backup plans, and backup plans to the backup plans, says Mass Communication major Chase Hellwig ’25, a Video Production 2 class member.

“When this idea was introduced, we were very close-minded,” he says. “We were super reluctant to go because it was super overwhelming. We opened up to it, though, and got our logistics together. You’ve got to be prepared.”

One the ground

The hard work early on paid off. The Friday and Saturday of the festival, Alex, armed with a media pass, updated social media with on-the-ground experiences in real time. Many of the attendees whom Alex talked to had learned about the festival through the posts Alex had been creating throughout the semester.

Mass Communication major and American History minor Morrissey Walsh ’23 learned to be light on her feet. While working at the event, she found out she had 15 minutes to prepare to interview Drew Holcomb, one of the performing artists. The team grabbed its equipment and a light, and ran. Morrissey had come with some prepared questions, just in case.

“It was a good lesson for us to go with the flow,” she says. “The only way to get experience is to get out and do things.”

Chase spent his time at the event primarily managing sound equipment and documenting the Advanced Production students’ work. From standing in the pit three feet from the performers to sitting in the press box above, Chase found the experience to be eye-opening.

“I had no idea how much work went into something like that,” he says.

This wasn’t Chase’s first experiential learning opportunity at York College. As a sophomore, he has enjoyed an array of such situations in his audio and video production classes. As Music Director for WVYC, which is a paid position, Chase often has the chance to speak with record company executives and artists.

After action

The students’ experience wasn’t over after the last encore. For Alex, much of the work is just beginning, from creating a Google form to gather input to writing a summary report about the festival for possible publication in a York College newsletter or magazine. Alex also plans to create a recommendations report for the team that put on the festival.

Video Production 2 and Advanced Production students are editing promotional spots for the next festival and the documentary about the Advanced Production students’ work.

For Morrissey, the biggest takeaways have been learning how to be professional with a client and honing her time-management skills.

“York has gone above and beyond. I’ve had project-based learning opportunities every semester I’ve been here,” says Morrissey, who also was involved in video projects for The Yorktowne Hotel and Marketview Arts downtown. “If you say you’re willing to do this, the school will provide opportunities for you.”

“This was a phenomenal opportunity for our students to have real-world experience,” Schiffman says.

Because many of his students take their degrees to the music industry and create content for professional musicians, having them be involved with experiential learning at the White Rose Music Festival was a perfect fit.

Dr. Zerbe agrees.

“I’m all for project-based learning and getting students involved in real-life projects,” he says.

“Experiential learning has become a huge part, especially in our field, of getting our students well-trained so they can go out into the marketplace and succeed,” adds Schiffman.