In early April, the sun burned bright in California, but in downtown San Diego you wouldn’t find your typical High School kids wandering around outside. Why not? One reason might have been the 2700 eager students who filled the halls of the Manchester Grand Hyatt Hotel for the annual Student Television Network (STN) convention. Armed with burgeoning creativity and cameras of every kind, the students converged on the event, which has become renowned for being a foremost resource for young journalists looking to share their work and learn from each other.
Despite the flurry of excitement that instinctively surrounds the spectacle of thousands of American students being gathered into a single building, there were a few particular individuals who seemed to be gathering quite the buzz around 2015’s STN convention. Who were these special persons? They were none other than the participants of the US-Russia Social Expertise Exchange (SEE) Education and Youth Working Group. However, it was not just SEE who garnered the most attention — the working group notably brought along a youth contingent of six Russian students who were all aspiring broadcast journalists at their respective Russian schools in cities such as Samara, Cheboksary, and Petrozavodsk. The student-journalists arrived eager to learn from, and inform, their American counterparts while immersing themselves in all the multi-faceted events of STN.
On the first day of the STN convention, a Russian language countdown signaled the start of the impressive convention introduction. This simple gesture offered a sign that this particular STN convention was truly something special — a hint of cultural exchange to come.
What is STN?
What once started as a simple network for teachers to exchange basic information on building up broadcasting in schools, has since grown into the foremost authority on organized student television in the US. STN serves as a “forum for both students and teachers to share ideas, ask questions, and learn from professionals in the industry.” It now includes resources and plans for working with film, media and other forms of communication — all of which are increasingly being taught in US high and middle schools.
In 2004, the first STN convention was held in order to provide both students and teachers with opportunities to come together and learn from professionals during classes, partake in hands-on challenges, and connect on a larger scale. Since then, the conventions have only grown and the STN has grown to encompass almost 400 US schools, bringing together thousands of students per year to proudly represent their schools and broadcasting achievements.
SEE & STN 2015
Not content to be mere participants, Education and Youth Working Group members organized their own smaller convention that took place concurrently with the STN convention. The SEE Education and Youth “Open Doors” Symposium allowed the group to discuss their own work fostering a collaborative process among youth and education practitioners from both the US and Russia, especially through the use of technology to bridge cultural gaps.
Neither the symposium, nor the connections and fanfare experienced at the 2015 STN convention would have been possible without the organization and insight of SEE Education and Youth Working Group Co-chairs, Yvonne Andres and Denis Rogatkin — Denis has even published his own comprehensive account of the STN convention experience. Together, they collected working group members, fellows, experts from both educational and broadcast fields, and the previously mentioned Russian high school students, all of whom came together in San Diego. This distinguished group would come to be known as the “Russian delegation,” throughout SEE and the halls of 2015 STN convention.
It was no accident that the Russian delegation received plenty of attention. On the first day the convention, the collaboration between the STN convention and the “Open Doors” Symposium produced a well-attended mock press conference during which Education and Youth members and Russian visitors fielded questions, as well as personally elaborated, on the significance of international education and collaboration. The press conference was also covered by STN convention participants as part of “Live Reporting” contests during which students competed to produce the best video segments of particular convention events.
To many of the young American students, this SEE press conference, along with other interviews and reporting conducted with Russian participants was an eye opening experience that molded new impressions of country they may not understand.
In an article written about the Russian delegation in the San Diego Tribune, American students were quoted as saying the news conference, “helped them understand Russians on a more personal rather political level.”
Some students saw the larger picture when it comes to SEE. “What the program is trying to do is break down borders and just have face-to-face interactions…,” said Daniel McGuire, a Carlsbad High School student.
As American student-journalist Brett Weiss, from Pine Crest School, interviewed his Russian student counterpart, Ekaterina Kuzovikhina, for a live reporting session the during STN convention, he observed how some “Americans might know very little about Russia,” but went on to expound about American students finding the SEE program to be a very useful and unique international exchange, which allowed “both students from the United States and Russia to teach each other their styles of journalism and technology use.”
In the same vein, the Russian students received only friendship and warmth in return from the crowds of American youth. “I never once felt as if I were in a foreign country. Everyone is the same, whether an American or Russian, we are just people,” said Nikita Kutumov, a student from Samara, Russia.
Kutumov was one of two students from Samara who actively took part in their own broadcasting projects during the STN convention, even conducting an on-camera interview with STN president, Doug Green.
The Russian delegation, especially the young Russian student journalists, became cultural ambassadors, while simultaneously learning about best practices in their field of interest.
The 2015 STN convention was a resounding success for both American students and Russian participants. Everyone gathered valuable lessons on how they might improve and admired the success of others.
The Education and Youth Working Group and SEE look to build on the middle ground between student reporting and international connection by working with the PBS Student Reporting Labs to find talented young journalists throughout Russia.
Already, the Russian student-journalists who attended the 2015 STN convention have presented what they’ve learned at "Volzhskie Vstrechi,” a similarly themed convention for students in Russia.
Everyone involved hopes this is only a sign of future cultural exchange to come.
Photo Album by Denis Rogatkin of Russian Youth Media Festival "Volzhskie Vstrechi" (Russian student journalists attended both STN and Volzhskie Vstrechi)