Ten College of Communication and Information Students Named First Prague Freedom Foundation Scholars
Ten students from Kent State University’s College of Communication and Information, including three students from the School of Journalism and Mass Communication and seven from the School of Communication Studies, are the first Prague Freedom Foundation (PFF) Scholars. These students, along with Candace Perkins Bowen, associate professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, and Catherine Goodall, Ph.D., assistant professor of communication studies, took part in the College of Communication and Information’s new Modern Media and Democracy course during summer 2013.
The course was made possible with the support of the Prague Freedom Foundation – 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. The Prague Freedom Foundation is represented by Larry Armstrong, a Kent State alumnus who is also chair of Kent State’s Foundation Board.
The Prague Freedom Foundation scholars from the School of Communication Studies are Mary Betz, Leah Heiser, Anna Hoffman, Kyle Jones, Nicolle Kovacs, Kirstie Ratzer-Farley and Erica Torre, and the School of Journalism and Mass Communication was represented by Kathryn Coduto, Kaitlynn LeBeau and Grace Murray.
The Prague Freedom Foundation scholars were formally recognized at a luncheon on Oct. 3 co-hosted by Thor Wasbotten, director of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, and Paul Haridakis, Ph.D., director of the School of Communication studies. Special guests included Armstrong, family members of the Prague Freedom Foundation 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, LeBeau, a junior journalism major, and Hoffman, senior communication studies major, were each awarded a $1,000 scholarship from the Prague Freedom Foundation for essays describing what the course and the education-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 your 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 describes 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 Prague Freedom Foundation 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 says.
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 alumnus, I immediately thought of Kent State,” he explains. “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 says.
“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 says. “I plan to use the Prague Freedom Foundation essay contest scholarship money 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.