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Aims Students Shine at Prestigious Broadcast Education Conference

New to the broadcasting industry, Aims students have opportunities to show off their creativity, ambition, and pursuit of redefining media norms. These attributes were put on full display at a national conference where students received academic and industry experiences that kickstarted their journeys as new and emerging media professionals. 

Aims students at BEA Conference
Aims students pictured left to right: Kevin Ailon, Riley Schafer, Stepfanie Thompson, Jeff Thatch and Joshua Molina.

Aims Media Production Club student members attended the Annual Broadcast Education Association (BEA) Conference, April 5-8.  BEA is the premier international academic media organization, driving insights, excellence in media production, and career advancement for educators, students, and professionals. BEA is aligned with the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Convention, the largest broadcast convention in the world with over 100,000 attendees. These events are held annually in tandem at the Las Vegas Convention Center. 

Three Aims students had special recognition and a chance to showcase their knowledge and work in 2024. Joshua Molina was recognized as part of the RAB Student Scholars Program. Jeff Thatch and Stepfanie Thompson presented at the BEA conference.

Aims Virtual Vertical Film Festival Presentation

Thatch and Thompson presented at the conference on a successful Virtual Vertical Film Festival they organized in 2021. They were selected from hundreds of submissions to present at BEA. Few undergraduate students were offered an opportunity to present their projects and ideas in this forum. 

“It’s kind of a rare occurrence, not a lot of students present at this conference,” Thatch said. “Stepf and I have made connections with some of these people at the conference, and they have PhDs and Master's degrees.”

Thatch and Thompson at Presentation
Jeff Thatch and Stepfanie Thompson at the BEA conference presentation.

The Virtual Vertical Film Festival started as one of Thompson’s capstone projects in the spring of 2021. It became more extensive than she expected. There were 378 submissions from 55 countries. “We were getting entries from China, India, Iran and just so many different countries,” Thatch said. He believes that America is behind the rest of the world in vertical cinema due to the lack of submissions from the US. 

“For me, it's the future of video and trying to get in on that ground level to write the book, so to speak,” he said. Over the years, this aspect ratio has gained prominence with smartphone-based vertical video-sharing platforms such as TikTok and Instagram reels. “People, especially younger people, are conditioned to hold their phones vertically. That's how they consume media,” Thatch said.  “It is great to inspire people to start looking at the merits of vertical cinema.” 

You can view the entire Virtual Vertical Film Festival online.

Thatch was nervous to present but felt good afterward when he received great feedback from the audience. He recalls a person pulling him aside after the presentation to provide encouraging words, asking where Aims was located, and telling him how much she appreciated the information. 

Aims Director of Student Life Janet Chase attended the students’ BEA session and was impressed. “I was absolutely thunderstruck by the years of research, collaboration, and passion that went into the project they presented. As a person who knows less than nothing about the media, I learned so much from their presentation,” she said. “Jeff and Stepfanie are prime examples of what it means to be stellar, dedicated, and driven Aims students.”

Dean of Students Shannon McCasland also attended and gave the breakout session rave reviews. “I’ve attended hundreds of conference sessions led by professionals in various fields. The Vertical Film session presented by Jeff and Stepfanie was, hands down, one of the top five sessions I’ve ever attended at a national conference. One would never have known they were students (not yet full-fledged communications media pros) due to their level of expertise, professional competence, and presentation savvy.  I am so proud of how they represented themselves, their program, and Aims.”

Thatch thought that the presence of Chase and McCasland was intimidating but also comforting. “It furthered the fact that we got a lot of support as students to kinda go beyond what we think is possible and try something new and take risks.”

RAB Student Scholars Program 

Molina attended the conference before and the excitement surrounding it keeps bringing him back. Chase was amazed by Molina on the trip. “I was so very impressed with the leadership role he took with the two students attending the conference for the first time,” she said. “Joshua took on the role of mentor and guide for the new students. The Las Vegas Convention Center is ginormous. If it weren't for Joshua serving as a guide, I would have been absolutely lost and overwhelmed.”

One of Molina’s most significant takeaways from this year’s conference is emerging AI technology in the media industry. “AI integration facilitates and expedites the production of media, but it's not going to completely replace humans,” he said. “The business should get comfortable with effectively utilizing AI to speed up the process of creation.” 

Molina was chosen as an RAB student scholar for the second consecutive year. For this program, 150 students are selected from a pool of hundreds of applicants worldwide.  RAB Radio Scholars are granted access to two exclusive sessions at BEA, where they can network with some of the top names in the radio industry.  “I was able to get contact information from several big names in the radio industry,” Molina said. “It could help me secure employment in the industry, which is my current goal after my education is finished.” The RAB Student Scholars Program allows college undergraduate and graduate students to attend BEA and NAB show conventions and receive a $125 travel stipend.

Support from Aims

These experiences wouldn’t have been possible without Aims' ability to empower students to explore, innovate, and excel beyond the classroom.

Both Thatch and Molina said they are grateful that Aims allowed them and the other students to attend conferences like the BEA. The college has funds set aside and an application process. This allows the college to fully fund opportunities to travel to conferences, network with industry professionals, and learn more about the latest technology at trade shows. Afterward, students share their experiences and what they learned with their peers to benefit as many people as possible. 

Molina said that he would only have been able to attend the conference with assistance from Aims. “I hope that the Media Club will continue to receive funding from Aims to continue sending students to BEA every single year,” he said. “It was truly an eye-opening experience. It gave me the opportunity to meet and network with some of the biggest names in the media industry that I otherwise would have never been able to experience without the help of Aims. I am confident that other students will also take advantage of such an incredible opportunity.”

“The fact that Aims is so supportive of sending us on these trips to not only learn something but to, you know, gain these new life experiences. It's incredible,” Thatch said.