Shane Breitenstein, 2017 Public Fellow

Visual Studies PhD student Shane Breitenstein worked with PBS SoCal as part of the Humanities Out There Public Fellows Program in 2017.

PBS SoCal is a young station. Nonetheless, their early education division models the core values of broadcasting. They aspire to close the achievement gap of early learners through public broadcasting, a public resource available to most viewers. More importantly, they activate civic education by directly engaging their constituent broadcast communities. These programs enact a holistic approach to early education by engaging children, families, educators, and social service providers alike through public broadcasting and civic programming.

My work involved a collaborative project that visualized the impact of public broadcasting through three digital storytelling projects. I was able to translate my scholarly training in digital storytelling to PBS’ early learning department. I employed my skills and training as a film and media scholar to produce, write, and direct a series of digital videos and transmedia content that highlighted PBS’ work with local communities. More significantly, as a childhood and media studies scholar, my insight into the impact of public media on youth education was paramount. Where my work is often academic and theoretical, this vantage point was welcomed by PBS as a positive contribution to their mission and vision.

I worked in Pennsylvania’s largest early childhood education advocacy and professional development non-profit before matriculating in UC Irvine’s Visual Studies PhD program. This previous, “non-academic” work influenced my humanities PhD scholarship through my continued attunement to early childhood development and the role media plays in their socialization and education. This personal passion and intellectual interest in public media as a democratic source of early childhood education has directly influenced my dissertation. However, being able to apply these scholarly insights and training in a non-academic environment opened my eyes to the possibility of “alternative academic careers.” While the higher education market for film and media studies scholars is both small and competitive, my work with PBS reassured me that there are multiple venues through which to apply my training as a humanities PhD.

The Humanities Out There Public Fellows Program gives humanities graduate students the opportunity to intern with local cultural organizations. Public Fellows apply and expand their humanities research, writing and analytical capacities—skills developed in a PhD program—in a non-profit setting. The 2017 Public Fellows were supported by a grant from the Luce Foundation, as well as by donor and School of Humanities funds.