Kent State Students Create Documentaries Depicting 'College During Corona'

While locked down in their apartments or family homes, students in the Kent State course Journalism and Documentary are telling a story that future generations and historians will one day discuss: What was college life like when the coronavirus pandemic changed the world? 

At the beginning of the semester, students were given an assignment to create shortened versions of their final project, a five to 10-minute documentary, for social media. But as the semester shifted to remote instruction in early March, a unique set of challenges arose, and instructors Jacqueline Marino and Christopher Knoblock knew their students would be crushed without access to mics, lighting or DSLR cameras, which were no longer available to them through the Student Resource Lab.

“We were only halfway through the course, and most were nowhere near finished shooting their short documentaries,” said Marino, a professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. “Like many professors across this university, we adjusted our expectations and assured the students they could still do good storytelling with whatever gear they had.”

Meanwhile, more than 1,000 miles south at Florida International University, students were in a similar dilemma. And assistant professor Susan Jacobson, with whom Marino has worked on research, was teaching a similar class.

At Kent State and FIU, students began documenting their own lives — or the lives of their friends (while practicing social distancing) — during this historic event. The result: a series of videos, titled “College During Corona.”

Lecturer Knoblock, who joined Kent State in 2019 after serving as a director of photography and director in network television and film, was impressed with the students' work.

"This pandemic certainly threw our students some challenges. But as a filmmaker myself, I've grown to believe that limitations often force us to find more creative (and better) solutions in our work than before," he said. "We encouraged the students to embrace these limitations set upon them during their lockdown, and to use them to find innovative ways to tell their stories. And they did, to wonderful effect."

In one documentary, junior digital media production major Addy Birkes tells the story of a student completing her senior project while in quarantine.

“Isolation is hard as it is. Being in a creative major that usually requires equipment or collaboration can make this even harder,” Birkes said. “I think that the most interesting thing about this quarantine is all the art that I see emerging— it is forcing us to be creative and look at creating from a new perspective.”

Even though she was originally upset that she wouldn’t have access to the equipment she envisioned for her documentary, the experience has a silver lining.

“I think now that this might be the best introduction to documentary filmmaking I have gotten,” Birkes said. “Especially with documentary, you’re never really in control, and we all had to learn how to adapt. It challenged us to open our minds and get creative, and I am so impressed with the documentaries everyone has produced.”

Benjamin Zahorec, whose video depicts his perception of “time” while in quarantine, says the class’s shared experience of creating stories about what they are going through has been somewhat therapeutic.

“It is encouraging to see that everyone is in the same boat as far as experiencing loneliness and solitude during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Zahorec, a junior digital media production major. “I sometimes forget that everyone else is feeling the same way about all this.”

For senior journalism and digital media production major Mikey Indriolo, it was a step outside of his comfort zone to tell his own story instead of others’. Yet, he recognizes the importance of this moment and this conversation.

“I'm used to being behind the camera, and even more scary, I've been really unsure how I'm feeling about all this pandemic stuff. I'm just really confused and overwhelmed,” Indriolo said. “But it's specifically because of those feelings that I feel like making this video is really important. It's important to open up a conversation about how this has been affecting us as college students.”


College During Corona Videos

Sarah Goblirsch, Kent State University


Dabney Richards, Florida International University


Diane Navarro, Florida International University

UPDATED: Friday, December 09, 2022 11:32 AM