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Alumna creates innovative media program

August 03, 2018

In 2004, alumna Vanessa Hughes made the life-altering transition from filmmaker to educator, enrolling at Lewis & Clark’s Graduate School of Education and Counseling and earning her MAT in 2005. Today you will find her still embracing her filmmaker roots, teaching Digital Media Arts and IB (International Baccalaureate) Theory of Knowledge at Cleveland High School in Portland, Oregon. She has helped to substantially grow the media program at CHS,  seeing it develop from a single class to an integrative multimedia program. When asked why she made the switch from commercial media, Hughes answered simply: “First and foremost, I am an activist, and education is a tremendously powerful medium to change the world.”

The Media Program began eight years ago with a single class that was primarily focused on media literacy. Hughes has been a media literacy advocate for 25 years, long before her transition to becoming an educator. She has found that often there is an underlying message when discussing mass media that we should fear it. Hughes understands that this message does not resonate with teenagers. So, this course focused on paying attention to what we consume, the way we consume it, and how this media shapes our vision of the world.

The program maturation was due to two factors. The first was the emergence of smartphones with incredible audiovisual capabilities. As Hughes describes it, “people are carrying a mini production kit in their pockets.”

The second was Measure 98, which was passed in Oregon in 2016 and called for, among other initiatives, the further development of Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs in high schools. CTE is meant to give vocational opportunities to students entering fields that do not necessarily require higher education. When students graduate from these programs, they not only have taken college preparatory courses but also have gained the essential skills of an industry, allowing them to pursue employment immediately after graduation. In the media industry, the entry level position is a production assistant, and these positions do not require a specific level of education, calling instead for a specific set of audiovisual production skills. And students enrolled in Cleveland High School’s Media Program are becoming adept in all these skills.

“The Media Program has been successful in that this is something the students absolutely want to do,” Hughes said. “Students normally are taking photos and videos and posting them. They are fairly familiar with post-production, and the process of the Media Program helps them become more sophisticated creators of content, but also it helps them ask the question:  ‘out of all of the stories you are telling, why are you telling this one?’”

This type of inquiry is regularly encouraged at Lewis & Clark’s Graduate School of Education & Counseling, which is one of the core reasons Hughes chose the Secondary MAT program. She also chose the graduate school because of the year-long internship that student-teachers complete. Hughes viewed this experience as an invaluable window into the life of being a teacher, which she believes helped her navigate her first couple of years of teaching.

“Something I appreciated about the program was that the instructors that I had were experienced in their own classroom teaching,” Hughes said. “Not only could they deliver the content but they could also speak to the political environment in which they were teaching.”

   Currently, the Media Program at CHS is thriving, but Hughes has intentions to continue to grow the program even further in the future. Her vision is that during the final year of the students’ matriculation through the program, they will be involved in a capstone project that will allow them to have an internship with a digital media professional.

“Portland has a robust community of musicians, production and post-production agencies,” said Hughes. “any professionals or organizations interested in partnering with the Media Program, please contact me to make this vision a reality!”


Vanessa Hughes, M.A.T.

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