Across the Screen

By Danica Fisher ’05, July 20, 2021
New interdisciplinary screen cultures major showcases an innovative vision.

To better serve the discipline of screen cultures and provide students with additional avenues for exploration, the School of Humanities and Sciences and the Roy H. Park School of Communications are offering a screen cultures major, starting in the Fall 2021 semester.

Screen cultures is a large, international, multicultural, interdisciplinary, flexible, and innovative curriculum that is being offered to align with the international academic discipline of screen cultures. 

The major, which will consist of 41 to 44 credits, is an accumulation of innovative packaging of what already exists at Ithaca College. It will allow students the flexibility to double major, study abroad or through the Los Angeles program, and provide opportunities for on-campus internships. It also aligns closely with the college’s strategic plan, promoting collaboration and curricular flexibility while helping students develop their potential.

Professor Michael Richardson, who also serves as the chair of the world languages, literatures, and cultures department, will be the inaugural director of the program starting in the fall. Richardson sees this joint major as a real opportunity for the college.

“When the strategic plan was announced, we really saw this as an opportunity to leverage interested faculty in both schools,” said Richardson. “When we started to think about all the places outside of Park that also studied the screen we thought ‘wow there’s a lot out there and there’s no current umbrella for putting all of these courses together into a coherent curriculum.’ That’s what prompted us to start toying around with how we can put this together, how can we make a degree.”

“It feels great to all of us to have something hopeful that is a new structure that students can explore and perhaps achieve their goals more elegantly. It’s also so powerful for the professors because it creates this enormous combustion across this really vibrant, intellectual community.” 

Patricia Zimmermann, professor

Richardson, professor of screen studies Patricia Zimmermann, and associate professor of screen studies Andrew Utterson worked on creating the degree and feel that it is a unique offering for students.

“It’s one of the few majors that really crosses both Park and H&S. If you look at the degree requirements, they’re evenly divided between Park and H&S. I think that’s something that’s unique,” said Richardson.

“It feels great to all of us to have something hopeful that is a new structure that students can explore and perhaps achieve their goals more elegantly,” said Zimmermann. “It’s also so powerful for the professors because it creates this enormous combustion across this really vibrant, intellectual community.”

A team of professors from the two schools helped to create the major, with planning starting in the spring of 2019.  Richardson says the thing that stands out the most to him is the breadth of faculty involved.

“It’s a truly interdisciplinary major, meaning that it draws on faculty from a variety of departments,” said Richardson. “We’ve done a lot of forging connections between faculty and as a result I think that’s going to help students because they’re going to see that we all have these overlapping interests and as we engage with each other, I think they’re going to feel like they’re stepping into a screen cultures community.”

Zimmermann agreed, saying that that over the last 15 years more faculty have joined the college with training, background and research interests in a variety of media, such as cinema, TV, new media, podcasts and gaming.

“I think what makes the major unique is that it is a joint effort between Park and H&S. It is very unique for the college to have a degree program that is integrated across schools,” said Zimmermann. “The faculty are incredibly heterogenous, they are active researchers with national reputations. They are a powerhouse group of people in terms of what they do in the world.”

“Studying film in Ithaca allows all sorts of opportunities to tap into the region’s rich and vibrant cultural capital, including opportunities to experience first-hand the exciting annual programs of Ithaca College-affiliated film festivals FLEFF and Cine Con Cultura.”

Andrew Utterson, associate professor

Zimmermann and Richardson both talked about how many students at the college express the desire to complete a double major in an area in Park and another school on campus. This major will provide them that opportunity, along with the ability to study abroad or attend the college’s Los Angeles program. While many of the Park majors are credit intensive, which sometimes limit students’ ability to double major in another field, the new program addresses this.

“Students come to IC to explore very widely. We see this new program as a way to expand what a student can do,” said Zimmermann.

One such student, Queline Meadows ’23 is currently majoring in culture and communication with a self-designed film and media studies concentration, will start her double major with Screen Studies in the fall.

“After fulfilling my concentration requirement, I wanted to continue taking screen studies courses so I will be switching to the screen cultures major in the fall to take advantage of courses that better suit my own interests and goals,” said Meadows. “I hope to connect with faculty in different areas and learn more about the possibilities of a degree in screen cultures, especially as I look ahead to graduate school.”

Zimmermann believes this degree will provide students with a robust, dynamic set of skills.

“This degree provides students with the two most important skills you need if you want to be in any form of media, which are analytical reading skills (of both books and media forms) and deductive evidence-based writing,” she said. “If you can do those two very well and with rigor and insight, you can adapt to anything. I do think it will position students to enter into whatever field they choose.”

Zimmermann also explains that the major will be connected to two film festivals, the Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival (FLEFF), of which she serves as director, and the Cine con Cultura Film Festival, directed by associate professor of modern languages Enrique Gonzalez Conty.

“These two festivals will provide students on the ground experiences and an on-campus opportunity to gain valuable experience,” said Zimmermann. “It’s an incredibly unique factor that you can actually put your critical studies, reading and writing skills, to work and have an on-campus internship.”

Andrew Utterson, associate professor of screen studies, agrees that these opportunities will be a draw for students.

“Studying film in Ithaca allows all sorts of opportunities to tap into the region’s rich and vibrant cultural capital, including opportunities to experience first-hand the exciting annual programs of Ithaca College-affiliated film festivals FLEFF and Cine Con Cultura,” said Utterson. “Similarly, the major’s courses aim to stay up to date with the very latest developments in film culture and a changing industry by collaborating with Ithaca’s non-profit movie theaters, including Cinemapolis.”

Richardson says that the screen cultures major was designed as a global major and that students will take courses that expand their horizons.

“We’re really trying to give students a sense of the diversity of media representations and how to approach it,” said Richardson. “It’s about students being able to critically engage with images and media. Especially now it’s really important to enable students to interrogate what they’re seeing and understand how these images and how this cultural production sort of shapes culture and values.”