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Ball State Initiative Targets Emerging Media

The economy notwithstanding, Ball State University has just announced an Emerging Media Initiative that targets $17.7 million toward the evolving use of technology and digital content.

Ball State, the third-largest university in a state that includes both Indiana University and Purdue University--and a tech powerhouse in its own right--hopes the five-year initiative will connect and strengthen existing technology areas and initiatives at Ball State, as well as provide needed human capital and foster economic development across the state and region.

According to Dave Ferguson, the newly appointed associate vice president of the initiative, the project has been in the works for a year. It builds on Ball State's well funded and years-long track record of building digital media projects based on grants and initiatives. The Emerging Media Initiative will help identify and connect areas of technology excellence across a variety of disciplines at the university, Ferguson said, including "a strong media college, strong college of architecture and planning, and strong pockets within arts and humanities."

Ferguson is also director of Ball State's Center for Media Design (CMD), which is funded by several large grants from Lilly Endowment and is well known for leadership in applied research, interdisciplinary projects in digital media design, digital content development, and media use research. Ball State's five-year-old Insight and Research group, part of CMD, is a leading media research group.

Ferguson said the university hopes the initiative will work to foster professional development, help create better environments for collaborative research, and engage students. It is intended to promote innovation in both students and faculty, and, in particular, it will fund the sorts of interdisciplinary and entrepreneurial projects that have the potential of commercial success beyond the university as well.

Ball State defines emerging media is "the evolving use of technology and digital content to enhance work, play, and learning; broaden access to information, accelerating communications and understanding; and enhance personal connection by eliminating the constraints of time and location."

The initiative includes the establishment of an advisory board that takes advantage of some highly successful graduates of the university, including Randy Pond, executive vice president of operations for Cisco Systems, and Jeff Yapp, executive vice president of MTV. The board will work to analyze trends and developments in the emerging media sector, will consult on curriculum, and will help advise the university on commercial opportunities.

The initiative's first thrust, Ferguson said, is economic, with the hope of "raising the tide for all boats on campus." The second push will be a more outward-facing endeavor: "We think [we] can begin to identify new opportunities commercially for the state ... windows of opportunity. We're very focused on that part as well.... Everyone is looking for the business model. What does user-generated content mean? What do interactive environments mean? There is [a lot of technology] that is just around the corner that we have yet to fully understand."

Some funding will come from a $200 million campaign that is already underway, Ferguson said, including an emerging media scholarship program underwritten by a $1 million gift to Ball State from Cisco's Pond.

The project will also emphasize emerging media in attracting and retaining faculty across the university. Included will be the establishment of an emerging media faculty fellows program, through which the university will provide incentives and start-up funding for the hiring of new faculty--across the curriculum--with expertise in the study and use of emerging media. An aggressive hiring program will look at emerging media capability--regardless of discipline--and will offer a bonus of sorts to those with strong backgrounds in certain areas.

In terms of timing, the university is obviously aware that it is announcing a large initiative in a faltering economy. "As we launched this, we asked, 'how will the message be perceived?,'" Ferguson said. He said the quick conclusion was: "This is an investment in the future. It's not just spending some money on some cool stuff; it's an investment, and now is the right time for it. We're in a revolution that is changing how we live and work and play. We want to be proactive in that."

About the Author

Linda Briggs is a freelance writer based in San Diego, Calif. She can be reached at [email protected].

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