Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey


Ryan Gonzalez: MPA Graduate & Digital Media Visionary

Ryan Gonzalez Photo
1) We're on the second floor of Kade, home of the Digital Learning Commons (DLC), where I've searched for you many times for advice on projects. We would all love to attend the "Ryan Gonzalez school of digital arts," if it existed! Why, in your opinion, are you so popular?

Because I've always had an interest in digital media, I'm experimenting with projects that go beyond traditional academic assignments. I've plugged-into networks that have access to emerging trends. And I have a tendency, when I'm passionate about something, to dig in and learn all the fine details. Maybe it's something along those lines.

2) It's obvious that you've been honing your skills for quite a long time. When did you first discover your passion for digital media?

I've had an interest in digital media since I was in elementary school. When I was in fifth or sixth grade, we used a program called Hypercard, back when MacIntosh computers were those huge square things. And I remember working on a murder mystery game with my classmates. It didn't work out too well, but at least we tried.

I also used digital media tools to film my golf swing and analyze my performance when I played on a college golf team. These tools are another means for self-diagnosis, learning, and improvement.

3) How did you first connect with the DMC?

When I arrived in Monterey, before I even set foot on school property, I became a fan of the Institute on Facebook. And I noticed a job posting for the Digital Learning Commons and thought, "Wow, that sounds pretty cool." So I sent Bob Cole (the Director of the Digital Learning Commons) a message and said "Hey, I'm new to Monterey, and I'm looking for opportunities on campus. Can I come in and see what the Digital Learning Commons is all about?" He told me to stop by, and we took it from there.

4) How does your learning and creative process work? How do you stay "plugged-in" to trends in digital media?

I'm constantly utilizing social networks, following people on Twitter, and reading blog posts. I also watch videos on Vimeo, although I've shied away from YouTube. If I see a piece I really like, I google the director and explore what's out there. Peer-to-peer learning is one of the best ways to discover new ideas.

5) I'm really curious to ask - even though I already know the answer - what are you working on now?

I'm currently experimenting with video through different camera and software editing techniques. And I'm working on my blog to establish myself online, build readership, and spark conversation. I don't want to place myself on a pedestal - "Oh look how great I am." - but to create space for communication and interaction, leading to more connections later on.

6) And how have your academic and digital media interests intersected and, therefore, led to your personal and professional growth?

I've enrolled in the Master's of Public Administration (MPA) program to acquire more of an overarching skills set, with an emphasis on utilizing digital media and effective communication strategies to leverage social change.

I've also benefited from the networks of our colleagues. They are our greatest asset while we are here. Working at the Digital Learning Commons, connecting to "beta-testers" on campus, and experimenting with various collaboration platforms has been an amazing opportunity to learn. For collective action, these platforms are essential for communication, raising the interest of an external audience.

7) This January, you will return to El Salvador as a Team Leader for the winter practicum. You documented last year's practicum with your HD camera. What role can digital media play in the field of community development?

What came out of all that footage is a five minute trailer, which is supposed to lead to a documentary, and the footage on the Team Monterey 3 YouTube Channel. However, there wasn't another team on the ground that could help me craft the story, so it remains a work in progress.

This semester I also created the El Salvador Practicum blog, a collaboration platform for sharing our stories and video clips. It enables our team to showcase the community's narrative. The voices of the people are essential for understanding their needs and addressing them in a participatory manner.

8) I've heard through the grapevine that you have a new camera! But, really, which is more important: the tools or the story?

Sometimes I suffer from the "shiny toy syndrome," which can be good or bad. You can, for example, make an outstanding production with a little flip camera. Although the tools and story should balance each other, it depends on the audience and purpose of your project. The next step in terms of my development as a documentarian is mastering visual techniques that enhance the underlying components of the story - and make the audience go "Wow!"

9) You've recently launched a personal branding project. What motivated you to create this site?

My skills are not well represented by a traditional paper resume. With a personal publishing platform, I can highlight my digital media projects and gain legitimacy in terms of being hired by an organization. The website is designed not only as a place for collaboration, but also a place where people will contact me for job opportunities. It's an investment.

10) What plans do you have for your next - and final - semester? Any dreams for future projects?

Next semester I will collaborate with my colleague Rocio Corona (MPA '10) on a capstone project, focusing on how social media and technological tools can enhance an organization's ability to deliver services. In the future, I see myself producing digital media and assisting social purpose organizations in communicating their message.