Student Video Exhibit Features Chimney Swifts of Kent

Since she was a child, Caitlyn Skilton, a recent graduate of the zoology program at Kent State University, has harbored a passion for ecology, with a deep love for birds of all kinds. She chose to extend this love in her undergraduate work at Kent State.

Photo of Caitlyn Skilton in Blank_Lab.

On December 1, Skilton, who also minored in photojournalism, hosted a reception for her “Flight of the Chimney Swift” immersive multimedia exhibit in the Design Innovation (DI) Hub’s Blank_Lab. A customizable room that can be utilized for a variety of different projects, presentations, and experiences—the Blank_Lab is fully equipped with light and sound insulation alongside cutting-edge technology. Her video exhibit included a surround-sound, multi-slide presentation about the history of chimney swifts at Kent State, their significance on campus and current conservation efforts’ methodology. The exhibit ran from Nov. 27 to Dec. 6.

She worked on this project for credit as a course for an Individual Project in Mass Communications with the guidance and support of David Foster, associate professor in the School of Media and Journalism. Additionally, Catalina Palacios, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Biological Sciences, shared her knowledge and expertise in birds, which helped Skilton conduct research for the project.

“With my chimney swift video, I wanted to share my love and interest for birds but also wanted to find something that related to Kent State,” Skilton said, “In Ornithology, we talked about the chimney swift on the Kent State seal. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to inform others.”

A threatened bird species, the chimney swift (Chaetura pelagica) ranges from southern Canada to eastern United States and South America. What is so unique is its distinct presence on Kent State’s campus and nearby community. In the past, chimney swifts resided inside Kent State's air shafts on several campus buildings. Environmental threats caused by many human behaviors include the pollution of Earth’s systems and the conscious deterrence of chimney swifts’ access and use of homeowners’ chimneys. Many people are advised to cap or actively clean out their chimneys which forces these birds to struggle while relocating.

Inspired by Professor Dexter
Research conducted by late Biology Professor Ralph Dexter, Ph.D.,  on chimney swift nesting, life history and reproduction led to the adaptation of their imagery on the top of the official university seal. In preparation for her exhibit, Skilton viewed many archived photos, publications and documents from Dexter who conducted over 40 years of detailed and insightful research on chimney swifts on the Kent Campus.  

“I found it (Dexter’s research) very interesting and didn’t realize how extensive his research was at first,” Skilton said, “I was fascinated by it. The data he collected on the chimney swifts was incredible.”

Photojournalism as a tool to advocate for conservation
Skilton cites her own personal love for photojournalism as the driving force behind her artistic choices when it came to the display of “Flight of the Chimney Swift.”

“I want to help inform others and appreciate birds in the same way that I do, so I thought that providing this immersive experience could really help spark that interest,” Skilton said.

Chimney swifts flying around the chimney of the Kent Stage in downtown Kent, Ohio

This desire to communicate effectively with the public is what sparked Skilton’s interest in photojournalism as a method of exhibition in the first place.

“I originally tried out photojournalism because I loved both writing and taking photos,” Skilton said, “I thought I could use photos and videos to help articulate science matters to the general public, to get others interested in nature and to advocate for conservation.”

Skilton went on a few excursions while she conducted her field research and prepared her visual aid. This involved photographing the chimney swifts on the roof of the Kent Stage and even exploring the Kent State Library top-floor archives.

For Skilton, presenting “Flight of the Chimney Swift” was unplanned, but an exciting opportunity that she knew she had to seize.

“I hadn’t originally planned to do my (chimney swift) video in the DI Blank Lab,” Skilton said. “As a DI Fellow I happened to make the connection to find the Blank Lab,” Skilton said.

Representing Kent State at an International Symposium
As a DI Fellow, Skilton also recently attended the International Symposium on Academic Maker Spaces Conference (ISAM) at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA which featured various maker spaces amongst over 300 other worldwide faculty and student creators from a variety of disciplines and academic backgrounds.

“I felt honored to represent Kent State on a national level as one of only a few students at ISAM,” Skilton said.

“It was just great to see so many different people from across the world and see how they do design differently,” Skilton said, “It was an eye-opening opportunity, and I was very glad to attend.”

Bright Future
A December 2023 graduate, Skilton plans to attend grad school to study ecology while specifically looking at birds. 

“I hope I can continue to take photos and share them with the world,” Skilton said.

To learn more about Caitlyn's work, visit her online portfolio

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Media Contact:
Jim Maxwell, 330-672-8028,

POSTED: Wednesday, January 17, 2024 03:03 PM
Updated: Friday, January 19, 2024 10:13 AM
Lexi Moses