Featured Stories, Lutherans in Minnesota

Working hard to get the word out

Bethany Lutheran College offers innovative integrated communications program

“If you ever want to make God laugh, tell him your plan,” Dr. Thomas Kuster said in explaining the evolution he’s seen at Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato, Minnesota. “We’ve seen tremendous and surprising changes in the last 20 years.”

In 1996, the Board of Regents of Bethany, a school of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS), determined that the school should move from offering exclusively associate degrees to providing four-years bachelor’s degrees. In 2001, Bethany graduated its first group of BAs.

The first major offered was in communications, a department established by Kuster. Now the college provides 19 majors, an equal number of minors, a certification program in coaching, and a secondary teaching licensure.

While Kuster had anticipated the importance of these changes for Bethany’s future, he hadn’t foreseen how quickly the school would be transformed into a four-year liberal arts college recognized for its programs.

How could he have known that in 2012 the Upper Midwest chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (NATAS) would award Bethany three Student Awards of Excellence? (The Upper Midwest Chapter included universities and colleges from North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin.)

Anthony Miller and Stephanie Erlandson, both rising juniors at Bethany Lutheran College, talk with Lance Schwartz, the school’s director of institutional communications, about the variety of opportunities provided students in the the communications department. Bethany is a college of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, located in Mankato, Minnesota. Metro Lutheran photo: Bob Hulteen

“Students, even upper-level undergraduates, don’t often get this kind of experience.”

A student film Leaf Me Alone was also awarded first place at the 2012 BEA Festival’s Small College Video/ Broadcast competition, as part of the National Association of Broadcasters and Broadcast Education Association’s convention in Las Vegas. (The film had earlier won Bethany’s Red Eye Film Festival, a competition in which students have one week to write and produce a short film.)

For Bethany Lutheran College, when God laughs, the school wins awards.

A unique partnership

College hockey has brought increased attention to BLC Studios, the production arm of the communications major. The communications department, with about 70 declared majors, has an agreement with Minnesota State University—Mankato to produce and broadcast its Division I WCHA (Western Collegiate Hockey Association) hockey games. This partnership between a large state university and a small college is unique, according to Lance Schwartz, director of institutional communication.

“Students, even upper-level undergraduates, don’t often get this kind of experience,” Schwartz explained. “At Bethany, even first-year students have opportunities to stick a toe in [the water] and see how interested they are in broadcasting.” A number of students who apply to Bethany in a different department end up switching majors after that early experience with hands-on broadcasting, Schwartz said.

The college sends a traveling broadcast trailer on its away hockey games. The trailer includes a bank of nine video monitors and requires about six or seven people to operate. It has speedy replay capacity and advanced graphics options. A producer is calling camera shots from the van, and students research statistics and offer voice-over.

Many students involved in the Media Arts major — a program for students who are interested in animation, advertising, Web development, or videography — also become involved in broadcasting at Bethany, whether hockey games or public service programming.

Anthony Miller, an upcoming junior, came to Bethany as a Media Arts major, with thoughts of a career in graphic design or video game development. But he has long been a sports enthusiast, as well. His broadcast opportunities, especially the hockey games, have caused him to reconsider majors. “I’ve had this hands on experience, and I am interested in a career in broadcast sports now,” he told Metro Lutheran.

Reid Anderson and Anthony Miller coordinate coverage of Minnesota State University—Mankato hockey games from Bethany Lutheran College’s traveling truck. Set up like professional sports studios, several Bethany students have been able to land jobs with ESPN and Fox Sports Net. Photo: Melissa Richie

With a start-up grant from the Antioch Foundation, the school launched Stone Path Studios, a student-run production company that is an auxiliary enterprise to BLC Studios.

Miller hopes eventually to follow fellow alums who have landed jobs with ESPN or Fox Sports Net.

But not all of Bethany’s options revolved around sports. Its “Between the Lines,” a public service program, has received recognition for its broadcasts of interviews with important statewide political figures.

On the path

With the increased recognition of its communication department came increased requests for help. Christian groups and nonprofits with projects beyond their capacity began to ask BLC Studios to produce their resources.

Initially, staff responded to requests without much coordination. Eventually, a new opportunity presented itself.

With a start-up grant from the Antioch Foundation, the school launched Stone Path Studios, a student-run production company that is an auxiliary enterprise to BLC Studios. (The Antioch Foundation was started by a Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod family.)

When Stephanie Erlandson, an upcoming junior and executive director of Stone Path, receives a project request, she and her staff evaluate the project’s purpose, consider its value for students involved, and Stone Path’s capacity to provide the best work.

“The staff at Stone Path does very well,” Schwartz told Metro Lutheran. “In fact, one of our alumni, Dr. Darold Treffert, interviewed them for a project and said that their proposal was as professional as any he received.”

When comedian Taylor Mason performed a benefit in Mankato for Kids Against Hunger, he asked Stone Path to produce a DVD for promotional use.

Stone Path was also asked to record the three-day Fun Time Polka Festival in Appleton, Minnesota. They filmed, edited, and produced 26 episodes that will air on Pioneer Public TV in southwestern Minnesota.

Stone Path can provide support to groups in multiple media platforms, as well as help organizations with an assessment how to best meet there needs, according to Schwartz.

“Stone Path will continue to find new ways to meet people with a positive nonprofit message, or gospel message for Christian organizations,” said Erlandson. “That’s important to me because I have always known I wanted to make a change in the world for the better.”

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