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“It’s aliiiiive!” That’s how founding director Bobby Arellano describes the growth of the university’s ten-year-old academic major in Emerging Media and Digital Arts (EMDA). Quoting Gene Wilder in the movie Young Frankenstein is just one way Arellano and SOU alumni talk about “this weird degree that has to be explained to people,” Arellano said.
Along with professors Miles Inada and David Bithell, EMDA has grown and developed into one of the most diverse and creative majors the university offers. Graduating students have taken on a range of careers including animation, industrial design, fine art, and web development.
Arellano had a directive to create new majors around an interdisciplinary center of digital arts and emerging media when he was hired. “Every one of those words were sort of handed to me on a platter, and EMDA came to be,” he said.
Initially, Arellano explained the complicated program using a 3-legged stool analogy. “If EMDA was a stool, the three legs would be graphic design, digital video, and interactive. Those are things you can find in other majors, and they make the foundation for the EMDA major,” he said. “It’s basically everything you can find on a screen.”
For the first five or six years, those three legs served EMDA well, but EMDA’s evolution required a new analogy. There are new technologies and subsequently new courses, such as virtual reality and creating 3-D environments. “What most surprised me is how underprepared even I was for how things were going to change, and how much the students were going to lead us,” said Arellano.
Arellano remembered a statistic that was popular in 2010. “Students would not just change jobs but change careers at least three times in their first seven years out of school, and half of the jobs available to our students wouldn’t have even been invented yet,” said Arellano. “That was true back in 2010, and I think it is still true today.”
The program continues to grow and change with the times. Updating the technology available to students, creating a virtual reality lab, and hiring new faculty members–such as Jeffrey Scudder, who teaches digital painting, interactive art, and related topics–have been critical to growing the major. “We not only have to keep listening to students in terms of what technology, ideas, and communities we need to stay abreast of, we also need faculty who push that edge of the change curve,” said Arellano.
Arellano said part of what makes the EMDA program so strong is that it is constantly growing and changing. “I love not even knowing what is just out of view on the horizon. We have created an environment where we will be ready for whatever emerges.”
EMDA is celebrating its anniversary with a series of image and video-rich EDMA alumni stories. “This really brings me a lot of joy,” said Arellano. “I’m thrilled with the tenth anniversary and the alumni who are coming back virtually to celebrate it with us.”
The EMDA program also has a robust alumni network to support students and graduates. Arellano encourages EMDA seniors, grads, and any SOU alumni who are interested in becoming potential mentors to reach out to the EMDA program’s LinkedIn network.