Never Mind the Spotlight… Zack Neil

Original idea.

My project this semester was to assistant-teach a theatre class for the SUCCESS students and to create a video of them. To be completely honest, I didn’t know if this project was a form of activism or not. The project was originally based on spreading awareness about the SUCCESS peers (please see below link for more information). I started at the beginning of the semester teaching, for my second time, a theatre class for the 7 first years in the program. The theme of this year started to include themes of college and their experience at UMBC. I thought it interesting that, despite these students’ excitement about our school, other students were unaware who they were or their stories. Though that is true for everyone else on our campus, I found that the SUCCESS program is the first of its kind in Maryland. It is a source of tremendous pride for me, as someone who strives for social justice and inclusivity. I started thinking about interviewing them and what I’d ask. I thought about all the interview questions possible, I didn’t want to be evasive nor did I want to ask something too hard to answer. I simply wanted to get to know them in order to show others that these seven students are more than what is on the outside.


At first I asked “Tell me about yourself” and went from there. Several talked about their families or what they like to do. But I felt like it was safe to dig deeper, so I asked “What is something that people don’t know about you?” And I found this to be extraordinarily interesting. The answers went in several different directions, somewhat showing the diversity in self-reflection. Some of the answers reflected on their experience at college and their journey to college. Names of past colleges or high schools were a running theme. So I probed a little more and asked about their education. They talked about the SUCCESS program and several talked about what they are learning in other classes. Photography was an especially popular subject.


Making of the film.

After compiling the interviews, composing the movie was a challenge. Not only did I have to play around with closed captioning, I had to figure out how to make easy transitions and enhance voice quality. Then the original movie disappeared mysteriously from my computer and a tornado of sass fell out of my mouth and onto my screen. But after a long night I recreated it, focusing more on the objective of the movie: to spread awareness of the SUCCESS students- their lives and passions. I especially highlighted their ability to work and what they wanted to work as post-college. Please follow the link below for the full movie.


In the end though, I re-learned that part of activism is raising awareness. I was able to do this by showing the video to people and getting their feedback I was able to have more conversations about the SUCCESS program. People asked questions about the program and the experience I’ve had. I was able to explain how important the program was and what the students were learning. And then I found why it was important- people don’t know that this program exists. If someone does know, they don’t know who the students are, and that these students are very much so like everyone else at UMBC. But what I love about this group is their love of UMBC.


I wanted to highlight these folks’ education because it demonstrates how much they take advantage of education. While most college students take college for granted based on their privilege, these students are very much so reaping the benefits of what UMBC has to offer. So I hope that after watching this film, students will be able to see the variations of ability but also that these students very much so care about their education and bettering themselves through learning.


What worked/ didn’t work & thoughts on how to do better.

I think having a close relationship to the students was definitely helpful for the interviews. However, something I would do next time is interview more of the SUCCESS students because there is a smaller cohort in their second year in the program to get a fuller experience. I think having the iMovie program worked but I would have wanted more diverse camera angles and a better way to insert closed captioning. Perhaps having a skilled movie-maker would have been a helpful resource to combat more of those harder movie-making issues. I think having communication with SUCCESS and the theatre professor was helpful in getting their input and parameters for the movie. I will be sharing the movie with SUCCESS so they are able to utilize it for their purposes as well. Also with movie-making I learned the hard way that it is important to save your work, repeatedly.


In terms of the interviews themselves, I found it especially important to be cognizant of what my peers may or may not be comfortable with me showing. Some of their answers that were more personal may not have been appropriate for the video, so it was important for me to find what pieces to use that wouldn’t be embarrassing for them or inappropriate. I would also try to shoot the shots with the same backdrop so that it looks more uniform.



In sum, this is an important piece of activism because it allows others to be aware of the SUCCESS program, its students, and their love of learning. I would suggest having help from a professional movie editor and to have solid movie-making software. I have been so surprised by these peoples’ lives; have challenged my assumptions and has showed me the diversity of the human experience.


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