On May 17, the evening before their Commencement ceremony, 18 graduate students in Elon University's Interactive Media master's program virtually shared their capstone projects with professionals, faculty and staff, family and friends.
A few weeks into her junior year at Elon, Olivia James ’20, G’21 tore her ACL. It was a devastating injury for the dance performance and choreography BFA major. While her subsequent recovery focused on her physical self, James also recalled the unexpected and “lasting toll” the injury took on her mentally.
A dancer since her youth, James watched as the performances went on without her – a painful reality. Forced to the sidelines, she felt directionless. “Injuries can be really isolating,” she said. “It could be grating to watch dancing afterward.”
With two years of hindsight, James – now a graduate student in the Interactive Media master’s program – explained this week as part of her capstone presentation that it only makes sense that she’d struggle following an injury. It would be unreasonable to think that a “complete lifestyle change wouldn’t affect me at all,” she said.
Her experiences, and the challenges she faced, were the fuel for her capstone project, presented virtually on May 17 with 17 other capstone projects. The Interactive Media students developed a website to showcase their work, www.capstone21.elonimedia.org, and shared their projects publicly. The projects are the culmination of 10 months of intense instruction and education, and the capstones take on a variety of forms – interactive films, strategic campaigns, websites and mobile applications.
For her capstone project, James created an interactive website for dancers, their parents, and their instructors to help dancers navigate their mental health during injury and recovery. Fittingly, the website is called The Green Room, in reference to a space between the dressing room and the stage. “Injury puts you in between,” James said.
The website, which revolves around the relationship between dance, injury and identity, includes a blog, guides and interactive recovery trackers. James went to great lengths during the creative process to select familiar colors and shapes one might find backstage. The page’s main logo, an incandescent light bulb, fits into the décor of many entertainment venues.
“I hope that it helps broaden the conversation surrounding mental health in dance,” said James said of her project.
Many of the other capstone projects also drew from personal experiences, including several in the showcase’s Digital Marketing Strategy category. Those projects included Abby Bekele’s social media campaign highlighting the challenges facing Black female athletes at predominantly white institutions, and Natalie Oldani’s video-based educational website for dancers.
The one outlier was Meg Boericke’s research on the best practices for Twitch streamers. A Twitch novice before her research began, Boericke said she’s thrown herself into the video-sharing platform, joking that it is “pretty much all I have talked about the last year,” she said.
As part of her project, Boericke designed, prototyped and evaluated a novel approach to implementing a stream campaign strategy to help Twitch creators solidify their brand and grow their community. And the still-in-progress research has been positive – consistently increasing audience engagement and viewership with the implementation of the structured campaign.
The graduate student explained that it is a misnomer that Twitch is just for gamers, pointing to its wide appeal with today’s youth. The Amazon-owned platform will only continue to expand and grow, she predicted.
The capstones and their platforms varied widely across the 18 graduate students. Other projects included Michael Boyd’s interactive documentary, titled “Mind over Matter,” that sheds light on Black mental health concerns in America, and Chandler Colclough’s interactive storybook that enhances reading comprehension, empowers young Black girls to break barriers, and educates them on historic figures in modern society.
One of the most topical projects this spring is Matt Harrell’s “Have you Herd?” web app, developed specifically for vaccine-hesitant parents. The app uses different storytelling techniques and interactive experiences to build an empathic argument that vaccines are needed for herd immunity.
At the conclusion of her presentation, James said her project revealed much about herself, including how she can best organize her thoughts and move a project forward. Coincidentally, she noted that lacking a game plan – and clear direction – can “trip up” both a creator and a choreographer.
“I learned about to my own creative process,” she said. “I learned how I work with myself.”