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Kayla Williams and Quinn Kirkpatrick work on their senior research projects.
This article was originally published in UDaily on March 23, 2021.
By Chris Kelley
Photos courtesy for Kayla Williams and Quinn Kirkpatrick
Two University of Delaware communication majors are learning about the state while sharing its stories through a student research project turned documentary series called, Discovering Delaware.
From capturing some of Delaware’s finest landmarks to its unique cuisine and culture — and even a recent a historic moment for Delaware — UD students Kayla Williams and Quinn Kirkpatrick have been hard at work completing their undergraduate research requirement, a documentary focused on the stories, the history and the people that make up the First State.
Not only did the experience allow the two seniors to learn the ins and outs of video production, but it also inspired them to continue sharing the footage they collected to expand the project into an online docuseries. On top of that, they even had the chance to network with UD alumni and the press.
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Williams and Kirkpatrick first proposed the idea of producing a documentary focused on Delaware instead of the traditional final paper for the department’s undergraduate research requirement — in the course catalog it is called COMM 468: Undergraduate Research in Communication — to their media production professor, Lydia Timmins. The students credited Timmins with a shared interest in video production that ultimately led to the project idea.
While the pitch was considered unconventional, it wasn’t unheard of.
“Although not a traditional project complete with a final paper, Kayla and Quinn’s proposed final product, a video documentary, makes their research on Delaware accessible and easy to share,” said Timmins, an assistant professor in the Department of Communication and the project’s faculty sponsor. “Ultimately, producing a documentary requires research, interviewing subjects and statistical analysis — all of the pieces you would expect for university-level research.”
After receiving approval from Department of Communication Chair Kami Silk, the two worked with Timmins to prepare a storyboard and plan out the project. With over two decades of experience working as a TV news producer, Timmins was able to provide insight into production timelines and capabilities that proved invaluable to the project. She also connected them with UD alumna Bonnie Keller, a long-time broadcasting and communications professional with specialties in scriptwriting and voiceover work, who was able to offer the students advice, resources and even some professional press contacts.
While Kirkpatrick and Williams originally planned for their final project to focus on a variety of Delaware-centric topics, including deep-dives into the cuisine, residents and landmarks of all three of its counties, resource and time constraints led them to limit the focus of their for-credit project.
“Even as we went along with filming, we ourselves as Delaware natives were realizing that there’s a lot about the state we didn’t know,” said Kirkpatrick, a native of Wilmington. “We also realized a lot of other people didn’t know about the Underground Railroad in Delaware — and specifically New Castle County, so we decided to focus on that.”
“The Underground Railroad in Delaware focuses on famous Delaware abolitionists and features historic documents, maps and locations,” said Williams. “It also touches on the different ideologies that existed during that time across Delaware’s three counties.”
With footage capturing views across the state and interviews with long-time residents and historians, the student filmmakers have decided to continue the project as a docuseries with more installments to come. They even published a second video on their YouTube channel after receiving press clearance to attend the victory speech of then President-elect Joe Biden.
“We shared Joe Biden’s Victory: A Delaware Perspective to capture the energy of that day through the lens of a local,” said Williams. “It was an amazing opportunity to get footage of this big moment, interview people who were there and network with the press at the same time.”
Kirkpatrick and Williams both look forward to pursuing careers in media production.
“It was UD’s media production courses with Dr. Timmins that sparked our interest and showed us we had the ability to be filmmakers. That and just having someone believe in us,” said Kirkpatrick. “At the end of the day, I guess it was UD that showed us just what we could do, which is exactly what we came here to find out.”
Williams added that it was Timmins who also connected them with NBC10 Philadephia’s Tim Furlong. “He even shared drone footage with us for our documentary,” she said.
Timmins encourages both current and prospective students of all academic backgrounds to consider getting involved in the university’s media production courses offered through the UD Department of Communication.
“It’s a small program, but it’s an effective program. While we don’t have a college of media here at the University of Delaware, what we do have are small classes with faculty who will help a student hoping to pursue more work in this space,” said Timmins.
As for advice for any future Blue Hen student filmmakers?
“I think what was holding us back is that we didn’t realize that we could just do it. We could use our phones, go out, and make a video,” said Williams. “We just showed up. It was us, our cameras and the world.”
The Department of Communication, which is part of the College of Arts and Sciences, adopts a social and behavioral science approach to the study of human communication. All majors study communication in a wide variety of contexts (technology, face-to-face, etc.), and can concentrate in the areas of interpersonal, media and public relations. Faculty are committed to collaborative and interdisciplinary research that pushes the boundaries of the communication field, turning theory into effective skills for speaking, critical thinking, writing, campaigns and media production so that academic knowledge and experience extend beyond the classroom into future opportunities for our students.