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Animated “EMU Experience” Showcases VACA Department

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A class in the science center, a chapel service, cheering on a Royals sports team and a cross-cultural to the Middle East all figure in a new 45-second animated video created by Chris Stauffer, a 2012 December graduate of Eastern Mennonite University (EMU). The video follows a student from the end of high school through graduation from EMU.

“It pretty much shows the spectrum of what EMU offers in four years,” said Stauffer, who majored in digital media.

Stauffer created the animation with Adobe After Effects, a software program he learned to use in an intensive course taught by Jerry Holsopple, professor of visual and communication arts (VaCA). The project got off to a promising start during Stauffer’s student internship with EMU’s marketing department, during which he was encouraged to pursue his interest in animation that began in Holsopple’s class. After Stauffer finished his coursework in December, 2012, EMU hired him to finish the job.

“I really enjoyed it, despite how long it took. It was a great, great process and I learned a lot,” said Stauffer, who spent so many hours working on the project this winter that he didn’t bother counting them.

Stauffer now works at a hotel in Harrisonburg while juggling a number of freelance design projects. Eventually, he hopes to freelance full-time, putting to use the audio, web design, photography, video and animation skills he developed as a student in EMU’s visual and communication arts program.

The department is becoming one of EMU’s most popular programs. Enrollment in the four majors offered through by the VaCA department (art, communication, digital media and photography) is more than 100, about double the number enrolled six years ago. One reason for the growth in popularity, Holsopple said, is the fact that very few small Christian universities offer majors in either photography or digital media. VaCA’s synthesis of fine arts and technology education also appeals to prospective students.

“We’re not just teaching you technology, and we’re not just teaching you fine arts,” Holsopple said. “[Students] are going to get a radically better education than if they’re off in one field or the other.”

As the program’s popularity has grown, so has its stature. Increasingly, Holsopple said, prospective students are considering EMU’s VaCA program along with highly regarded art and design programs at places like the Savannah College of Art and Design or the Maryland Institute College of Art.

The university has also made substantial investment in keeping current with professional-level software and equipment to ensure that graduates take strong technical skills to the job market.

Stauffer expressed appreciation for the way VaCA faculty members help students identify and deepen specific interests – both technically and artistically. Holsopple also credited his colleagues on the VaCA faculty with creating a program that offers students a unique opportunity to develop critical-thinking skills, in addition to technical ones.

“[Our] students have something to say, instead of just being technically astute. I think that some schools are more concerned that they know how to use technology,” Holsopple said. “We are equally or more concerned about how they think about the world.”

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