Interview With Professor Kerry Manderbach
By: Fahad Albazi
UMSL's practical video production department had been largely neglected in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The post-pandemic era presented a challenging landscape, as it found itself plagued by a lack of support and saddled with outdated equipment.
Kerry Manderbach, an esteemed adjunct professor in the Department of Communications and Media at the University of Missouri, Saint Louis, has been orchestrating a remarkable transformation. Not content with merely imparting knowledge in his professorial role, Manderbach has been dedicating the past year or two to a vigorous campaign aimed at modernizing equipment and rekindling student interest in practical video production.
In this exclusive Q&A session, we delve into the remarkable journey of Kerry Manderbach, as he sheds light on the circumstances that prompted his mission and the strides he's made in this vital educational realm.
Question: Mr. Manderbach, could you tell me more about your motivation and vision and reviving the practical video department on the UMSL campus? What inspired you to undertake this project?
Manderbach: I originally went to school at SIUE, where they had a fully developed television studio in their Radio and Television Department. I took the R&TV courses and enjoyed them very much. I didn’t get a chance to finish my studies there, however. Years later I got a chance to go back to school here at at UMSL as an adult. And I went through the new Media Studies degree program. I thought it was great. I got my BS in the program and then my MA in Communication. I was hired to teach the courses I took as a student. The program was doing well enough, but then COVID hit, and a lot of things changed. We had a decline in enrollment and several faculty members left the Department. Now we’ve come back to on-campus learning post-pandemic. I’m basically motivated to re-establish what we lost and the potential of what we can achieve. I was also sort of motivated by what Webster is doing because I'm friends with the dean of the Communications School there and was invited to an open house. They've got a whole building full of media and communication classes and equipment. And a lot of students. So my motivation was to try to put UMSL on par with other schools that teach Media Production.
Question: What specific areas or aspects of practical video production are you planning to focus on? How do you foresee these benefiting students and the campus community?
Manderbach: Basically, applied aspects. We have a lot of Communication theory at this university, a lot of research, which is great, but we also need to have classes that teach the application of those theories. So, I want to make sure that students know how to operate whatever equipment needed and make use of the delivery platforms that are relevant in that area. Those things are changing all the time. Years ago, DVDs were used to deliver electronic visual content, before that it was tape, and of course broadcast television. Right now, streaming is the newer kid on the block and we don't know what's going to come in the future. So, the more students know about how to create a message and how to distribute that message, the better they can produce quality communication content. I think that's good for the community because people are always seeking knowledge and information of some sort. People run to YouTube right now to try to figure out how to tie a tie, because that's become somewhat of a lost art. They seek out information about almost anything. So, by helping students to develop the skills to concisely tell a story or show how to do something, or to just express themselves, is pretty valuable for the entire community.
Question: In today's digital age, how do you see the role of applied practical video production evolving? How will the department adapt to those changes?
Manderbach: The technology is just going to keep going on and we cannot envision now what might be in 10 or 20 years. But I believe the department will continue to budget for equipment and develop classes as needed. I think they're going to look at the big picture of how these things play out in the workplace because we're training people to do jobs in the Communication field. As technology evolves, we're going to try to keep up with it. Hopefully we can enrich the student’s experience and expertise by keeping up with the latest trends and techniques.
Question: Could you share some of the challenges you have faced or even anticipate facing in re-establishing the department? What strategies do you have in mind to overcome them?
Manderbach: When COVID hit it sent everybody home. We are teaching Applied Visual Communication, we're hands-on. So at the time, we couldn't have any hands here to be hands-on. You can teach the theory of Media Studies, but for the applied part you have to have people that are here doing stuff. COVID kind of threw UMSL and the department for a loop because we didn't have the students anymore. There were a couple of semesters that we didn't have any Applied Visual Communication classes. Some Faculty and Staff got laid off or otherwise left UMSL. Some faculty left the Department in the years since. Also, our budget was cut due to some political situations that we had no control over. As a result there were cutbacks. We couldn't afford to hire people that were being vetted for positions in the Department.
The steps I took were, meeting with my chair and advocating for the Department to compete with other schools so we wouldn’t lose the students who wanted to take Media Production courses at UMSL. And I went to Central Visual and Performing Arts High School and spoke to the Senior students about taking those classes at UMSL. And I found out the University System Five-Year Committee was going to come here. It's a committee that goes over things to see what each campus needs and what should be funded. I made a point of making an appointment and saying that I want to speak to them.
I brought in some of the other people that we still had on campus. Dr. Hermann, who taught Live Events. Jim Abernathy, who oversaw technical things in the TV studio. And we told the Five-Year Committee that we can't do anything without a budget, and we need newer equipment, and we need a place to hold some of the classes. Originally, I taught my Production classes anywhere I could find to do it that had the right computers. The Fine Arts Building, the Social Sciences Building, etc. We didn't have a classroom with our own computers. For example, we had to go down to the computer lab where there were four or five computers that could actually do the editing, and the students had to stand around waiting on everyone else to have a turn.
So, we lobbied for a space and computers. Our Chair, Alice Hall was very supportive, and due to everyone’s efforts Lucas 203 was rebuilt into a media classroom. We now have 24 computers with the proper programs for Video Production. We have had much better results for our students after this. But some of the production equipment the Department owns is in disrepair, out of date or was surplussed out. So, my plan going forward was to work with our interim chair, Jill Alexander to replace and modernize the equipment. She’s been very enthusiastic and helpful about rebuilding our section of the Department. She’s helped us get a new portable video switcher that we're going to use in the Live Studio course. We hope to get a full-size switcher for the TV studio before the start of that course.
Question: How do you envision the department contributing to the overall educational experience and skill development of students across different disciplines?
Manderbach: We've always had students from different majors come in. We've had people from Nursing, Psychology and even Engineering come in to take our courses. Their interest may have started with the fact that they needed some credits to graduate, perhaps they needed an elective. But they've all told me they've gotten something out of the classes. They've learned to tell their stories. To actually realize what things are important to tell and how to tell them are important skills. I think the Department has encouraged that by bringing back some of these courses and asking the advisers to pitch the classes to students looking for interesting electives.
Question: Are there any specific courses planned as part of the revived video department curriculum?
Manderbach: Yes, Media Production which is a TV studio course. That's going to come back in January. Hopefully we'll have Media Production II next Fall as well. They're basically courses that teach students how to produce video in the studio environment with built-in lighting and controlled audio. And there's a lot of video switching, and a lot of virtual sets where a student can be sitting in a chair, and they'll be shown on screen with a desk in front of you that doesn't really exist. It's kind of A.I.-ish.
We’re also refining Video Production I and II to cover more of what people are interested in in the real world. Hopefully we'll have Acting for The Camera re-added to the curriculum. It’s associated with practical video and taught in the studio. We're hoping to tie in with the Advertising and PR classes also.
Question: Do you have that timeline in mind for when the video department will be fully operational and fully open to accept students?
Manderbach: I think things look good. Students are coming back. After COVID, students were sort of used to taking online courses, but I think part of the attraction of college, aside from learning, which is the most important part, is the college experience. Actually, going to campus, maybe living on campus, being away from the parental unit, making their own decisions, and being part of a community, a campus community.
I think that's now coming back, we've noticed an uptick in enrollment. There's a lot more students now than there have been in the past few semesters. We had a course that had five or six students right after people came back to campus, and now we’re starting out with 16 to 17. So, students are coming back, and I envision in the next five years, we're going to continue to have what we have now and what we had back before COVID. 15 to 16 students were enrolled in each of my courses before the pandemic.
I'd say within five years, we should have most of, if not all of our courses back, and some extra courses that could come available due to emerging trends and technology. Here’s hoping!