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Queens in Rio: Building Skills in Digital Storytelling

Students Ella Fox, Hiwot Hailu, and Abby Laine Faber prepare for Rio de Janeiro with Bob Page, advisor to student media at Queens University of Charlotte.

Twenty-five students. Two educators. Stories. Brazil. Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

After devoting a spring semester to studying digital storytelling and the Olympic movement, a group of 19 students from Queens University of Charlotte is documenting the impact of the Olympic Games on Rio de Janeiro. They are being joined by six Brazilian students from Mackenzie Presbyterian University in São Paulo.

The students are in Rio for 14 days of the games as one of five foreign study trips this summer in Queens’ John Belk International Program. The program sends about 80 percent of Queens students on foreign study programs. The Rio project students studied connections between Brazil and the Carolinas, the history of the games, the role of media, and small group team dynamics.

Queens students Connor Keith and Carlotta Nassi editing video in preparation for study in Rio de Janeiro.Working in groups and interviewing people about the role of the games in their lives, the students produce multimedia stories for this website and other Charlotte media. In the spirit of the Olympic movement, they view the event as an opportunity to become a better version of themselves.

By the end of the trip, students expect to strengthen their skills in research, reporting, writing, editing, and production of multimedia stories on deadline. During the spring semester, each team created three media packages on Brazilian culture and the Olympic movement, including video, still photography, and textual copy. They also studied the history, objectives, and values of people, groups, and countries in the Olympic movement, and specific issues of this edition of the games – the zika virus, street crime, neighborhood displacement, and economic and governmental instability.

In Rio, six Portuguese-speaking journalism students from Mackenzie are joining the program as field producers and translators, advising on Brazilian culture, context, and safety.

“When students go out into Rio and tell stories in field production teams, this gives them the excuse to meet people and tell their stories in a way that no other tourist can possibly approach,” said Bob Page, advisor to student media in the Queens Knight School of Communication. The goal for Page and his colleague, Assistant Professor of Communication Joe Cornelius, is to teach students how to tell better stories.

Page directed global communication for Lenovo’s technology partnerships with the Olympic Games in Torino 2006 and Beijing 2008. Cornelius is a filmmaker and director of photography with degrees from the North Carolina School of the Arts and Wake Forest University. His most recent short film, “When the King Held Court,” chronicled the racquetball obsession of Elvis Presley for ESPN.

Queens is one of a handful of U.S. universities taking students to Rio de Janeiro during the games. “The Olympic Games are a challenging environment to tell stories in,” Page said. “If a student is able to deliver a story in that kind of environment, they can pretty well deliver a story in just about any type of environment.”

Abby Laine Faber, a new media design major from New Egypt, N.J., is the videographer for Blue Squad, one of the six student teams. She works with producer Ella Fox of Sellersville, Pa., and creative director Hiwot Hailu of Washington, D.C. One of her team’s story goals is to compare Charlotte and Brazilian street art. Faber’s eyes light up when she talks about this project. “It’s something that’s important to me because I really appreciate art and being able to experience that connection on a world level is really, really cool and super-inspiring and awesome.

“This trip to Rio has a lot of really talented, really creative, incredible students going on it,” Faber said. “This isn’t something to be taken lightly.”

Faber’s teammate, Hiwot Hailu, said she was regularly asked if media coverage of zika and street crime made her afraid to participate. “We’ve learned about these issues and prepared extensively, and we will have Brazilian students to partner with us and help us navigate the way,” Hailu said. “I’m not going to let fear get in the way of learning about a culture and a complex global event. This is an opportunity that could make a difference in my career.”

Photographs: top, Ella Fox, Hiwot Hailu, Bob Page, and Abby Laine Faber brainstorm a story idea. Middle, Connor Keith and Carlotta Nassi edit video.

About Carlotta Nassi, Connor Keith & Patrick Willard

Connor Keith, Carlotta Nassi, and Patrick Willard make up Team Flamengo, named for one of the most successful soccer teams in Brazil. Connor is a communication major from Tega Cay, S.C. Carlotta is a communication and sports management major from Livorno, Italy. Patrick is a communication major from Greensboro, N.C.

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