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Digital media comes into its own

Phantom Memory: Resurrecting the Apparitions Within by Tashia Tucker (MA digital media '06). The digital cinema thesis project incorporates photos, video and audio from a dying South Dakota town to explore personal memory, history and narrative.

In most degree programs, students take required courses and choose from a stable of electives. Not so in DU’s Digital Media Studies (DMS) program, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. After learning the foundations of design, technical and critical approaches to digital media, DMS students are free to focus on their area of interest.

The “user-driven” curriculum is unique to DU’s program, says DMS founder and former director Jeff Rutenbeck, who recently left DU to become a dean at Champlain College. The program’s goal, he says, is to produce students who are broadly educated in digital media — students who know how to make things functional and visually appealing, but also how communication evolves with technological advances.

Students gain real-world experience through the program’s Digital Media Outreach Center, which infuses the program with the challenges of the client-producer relationship. Via the center, first-year DMS students produce Web pages and other digital media for nonprofit organizations that otherwise have few resources to bring to the challenge.

“The Digital Media Outreach Center is a pragmatic expression of our ethical attitude toward digital media,” says DMS Director Rafael Fajardo. “DMS faculty have felt that new and emerging technologies are not neutral, and so we work to actively turn these technologies toward the public good.”

DMS got its start at DU in 1994 when a group of faculty in art, engineering, computer science and communication began discussing what they saw as a looming digital revolution, Rutenbeck recalls. “The Web wasn’t really there, a lot of people didn’t use e-mail and most people didn’t have computers in their homes.”

The eventual result of those discussions was DU’s DMS degree program — the world’s first to equally incorporate design, technical and critical aspects into digital media training.

Since its inception, the program has graduated 175 students at the undergraduate or master’s level. Erik Rogers (BA ’95) earned an MA in Digital Media Studies in 1999 and now is a Web application developer.

“While I was in the program, I found that I became more fascinated by the technology component,” he says. “So, I decided to focus on how the Internet can be used as an avenue for improved work flow and communication more from a software development perspective than a strictly theoretical one.”

Amy-Beth McNeely (BSBA ’93, MA ’03) says the DMS program prepared her well for a career as a creative digital consultant. McNeely has worked one-on-one with well-known and emerging visual and recording artists in New York City.

“When I’m working with a client it becomes clear that although many people can use applications, they don’t necessarily know why they’re doing things or the best way to communicate their point,” she says.

“There was not another program in the country that would have been better for me for what I had wanted out of it,” McNeely says.

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