The class of 2012, part 3

Every day this week, we’re showcasing seniors we’ve met through the Be the Change blog.  As a group they represent the more than 4,000 students who will receive their degrees on Saturday. We asked them about their Madison Experience, how it has changed them and the best and worst parts of graduating from JMU.

Peter Epley and Matt Burton

“When I came here I was slightly insecure…..” 

Matt Burton of Chesapeake, Va., is a physics major with a math minor and one of the three co-creators of the Lisanby iPad application. He writes: “In my time at JMU I have grown in maturity tremendously. When I came here I was slightly insecure and over the years I have transitioned into leading research projects for the physics department, making the art iPad app, and becoming a leader in my Christian organization on campus.”

As vice president of ministry for the Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM), formerly Christian student union (CSU), Matt oversees all small groups and leads the men’s group, social events and intramurals for the organization.

 After graduation, Matt will enter a Ph.D. program in nuclear physics at the College of William and Mary. “The best part of graduating,” he writes, “is beginning my life out in the real world and starting to make my mark in my field, while the worst part is leaving all that has become a home to me and leaving my friends here who have become like a family to me.”

The robotics team (l to r) Joey Lang, McHarg, Peter Epley, Jed Caldwell

“More or less, sleep is what I don’t get …”

Peter Epley, an engineering major from Springfield, Va.,  helped develop the Lisanby iPad app with Matt Burton and Josh Smead.

Peter has also been one of my go-to guys this year as JMU communications has covered JMU’s first graduating class of student engineers. All year, I’ve relied on Peter and many of his fellow engineers to answer questions, pose for photos and answer engineering questions. For two years, Peter and his team have worked to develop and build a firefighting robot. Given that he’s an engineering student and he worked on the iPad app, I was amazed to learn that Peter has also been a member of the Marching Royal Dukes. How does he fit all this into 24 hours?

“I was a member of the MRDs and the JMU Pep Band for all four years here at JMU,” Peter writes. “I am an alto saxophone player and served as a drill instructor my junior and senior years. More or less, sleep is what I don’t get, but honestly, it’s what I do for fun to get away from classes and homework.”

Not surprisingly, the best part of graduating, says Peter, is “I feel like I can finally sleep more than eight hours and not regret it. I can finally take everything that I have learned and use it to make a lasting difference.” The worst part is “leaving a family of some of the most caring and innovative students, friends and faculty I have ever had,” he writes.

“JMU has helped me really see how I can make a difference and what I am capable of doing, even if it is simply on a small scale. Working through the  engineering program has been challenging, especially since we are the first class, but I think it is exciting that my class will serve a crucial role in defining what JMU engineers can do. Beyond engineering, JMU has allowed me to explore different opportunities (such as the iPad app) that I never could have thought up and executed alone. Music has also been an important aspect in my life and JMU was one of the few schools that really gave me the opportunity to still pursue a technical major without having to sacrifice my love of saxophone. For that I am truly thankful, as I have truly met some of the best people I have ever met and am glad to call many of them my friends for the rest of my life.”

During Saturday’s graduation, Peter  will receive a bachelor’s of science in engineering with minors in math and computer information systems. He will join KPMG as an IT attestation associate doing information systems consulting for federal government clients.

Coming tomorrow: Dave Stevens and Jessie Taylor….

(photo of Matt and Peter by Mike Miriello)

Twitter, Tumblr, iPad, Tweet

If you’re a fan of 1970s spy novels, you probably know George Smiley, the main character is John Le Carre’s novel-turned-movie, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. The book’s adapted screenplay is now vying for Oscar gold. George is a retired intelligence officer recruited to find a mole. Like any spy novel, it’s full of twists and turns, red herrings and dead ends. One clue, one revelation, one discovery leads to yet another question.

In this case, it leads me to this question: Why are we so enthralled by movies? If you don’t think we are, consider how much Oscar discussion is going on right now…..think of it as Twitter, Tumblr, iPad, Tweet.

We are captivated by movies. None more so than today’s students who are incredibly video saavy. Film studies, in fact, has been one of the fastest growing majors across the country for a decade or so. At JMU, the always popular and cutting edge School of Media Arts is churning out videographers every year into industry careers that, their professor tell them, “don’t yet exist.”

Much of the growing influence and interest in movies and film is its ubiquity. We are surrounded by it, largely due to technology. Film is —literally — at our fingertips.

Case in point: According to Wikipedia, after the iPad launched 21 months ago, it sold 3 million devices in 80 days. By the end of  2010, that number had jumped to 14.8 million. Recently, Bloomberg’s Peter Burrows reported that Apple is worming its way into business. Burrows wrote that iPad seems to be the mole that is burrowing (sorry, couldn’t resist) into the corporate world. The iPad, Burrows observed, “has become a standard business tool.”

While technology is changing business, it is changing us as well. Psychologists tell us that social media is altering the way we interact and technology is transforming how — and how fast — we communicate. Platforms like Vimeo and YouTube have wrestled film out of the hands of big studios, giving independent filmmakers a place. New technologies such as High Definition are sinking in price. Creative 3-D graphics are more available to independent filmmakers who continue to increase their market share, as films move from studios and theaters onto laptops and iPads.

We are all filmmakers or partakers of the craft. Who today doesn’t have a camera phone that takes videos or who, at least, hasn’t laughed at a YouTube video. Widely quoted, it is said that we absorb 10 percent of what we read, 20 percent of what we hear, 30 percent of what we see and 50 percent of what we see and hear. And that brings us back to the impact of film. Because of film’s ubiquity, availability and popularity, it is a potent medium of change.

Most of us can point to a movie that has changed our lives. For me, it’s To Kill a Mockingbird. You’re thinking of one that changed your life, right? For others who stand on the other side of the camera, like JMU alum Steve James (’77), film is the means for delivering a powerful message and changing others’ lives. Right now, Steve’s documentary  The Interrupters is changing minds about inner city life. Sadly, however — and perhaps as a commentary on Hollywood’s fickleness —  it was overlooked by the Oscars this year.

Last summer, SMAD major Peter Jackson (’12) made a video to promote the work of Every Orphan’s Hope, an organization building homes for children orphaned by HIV/AIDS in Zambia. And last summer as well, SMAD students  interned in Los Angeles, preparing the enter this powerful world of influence. You can read about them on JMU’s website.

The ability to reach millions of people with an uploaded video is a stunning opportunity. When such an opportunity is coupled with a sincere and honest desire to improve the future for others, to solve problems, to rally forces for positive change — and when it falls into responsible, compassionate hands like those of Steve or Peter — it will change the world.

To learn more about Steve James and The Interrupters, visit
Peter’s video is finished and you can view it here
And check out SMAD at Here you can read about how video has changed the lives of two alumni — to the tune of a million dollars.
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