High Impact Learning grant helps students compose, travel

Written by Muleskinner Staff


(WARRENSBURG, Mo., digitalBURG) — Andrew Hamilton said he always dreamed of becoming a composer.

“Ever since I can remember, I’ve always wanted to write music for movies and video games,” Hamilton said. “I admire the way that music can bring media to life, and give meaning to the most trivial of things.”

Hamilton, a music composition major, said he has spent years preparing for a career in the music industry. Hamilton said he was finally able to realize his dream with the help of supportive faculty members and the High Impact Learning Grant.

Michael Sekelsky, associate dean of the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, said the grant committee asked Hamilton to compose the music for the 10-minute silent film before they would agree to provide funding.

“We said, ‘We’d much rather see you write the piece and we’ll fund you to produce it,’” Sekelsky said. “So he went back and wrote the entire composition and submitted it a second time. We got to hear it, and when we heard it we were able to take his digital version and sync it up with the music and listen to it.”

Hamilton and two other University of Central Missouri students presented the work that they had accomplished with the High Impact Learning Grant Monday, Nov. 14.  Sekelsky said Dean Gersham Nelson created the High Impact Learning Grant to give undergraduate students the opportunity to complete innovative research projects.

“His thinking was that students don’t often have the chance to do unique projects at the undergraduate level that require funding beyond what they might have through an honors project or something of that nature, so he created a fund,” Sekelsky said.

The High Impact Learning Grant has allowed students like Katie Kim and MJ Murphy to travel to other countries and learn more about their cultures. Sekelsky said their research project took them to the Middle East, where they uncovered the real story behind the current crisis.

“The students who are presenting signed up to do the Middle East study tour as part of their international study abroad experience, but then they thought ‘While we’re there we can do something and take it a step further,’” Sekelsky said. “They wanted to get to know some of the locals in the areas that they were visiting, interview them, and produce some kind of video or written documentary of the interviews they had with people.”

Murphy, an international studies and criminal justice major, said she did not have a lifelong passion for studying the Middle East, but her interest was sparked when she took a class on the subject.

“My first semester of college, I spur of the moment decided to take Dr. Makara’s Middle East politics class and I actually really loved it,” Murphy said. “After that I was so interested in the Middle East.”

Kim said her faith and her international studies major led her to the Middle East study tour.

“My international studies emphasis is on the Middle East, and I’ve always grown up in church and in small town Missouri hearing about all these Bible stories about Israel and all the places there,” Kim said. “I thought it would be really neat to see those places with my own eyes instead of just hearing about them.”

Murphy said the process of applying for the High Impact Learning Grant was stressful.

“There was a lot of paperwork to fill out and I just had to really be aware of deadlines,” Murphy said. “That was a lot of work, especially since I was new to this. But the professor who was helping us was really great about showing us the correct way to do things.”

Murphy said all her hard work paid off in the end despite the challenges.

“When it was approved it was like, ‘Yes, thank God! This is great, we can actually do this now!’” she said. “It was really exciting and well worth all of the work we put into it.”

Murphy and Kim traveled to Amman, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem where they studied the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the regional refugee crisis. Sekelsky said the students also spoke with local residents to get a better understanding of what life is really like in the Middle East. Their project, “The Middle East: Beyond The Headlines,” used augmented reality to tell their story.

Murphy said her experience studying abroad led her to her major.

“I learned that this is what I want to study,” Murphy said. “With my international studies major, there’s a geographic emphasis and mine is going to be the Middle East.”

Kim said her experience in the Middle East will be an asset when she graduates.

“I think that having this experience on my resume is something that is definitely going to set me apart from my peers,” Kim said.

Murphy and Kim traveled thousands of miles to complete their research project, but Hamilton said the source of his inspiration was closer to home.

“One day in the fall of last year, my professor came up to me and said, ‘Hey, I know you’re really interested in doing this kind of work. Why don’t you take a crack at it with a public domain film?’” Hamilton said. “So after a little digging and research, I stumbled across ‘The Great Train Robbery,’ and immediately fell in love with it.”

Hamilton said he was thrilled when they approved his proposal.

“We got the green light, and the full support of the HILO grant committee,” Hamilton said. “It was such an incredible feeling to know that people are rooting for your work. I really feel like I put my heart and soul into this project, and it was so warmly welcomed by everyone. That feeling was, and still is, incredible.”

Sekelsky said Hamilton and other music students worked tirelessly to prepare for their production. “The Great Train Robbery” was shown in Hart Recital Hall, accompanied by a live performance of Hamilton’s composition.

Hamilton said this project will help him pursue a master’s degree in music composition.

“After I finish my undergrad in composition here, I’m gonna try to get into a big film scoring school, like USC or Berklee,” Hamilton said. “I think this project will definitely give me an edge for getting into those programs because this was a project that most people don’t get the opportunity to do in this kind of setting.”

Sekelsky said CAHSS will continue to offer the High Impact Learning Grant to undergraduate students.

“We do applications in the fall and the spring every year, so we’ve just gone through our third application process and funded a set of new projects that people have submitted…we hope to have this continue,” Sekelsky said.