Midco donates $1.35M for new multimedia major, production studio

With a gift of $1.35 million from Midco, Augustana University is bringing a “tech sandbox” to its campus.

The idea of a “tech sandbox” — a phrase first introduced during a conversation in 2019 between Peter Folliard, dean of the School of Music, and Shannan Nelson, chief financial officer — has evolved into plans for the Midco Media Campus and Production Center and the newly approved multimedia entrepreneurship major.

As Midco looked to continue its sponsorship of Augustana athletics at the end of 2020, the company also evaluated how it could further support the university, said Pat McAdaragh, president and CEO of Midco.

“We’re real believer[s] in the Sioux Falls community, the region and Augustana as a part of that,” McAdaragh said. “Yes, we wanted to continue to support athletics, but also, we’re a technology company that has a long history of being in the video entertainment and production business. How can we help Augustana with its academic programs in this space?”

This summer, Augustana will be remodeling a classroom in the Fryxell Humanities Center, turning the space into a media center with a control room and a production studio. The production studio will be equipped with a green screen, two broadcast cameras and a teleprompter.

Colin Irvine, provost and executive vice president, said Augustana wanted this project to be a “place-based opportunity.”

“If you think about the idea of a sandbox, there’s not really rules that govern what you do in a sandbox except create,” Irvine said. “We wanted to create a sort of boundless space where students could create with support. […] And we wanted to do it in partnership with a company that models this way of going about their work.”

Fiber optic connectivity, supplied by Midco, will also be installed around Augustana’s campus starting this spring.

According to Folliard, Augustana’s tech sandbox will be “an educational opportunity for students to engage in multimedia: audio, video, music notation, podcasting, music creation [and] broadcast journalism.”

Students can take advantage of the coming media opportunities through the new multimedia entrepreneurship major that will be offered in fall 2021.

The degree, earned through the center for interdisciplinary studies, is split into three areas of focus. One-third of it focuses on the student’s chosen discipline, one-third focuses on software training and one-third consists of Augustana’s entrepreneurship minor, which includes an internship. During software training, students will develop technological skills and apply those skills within their own discipline.

Augustana is partnering with Avid, a Boston-based media company used by Netflix, Disney, NBC and Universal Studios that has set the industry standard for media editing and production.

Through the Avid Learning Partnership (ALP), Augustana has access to 75 software licenses and guidelines for structuring the multimedia courses, according to Folliard.

“[The partnership] also enables us to offer some of their programming that’s specific to how their software works,” Folliard said. “It’s sort of like a how-to book on the software.”

Because of the three-year certification sequence, Folliard said students will want to declare multimedia entrepreneurship as their major no later than the fall of their sophomore year.

To teach the new courses in the major, Augustana will bring on new faculty. The instructors will need to be trained in the Avid software programs. Folliard said 12 instructors — some current full-time faculty, some adjuncts and some who work with media production in the community — are currently going through the training process. Folliard said he expects some attrition but is excited to see how the staffing pans out.

The new major and Midco Media Campus and Production Center are just the beginnings of what Folliard and Irvine hope is a “constantly evolving” project for Augustana.

Folliard hopes the multimedia entrepreneurship major will grow to include summer programming, online classes and interim intensives. He also plans to expand the media opportunities associated with Avid and the media center to the community, involving K-12 students and those interested in learning about production.

McAdaragh said Midco is also excited about the community having access to the opportunities of the media campus.

“My hope is that a lot more people are exposed to and have opportunities to be around what I would say is the ‘off-camera’ part of the entertainment and production business,” McAdaragh said.

With plans in motion to start construction and faculty training this summer, Folliard said the media center and its technology will be put to use for the first home football game on Sept. 3.

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