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SOU works on digital media core

Southern Oregon University is hoping to tap into the younger generation's interest in digital media while giving art, journalism and computer science students a solid foundation in technological skills.

The Art, Communications and Computer Science Departments all offer high-tech courses, such as digital photography.

Under a new plan, SOU will create a core set of classes where students from different disciplines will come together to learn about digital photography, graphic arts, Web design, video production and other subjects.

With a strong foundation of skills in place, students can then specialize in areas like photojournalism in the Communications department or digital arts in the Arts Department, said Interim Dean of the School of Arts and Letters Dan Morris.

"It targets the growing interest in young people in visual media," he said.

The changes come as SOU restructures, eliminates programs and cuts staff to close a $4 million budget hole.

Morris said the planned creation of the digital foundation courses grew, in part, out of an effort to find savings, but SOU officials realized the courses could be important for recruitment. Faculty members will not be cut. Instead, the courses could be team-taught by faculty from different departments, he said.

Associate Professor of Journalism Dennis Dunleavy said members of the younger generation are not only interested in digital media, but they already have some rough skills. Nearly 60 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds have produced content for the Web. For example, many have posted information to the social networking site .

"I think they come in very enthusiastically. Students see a need for this type of training," Dunleavy said.

He said the world of journalism already has changed, with traditional newspapers calling on journalists to not only write stories, but to post stories to the Internet, collect audio and video, design and lay out newspaper pages and Web sites and take digital photos for print and Web editions.

In the next school quarter, Dunleavy will be requiring his journalism students to capture video. They already have learned how to post stories to the Internet.

"Students listened to a presidential speech and then wrote blog stories. The students were very motivated. They were excited about being able to publish something almost immediately," he said.

Dunleavy said SOU professors still have a responsibility to teach students traditional journalistic values like accuracy and balance, and to guide discussions on the role of journalism in democracies and in the world at large.

"We teach hands-on skills and the theoretical aspects. We're not a vocational school. We're liberal arts," he said.

Jim Teece, president and CEO of the Ashland high-tech company Project A, said a liberal arts institution can play a unique role in teaching students diverse ways to use different skills. He said employers are looking for workers who are more than just technically proficient with software programs.

Teece said students in a variety of majors could benefit from gaining a foundation in digital media skills.

"I think it's actually a brilliant idea to offer a foundation of digital skills even beyond computer science, journalism and art," he said. "Everything we do requires a baseline of digital skills. It's great to offer that core set and allow people to choose different paths." As for art students, even those who pursue traditional art forms like painting and sculpture could see their earning power improve after graduation if they have skills in digital media.

Most art graduates will not have financially lucrative careers selling their work in fine art galleries. Even artists who make it into galleries usually do something else to supplement their incomes.

"It's like garage bands. One in a million will make it," said John Davis, owner of Davis Cline Gallery in Ashland. "There are superstars of the art world that make it, but everyone else is struggling. To truly survive, you have to do something else. I think that the best way to make a living is at least to stay in the field."

He said art professors and people in fields like graphic arts and publishing can make a living while building their fine art careers.

For students who want to focus on digital arts, new careers in fields like computer animation have emerged in the last few decades.

The line between fine and graphic arts continues to blur.

Many graphic artists use fine art principles and techniques in their designs. Fine artists who use computers also are legitimizing the use of such tools, much as pioneering photographers earned recognition for photography as an art form.

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com. To post an on-line comment, visit .