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MTSU reopens its ‘Bonnaroo Campus’ for sixth year in a row

It’s showtime for the sixth year in a row for Middle Tennessee State University students who are part of a team of multimedia communicators to cover the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival — and earn college credit doing it.

About 35 students for MTSU’s College of Media and Entertainment started work Thursday at the 700-acre farm that Dean Ken Paulson calls each year his “Bonnaroo campus.”

“Our partnership with Bonnaroo has opened up so many opportunities for our students, and we’re now seeing those first students in the program return as professionals,” Paulson said. “It’s a reminder to all of us that classrooms shouldn’t be contained by four walls.”

Students from the college’s three academic departments are represented at this year’s Bonnaroo.

Video and film production and photography majors from the Department of Media Arts and audio production majors from the Department of Recording Industry will be capturing performances of emerging artists on Bonnaroo’s Who Stage, while multimedia majors from the School of Journalism and Strategic Media will be covering acts for area media outlets during the four-day festival.

“Learning and growing from mistakes on the spot allows me to build the skills to adapt in similar situations in careers one day I may find myself doing,” said Nate Parris, a junior in video production. “This is a one-of-a-kind experience.”

This is not a theory class, said Media Arts Chair Billy Pittard, but a chance to build skills and apply classroom learning in a real-world setting.

“MTSU’s partnership with Bonnaroo gives our students an amazing hands-on opportunity to engage the world with all the rich media that we teach,” Pittard said.

Added Recording Industry Chair Beverly Keel, “This is in real time, so there are no do-overs and lots of distractions. And that prepares them well for careers in audio production, especially in the growing area of live sound.”

“We are able to go out into the field in a professional environment and put what we are learning in the classroom to use,” said Ryan Tyler, a video production junior.

MTSU’s Bonnaroo campus, the result of a partnership forged by Paulson, mirrors similar experiential learning opportunities designed or guided by the dean at the Grammys, the Academy of Country Music Awards and events by the Country Music Association and the Americana Music Association.

While some of the students are working to capture audio and video content from acts performing on Bonnaroo’s Who Stage, others will be working late-night and early-morning hours to file stories and photos from different stages.

“Bonnaroo offers a real-time, professional experience for students,” said Journalism Director Greg Pitts. “The events are real, as are the deadlines — and there’s no better way for students to gain hands-on training.”

This is the fifth year the student production team at Bonnaroo is using MTSU’s state-of-the-art, $1.7 million Mobile Production Lab, which was moved into place behind the Who Stage on Wednesday.

“Eighteen live music concerts in four days. No other university in the area can do this,” said Robert Gordon Jr., an associate professor in Media Arts. “Our students produce actual content for Bonnaroo, their performers and the news media.”

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