Winifred E. Brownell, dean of arts and sciences at the University of Rhode Island, recently received the Dream Maker Award from the Rhode Island Film & TV Office during a red-carpet gala on March 2 at the Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Providence.
Brownell was honored for her support of URI’s Film/Media Program in the Harrington School of Communication and Media, the Rhode Island International Film Festival, local filmmakers and a summer film camp for children at URI. She was also praised for her past testimony at the Statehouse on behalf of the Rhode Island film industry.
She holds a B.A. in theater and an M.A. and Ph.D. in communication from the State University of New York at Buffalo. She began teaching at URI in 1971 and was appointed interim dean of arts and sciences in 1996 and dean in 1999.
PBN: What is URI doing differently from other film programs and how is that enhancing or changing the future of its graduates?
BROWNELL: The URI Film/Media program is a relatively new major, [so] we had the advantage of developing it in the contemporary media context. Many great film schools and departments across the country now have to adapt. Film/media was conceived from the start as an interdisciplinary program; our students are developing disciplinary knowledge in film production and studies while gaining a broad liberal arts education with an appreciation of how disciplines differ and intersect in a complex research university.
PBN: In a 1999 interview with Providence Business News you said that, “Students are discovering that they have something to give to companies that want to present themselves on the Internet.” How do you think that discovery impacted the startup community in the state?
BROWNELL: Today, so much business is conducted online and further supported by social media, that this knowledge is … [now] a requirement to be successful in a digital age. We teach our students in film/media to take a proactive, entrepreneurial approach to their work. They are not waiting for a client to bring a project to them; rather they are out in the world identifying problems and creating original works – and finding innovative ways to fund them. Two of our senior students just completed a successful Kickstarter campaign so they could fund a project. There are many more examples.
PBN: Programs like Digital City Rhode Island are coming out of partnerships between the Harrington School and local businesses. Was there always intent to use the school as an economic-development engine (of sorts) for the state?
BROWNELL: From the beginning, the Harrington School has made every effort to connect our programs with the business and nonprofit communities. The school has developed the “unclassroom,” whereby an entire class works on an experiential learning project directly with [an] organization with a real deliverable. •