Scholar Q & A: Taylor Graham '16
Zach Briggs (a class of 2012 Integrated Marketing Communications major from Elma, New York) spoke with Taylor Graham (a class of 2016 Emerging Media major from Durango, Colorado) about how the Park Scholar Program has impacted his college experience so far.
Zach Briggs: The Park Scholar Program provides much more than financial assistance. How has your volunteer service affected the way you approach your studies, the Ithaca community, and the world around you?
Taylor Graham: In the Park Scholar seminar with Matt Fee, we had discussed a project called Brand Aid that takes at-odds artisans from around the world and connects them with a professional marketing firm. I wondered if college students could take the place of these large marketing firms in hopes of making it more of a reciprocal relationship, rather than simply big brands helping the artisans. If any students could do it, I knew they would be from the Park School. The school provides us with fantastic skill sets that are really on a professional level, so I started thinking of ways to find these artisans that could really use media help in the United States.
I’m from Colorado, and in southwestern Colorado there is this whole tradition of Native American art with jewelry, pottery, and rug making that is a big part of our culture. I decided this would be the perfect place to match up local artisans, who faced financial challenges but had fantastic artistic traditions, with our college students. That’s basically how I came up with the idea for my organization Free Web Aid for Native Artisans, or FWANA. I found it very easy to reach out in the Park Scholar community and find friends who had different skill sets in social media and videography. Ultimately, we were able to travel down to Cherokee, North Carolina to meet with two Cherokee artisans. We set off with this big idea, in traditional Park Scholar fashion, and initially had no idea if it was going to work. I began contacting tribes and art galleries, looking for someone who might be able to connect me with an artist who could use some of the media aid that we were offering. Eventually, I found this man in Cherokee and he told us he had some great people we could meet up with if we could get ourselves down here. Along with three other Park Scholars, I piled into a car and drove all the way down on a really fun and eye-opening spring break. We were able to use a Park Scholar enrichment grant to help offset some of the logistical costs of that trip.
We were able to meet up with two artisans. One of them, Davy Arch, was a storyteller and woodcarver. He is this unbelievable man, and all of his work basically represents a story. This brought out this new perspective and goal for our organization, which was the reciprocation of not only the craft, but also the stories and traditions through documentation, which we hadn’t considered before. It was interesting that by keeping this craft alive — by trying to promote these artisans — we were keeping these traditions and stories alive as well. We were able to put together a documentary, photo albums and write-ups of some of the stories the artisans, like Davy, told us, and put them on a website that we are continuing to work on. In doing so, we hope to keep their traditions and Cherokee heritage alive.
ZB: How has the program contributed to your successes as an Emerging Media major and in your time at Ithaca College?
TG: What is interesting about the Emerging Media major in relation to the Park Scholar Program, is that we have such an amazing and diverse group here as Park Scholars, and the Emerging Media program offers an amalgamation of studies as well. There is this Computer Science concentration as well as Television-Radio, Journalism, and many other pieces that the major brings together in a fun way and kind of represents who I am. As a Park Scholar, I like to dabble in different forms of media and explore what I can do with that. The major mirrors what we have as a diverse community and allows me to engage with a lot of other Park Scholars.
ZB: Do you have any particularly interesting memories or thoughts from the first year and half of the program?
TG: One of the opportunities I’ve had this year was to coach a kindergarten and first-grade soccer team through the Ithaca Youth Bureau, which has been really fun. I’ve always loved playing soccer and getting to pass that enjoyment on to kids has been fantastic. I also was able to communicate with the parents about when the practices were and organize an after-season party for both teams. I think I bit off a lot trying to coach two teams but it ended up being this amazing experience because I was able to see the other kids grow more comfortable in skills and in playing the games. It was great to see them in the shoes I was in when I was young, having played parks and recreation soccer since age four or five. I see their love for the game and see them having fun out there, and I’m hoping that they will be able to continue this game for a very long time and enjoy it like I have.
ZB: Have you had any media experiences that have greatly influenced you?
TG: One of the awesome things about being a Park Scholar is being connected to such amazing professors and being presented with once in a lifetime opportunities. We had the opportunity to work with Professor James Rada on his documentary about the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom last spring. We interviewed people who had participated in the March on Washington in August 1963, and these interviews were then featured in his documentary. Some of the coolest parts were getting to meet these people and hear about their experiences first hand. Then, this summer we were able to go back to Washington, D.C., with him and work under contract with the NBC Nightly News to film interview and b-roll pieces at the 50th Anniversary of the March. Over 200,000 people showed up.
We got there early in the morning, and spent the whole day interviewing these wonderful people, including people who were wearing buttons indicating they had been at the original march. There was this one woman who pointed out where she had been the day of — up in a tree watching Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech. Another woman actually had been trampled by a policeman’s horse and had been separated from her family.
One of the most emotional interviews we had was with this woman who had been at the march and had now returned 50 years later with her daughter. Her daughter spoke of how thankful she was for everything her mother had done, which included a sit-in to protest racial discrimination in a diner. It was a very moving moment, as she told us how proud she was to have the parents she had. That evening, we gathered around the TV and saw that NBC had decided to use much of our footage in Nightly News. In the end they gave a big shout out to the Ithaca College Roy H. Park School of Communications to thank us for the work we did. It was an amazing experience to be in college and be able to work on a completely professional level at a professional pace and have our work broadcasted to a national audience.