More than 20 Isaacson School for New Media students and faculty threw themselves headlong into the Aspen Ideas Festival in July, which brings top business leaders, journalists, intellectuals, politicians and world leaders to the Colorado mountains for 10 days of deep conversation, debate and interaction.
The opportunity for students to take part in the massive Aspen think-fest happened very quickly. Initially, the plan was for them to demonstrate to attendees Microsoft’s newly released Surface Pro 3 tablet, but soon these digital-media students expanded their responsibilities.
“We had far more freedom than the original plan to stay based at kiosks,” said Robert Martin, director of Colorado Mountain College’s Isaacson School for New Media.
One minute, the students were shooting photographs of world leaders; the next, they were listening to a panel of experts discussing global dynamics while creating posts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
“It was definitely overwhelming and chaotic,” said recent graduate and Isaacson School support-team member Curtis Tucker. “We had mixed roles. Twenty of us were running around using the (Surface) tablets, then mobile-editing our photos. And we were always listening, always documenting.”
“Our circumstances were fluid and changing,” said Brian Tinker, associate professor and graphic design program director at the school. “These students came in completely cold and were able to be highly adaptive. I saw students who are normally retiring and awkward interact and gain confidence. It was fantastic.”
Tucker said probably the most surprising part of the festival was the accessibility of the participants, some of whom come from high levels of authority and are well-known.
Keynote speakers included former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, broadcaster Katie Couric, civil-rights icon John Lewis, Harvard University President Drew Gilpin Faust, former Vice President Al Gore and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. There were 344 more, including Colorado Mountain College President Carrie Besnette Hauser, who participated in a panel about the future of education.
“Katie Couric was shoulder-to-shoulder (with everyone else),” Tucker said. “No one was on a pedestal. Walter Isaacson was wearing a T-shirt. Tony Blair was having lunch. There was no filter.”
The emphasis at the Isaacson School — which holds classes at Colorado Mountain College campuses in Aspen and Spring Valley-Glenwood Springs as well as online — is on digital applications. But the goal is the same as it’s always been for mass communication.
“What doesn’t change is the importance of learning to communicate,” Martin said of the associate degrees, occupational certificates and noncredit and credit courses the school offers students and mid-career professionals in digital marketing design, media production, journalism and photography. “No. 1, it’s about storytelling.”
Thanks to a donation from the Isaacson School’s namesake, Aspen Institute President and CEO Walter Isaacson, student Justin Patrick received a full scholarship to attend this year’s Aspen Ideas Festival. Students also will have free access to world-class events at the Aspen Institute year-round, including the McCloskey Speaker Series, the Hurst Lecture Series and the Murdock Mind, Body, Spirit Series. The program will take place over the next three years to build a formal connection between Isaacson School students and the Aspen Institute.