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Students learn to help others tell their stories through video

By Sally Jongsma

Communication Professors Charles Veenstra and Mark Volkers are planning to expand video production education for their communication majors.

Communication Professors Charles Veenstra and Mark Volkers are planning to expand video production education for their communication majors.

New video equipment is ordered for the communication department, and new courses in video production are on the schedule for next fall. Renovating studio and classroom space began already this past summer, and Professor Mark Volkers has settled in as the new communication professor and electronic media specialist on campus.

Dr. Charles Veenstra, chair of the communication department, believes that Volkers’ appointment will make good things happen in the program.

“Volkers brings cutting edge expertise in visual technology, filling a position that has been vacant for the past year,” Veenstra says. As the department begins its scheduled program review, Veenstra is delighted to have Volkers help assess how the program can expand in the next five years.

Volkers’ two big interests are missions and communication. In his former position as communications director for Christian Reformed World Missions, he combined both. He expects to do the same here—training students to live out their calling through visual media.

“My passion is to help Christian organizations tell their story,” he says. He is eager to have his students learn how to showcase organizations and share information through film, shaping that information in a way that encourages people to act.

“The focus for me is not on technique, yet it has to be that too,” Volkers says, adding, “Christians should set a standard of excellence, not drag behind.” Volkers tries to work with people in a way that allows them to communicate in the best way they can. He’ll try to help his students learn that lesson, too. He also stresses basic communication through the written word, believing that people need to be able to write well if they are to communicate well.

“I hope all of my students will take advanced composition,” he says. Communication has grown to include technology, but he believes that it still rests on good writing skills.

Volkers, who spent seven years doing mission work in Africa, has filmed, written, and produced documentary films about cultures and people from around the world. He has received fifteen Telly Awards for his documentaries. As communications director for CRWM, he oversaw their website, produced films, acted as photojournalist, and edited Proclaim magazine. Volkers recently completed his first year of a Ph.D in communications at Wayne State University in Dearborn, Michigan.

Under Volkers’ supervision, Dordt College is adding ten Avid Suite stations. Avid is the industry standard in video technology software and is used by most of the television and movie industry. It will allow Dordt students to produce news and documentary stories and films in their communication program. In addition, they will take courses that teach them about lighting, camera work, audio, interviewing, directing, editing, and more.

“Our niche at Dordt College may well be to help students build good documentary videos,” Volkers says. That background will prepare them to work in video production firms that produce anything from Hollywood films to industry training videos to documentaries. It would also prepare them to work with an advertising agency.

While Volkers builds the video end of the communication major he is also putting his craft to work for the college. The admissions office is beginning to plan its next DVD to introduce prospective students to the college, due out in the spring of 2007. With some help from his students, Volkers will shoot and produce the video rather than bring in an outside production company to do the final product. The college will benefit from Volkers’ award-winning expertise, and students will get hands-on experience.

“You can’t learn this stuff simply from a textbook,” Volkers says, adding, “You need to get in and get your ‘hands dirty’—while you’re reading your text.” Students also need to learn to improvise. But much of the work comes down to basics—good lighting, good writing, and good design.

Volkers and Art Professor David Versluis have also begun to talk about how they can work together in the video communication and graphic art programs to develop and include animation in their projects.

“Video media is a powerful form of communication. If we don’t tell our story, someone else will. And they won’t necessarily get it right,” says Volkers. For him “our story” is what God is doing in the world. And that story needs to be told well.