Media Students Participate in “Making the Invisible Visible: Water Quality in Stark County”

By: Emily Horne

With a grant from the Herbert W. Hoover Foundation funding their project, Kent State University Stark Campus students have set out to find what exactly is contaminating the Nimishillen Creek watershed. This project, called “Making the Invisible Visible: Water Quality in Stark County,” is led by Kent State Stark with participation from Walsh University, Malone University, Stark State College and the University of Mount Union.

Last year, three JMC faculty members and two Stark Campus biology faculty members launched an Environmental Media course that combined filmmaking, online communication, and the science of watersheds in one course. Preparations and course design began in the summer and fall of 2010. At this time, Ali Habashi from at the University of Miami’s Arnold Center for Confluent Media shared a similar course he teaches and helped with the planning. The course has now run twice – in spring 2011 and spring 2012 with plans for spring 2013.

Derek Wholihan films parts of the May 17 sampling training at Martindale Park in Canton. Photo courtesy of Mitch McKenney.

Mitch McKenney, JMC assistant professor at the Stark Campus, cites the main goal of the environmental media course as “looking to introduce the students to issues in the watershed and then show them how to share that story with the community.” At the beginning of the class, biology faculty provided the students with a good grounding in the issues. Following that, the journalism faculty gave the students the tools and knowledge to execute the technical aspect of sharing their story. McKenney masterfully coordinated aspects of the course such as planning course meetings and field trips, lining up community partners, and arranging for public showings of the completed films.

Students produced a number of videos in the environmental media course that can be seen on the project’s website ( In addition, the site will also be home to student documentary pieces from the current water sampling project. Habashi, along with Colton Hoover Chase, are filming a documentary about this project, focusing on the work of the students and professors.

Three students from the Environmental Media course are working with the current sampling project, which is in coordination with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and other organizations. They are producing short video pieces from each of the stages of the project. McKenney said these students are responsible for “telling the story of what’s going on with the water.” Like the title of the project, these media students are helping to make the invisible visible. “Too often, we do great research that nobody sees,” McKenney said.

Photo courtesy of Derek Wholihan.

Students involved in the course and project stated their greatest takeaway as being able to talk to real people in the community about real problems. They loved knowing that doing something creative   could have such an impact. Derek Wholihan, sophomore electronic media production major, says he “took away a whole new appreciation of the environment” after taking the environmental media course.

Wholihan is currently following the students and researchers during the project and filming their reactions. He is then taking the footage and creating videos to go on the website. Wholihan believes it is important to have knowledge about the project in order to accurately document it. “I have also jumped right in the water and got my hands and feet dirty to work right alongside the students and researchers,” he said.

For more information or to view student-made videos, visit the website at


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