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Ten CCI students named first “Prague Freedom Foundation Scholars”Posted Oct. 8, 2013
Ten students from the College of Communication and Information (CCI), including seven from the School of Communication Studies (COMM) and three students from the School of Journalism and Mass Communication (JMC), are the first "Prague Freedom Foundation Scholars." These students, along with and COMM Assistant Professor Catherine Goodall and JMC Professor Candace Perkins Bowen took part in CCI's new Modern Media and Democracy course during summer semester 2013. The course was made possible with the support of the Prague Freedom Foundation (PFF) -- a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization committed to protecting and promoting freedom of speech in the United States, the Czech Republic and other parts of the world. PFF is represented by Larry Armstrong, a Kent State alumnus who is also chair of Kent State's Foundation Board.
The 10 PFF scholars are: Mary Betz, Communication Studies; Kathryn Coduto, JMC; Leah Heiser, Communication Studies; Anna Hoffman, Communication Studies; Kyle Jones, Communication Studies; Nicolle Kovacs, Communication Studies; Kaitlynn LeBeau, JMC; Grace Murray, JMC; Kirstie Ratzer-Farley, Communication Studies; and Erica Torre, Communication Studies.
The PFF scholars were formally recognized at a luncheon co-hosted by COMM Director Paul Haridakis and JMC Director Thor Wasbotton on October 3. Special guests included Larry Armstrong, family members of the PFF scholars, and several University officials, including Gene Finn, vice president for Institutional Advancement; Melody Tankersly, associate provost; and Marcello Fantoni, associate provost for Global Education.
At the luncheon, junior journalism major Kaitlynn LeBeau and senior communication studies major Anna Hoffman were each awarded a $1,000 scholarship from PFF for essays describing what the course and study-abroad experience meant to them.
All students were competitively selected for the course on the basis of a written application and an interview. They were expected to demonstrate academic excellence and the ability to thrive in a rigorous, multicultural learning environment.
Once selected, students were required to immerse themselves in the history, government, culture and society of the Czech Republic and then spend two weeks in Prague, where they were the guests of the oldest private university in the Czech Republic, Anglo-American University (AAU) and its School of Journalism.
They were also required to pursue individual research projects related to media and democracy and publish at least four blog posts. Their work, published on the course website, www.kentinprague.com, ranged from a scholarly study of graffiti as a medium of self-expression to a multimedia examination of how the Romani minority are portrayed by the media. While in Prague, students and faculty visited Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, a military school that trains journalists for war-zone coverage and a TV station, among other locations.
The luncheon recognized the hard work and the commitment of the students and faculty involved in the course, and its transformational impact on their lives.
"I am proud of what our scholars have accomplished and I am especially proud of how well they represented Kent State University," Wasbotten told luncheon guests. "I joined them for a few days in Prague, and I could see how much they were gaining in insight, understanding and experience – the lasting hallmarks of a global education. I told the students that when someone like PFF supports you, make sure you do their best. And make sure when you are the first, you set the bar high for others who follow. These students have done exactly that."
Perkins Bowen described the course as a "beautiful example of authentic learning. Students learned how to troubleshoot in an environment where not everyone speaks English or even Czech; how to conduct and use research and new multimedia techniques; how to find the people they needed to interview and even how to manage the local currency. These students set up tours for their instructors. It was remarkable." She also thanked parents and family for "raising kids who are adaptable, flexible and extremely hard-working."
Goodall affirmed the strength of the first class of PFF Scholars. "It's rare to teach a class where all students rise to the top. These students were passionate about what they were doing. They opened our eyes to new things and they often taught us," Goodall said.
Armstrong, an architect and chief executive officer of Ware Malcomb, an international design and architectural firm, recalled the origins of the Kent State-AAU partnership. "I was involved with a real estate group that bought the Radio Free Europe building. That led to our interest in freedom of the press and forming the Prague Freedom Foundation. We determined we wanted to reach out to academic institutions and start a student exchange program. As an alumni, I immediately thought of Kent State," he explained. "I am very proud of the students in this first partnership – very proud of their work and their projects."
Students were able to point to tangible ways the experience has advanced their academic and personal goals. "Thanks to the Prague Freedom Foundation and our faculty, I learned a lot about myself as a journalist and as a person. This was my first trip out of the country, and I am encouraged to travel abroad again," LeBeau said.
"I learned so much that I could not have learned any other way, including the importance of being adaptable. When you can't find a source for your research, you must adapt. With minors in international relations and global communication, going overseas was not a privilege, it was essential," Hoffman said. "I plan to use the Prague Freedom Foundation essay contest scholarship to help fund another study abroad experience. I have so much appreciation for the Prague Freedom Foundation. Their generosity is astonishing."
Wasbotten told guests that the partnership between Kent State and AAU would continue, as a group of AAU students come to Kent State in January, to immerse themselves in American government, media, culture and society.