iSchool High of Hickory Creek Media Arts Teacher Focuses on Work-Ethic and Building a Portfolio

Ben Elio doesn’t sugarcoat the challenges of a career in media arts. As the media arts teacher at iSchool High of Hickory Creek, he has students who will go on to college for media arts, some who will start working in media arts directly after high school and others who only see media arts as a hobby. He challenges all his students to think seriously about what career they want to pursue and what steps they will need to take to reach that goal.

“My goal is to send my students off with the mindset, work ethic and skill to jump into the professional world. They have to be more professional by the time they finish my class. They have to have the discipline to meet deadlines and take responsibility. That is valuable whatever they choose to do,” said Mr. Elio.

While he has only been at the school for a year, he has worked on building up the program to offer students a range of opportunities to grow their portfolio. From submitting the films they worked on in class to national and local film festivals to contracting graphic design work for local start ups, Mr. Elio looks for projects that will give students résumé-boosting experiences.

“Having a good portfolio is essential in media arts. Design school can help, but in today’s difficult market the most important thing is who you have worked for and what you have produced. I talk very honestly with my students about challenges they will face. If you decide to freelance, you will likely be working several other jobs,” said Mr. Elio.

Having done freelance work in animation and design directly out of college, Mr. Elio includes practical lessons he learned on the job.

“I teach them how to do freelance work because you can never be too young for that. We cover how to deal with clients, how to write contracts professionally, how to budget and how to deliver the work you are contracted for,” said Mr. Elio.

His students have appreciated the opportunities that he has made possible for them. While junior Julianna Baumgartner doesn’t plan to pursue a career in media arts, she says his class helps her balance her busy dual credit class schedule.

“I want to be a doctor, but I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have the media arts classes as an outlet. I have a busy dual credit course load and sometimes I just need a break. Mr. Elio has also been a lot of fun and taught me a lot, particularly how to work with other people,” said Julianna.

After taking Mr. Elio’s class, sophomore Kaleb Gray is interested in pursuing a career in media arts. He particularly likes that his teacher covers a broad range of areas from design and writing to animation as well as covering the business side of the industry.

“Mr. Elio has had a big impact on me. In class he has expanded my knowledge of the industry and has also shown me things to look at in my spare time. Talking about the business side of things really made me reconsider having my heart set on animation. He helped me see I can also do graphic design as a source of income,” said Kaleb.

Currently Mr. Elio teaches film, graphic design, photography and principles of AV arts. For the next school year he hopes to add an animation class to the program. In all of his classes he covers the basic curriculum and teaches the software programs, but he tries to spend most of his time in lab working one-on-one with his students on their projects.

“I hope that what we offer will help students better assess where they are and what the best route is for them,” said Mr. Elio.

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Bridget Weisenburger

Author Bridget Weisenburger

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