Photo by: Morgan Brenner – Sharing Hope Africa in Mozambique and Eswatini.

During the Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 semesters, I was a digital content creation intern for Sharing Hope Africa, a non-profit developing sustainable agriculture programs in Mozambique and Eswatini. One of my favorite classes in Wilkinson so far, Professor Candice Yacono’s ENG 375: Composing New Media course, gave me the skills that made my internship experience even more enriching and meaningful.

Sharing Hope Africa provides crucial support and income for the communities of Licilo and Siteki, which have long been affected by a cycle of socio-economic hardship. I wrote monthly blog posts covering everything from the COVID-19 pandemic, when food shortages and the need for personal protective equipment peaked, to Sharing Hope Preschool, which educates and provides resources for 100+ children yearly, and the ongoing clean water crisis. Additionally, I created infographics for fundraising campaigns on social media, a skill I learned in my Composing New Media course, which directly resulted in donor engagement for Sharing Hope Africa.

Professor Yacono exposes students to a diverse range of tools and platforms for creating and promoting digital media. The course covers topics of visual and textual rhetoric in public, academic, and political spheres. Yacono encourages experimentation and prioritizes students’ freedom of exploration.

“I designed my course to be a hands-on creative laboratory where students can experiment with creating content for a wide range of new media platforms and formats in a low-stakes atmosphere,” says Professor Yacono. “This includes media they may never have thought they would have the chance to try, like podcasting or video game design.”

Students complete projects using applications and formats of their choosing from a diverse list of options, from essays and advertisements to podcasts and vlogs. These exploratory projects give students the opportunity to develop concrete, transferable skills in graphic design, website construction, online writing, podcasting, marketing, videography, and game design. Students also create playable, text-adventure video games—using Google Slides, Twine, or a similar application—to explore the relationship between narrative and engagement in game design. Professor Yacono urges students to consider the rhetorical choices they must make in their compositions and the opportunities and problems presented by differing new media platforms.

The visual rhetoric and design skills I developed in Composing New Media were transferable to the infographics I created for fundraising campaigns for Sharing Hope Africa. In addition, Yacono’s focus on online writing, including blogging tools like WordPress and Wix, helped me advance Sharing Hope Africa’s blog to an interactive, multi-media channel to engage with our audiences.

Professor Yacono utilizes group projects and online discussions to foster a creative and collaborative environment despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Yacono emphasizes the importance of digital communication in this time of increased isolation. “I think the COVID-19 pandemic has sped up digital literacy and technology adoption and transformed business,” says Professor Yacono. “Those who remain resistant to new media may find themselves left by the wayside, which is why I think a course like [Composing New Media] can be so helpful. Students will be armed with in-demand skills and a wide-ranging portfolio that they can show off.”  

Photo by: Morgan Brenner – Sharing Hope Africa in Mozambique and Eswatini.

Students collaborated on larger projects, exploring different avenues of online publishing and creating “passion projects” based on our interests. Working from a foundation of agricultural knowledge, I created The Viridian Frog, a mock-Instagram and microblog promoting a sustainable lifestyle, to examine the intersection of social media and marketing for nonprofits. Using Instagram Highlights and Canva, an online graphic design tool, I launched a “Shop Sustainably” ad campaign to promote B-Corp and Fair-Trade Certified products, as well as businesses local to Orange County, including Backyard Bees, Fermensch Kombucha, Terrace Hill Olive Oil Co., and The Citrus Collective. Composing New Media encourages students to combine their passions and the skills they’ve developed in media composition to create in-depth, interdisciplinary projects based on their own experiences.

The class offers skills that are transferable to every other industry. Designed for hands-on experience in media composition and uniquely suited to the virtual setting, there’s something for everyone in Composing New Media. “My students have included TikTok influencers, competitive athletes, and biology researchers along with creative writers, animators, and game developers,” says Professor Yacono. “My goal is that every student will learn something they can take with them into their future.”

In January of 2021, Sharing Hope Africa began a new chapter, undergoing a name-change and a renewal of our 501(c)3 verification. I was fortunate to get hands-on experience as a part of the founding team of Sharing Hope Africa and Professor Yacono’s class allowed me to develop the skills I needed to succeed in this “real-world” job.