Do you know what The MEL is?
Some of you may say, “The Mel Johnson Building? That’s where 98.5 KTIS is!” Others may raise your eyebrows and say, “Huh? The what?” Yet others of you may merely shrug your shoulders and shake your head “No.”
Yes, the Mel Johnson Media Center (The MEL) building is where KTIS and Faith Radio broadcasts. However, The MEL is so much more than just a radio broadcasting building.
First, let’s start with the name itself. The building is named after Mel Johnson, who worked at KTIS for nearly 60 years before he died at the age of 83. He was also of the popular radio program- Tips for Teens. But for years, students and faculty just referred to it as the MEL.
When the Communication department wanted to converge their various media platforms under one name, The MEL was the obvious choice. But students also wanted to make the name mean something a little more than the just the name of the building. So they created an acronym for the MEL which means “the Media Entertainment Lab.”
In this building, students who are interested in anything media—whether it be film, public relations (PR), television, radio,or journalism (the school newspaper)—are given a space where they can experience what it is like to produce media in a particular medium through hands-on learning from start to finish.
The MEL is also the name of the student radio station which broadcasts on a subchannel of KTIS at 98.5 HD4, and also streams below. It plays of mix of alternative Christian, pop and hip-hop. To listen, all you need to do is hit the arrow button!
Professor Mark Seignious, Head of the Communication Department, said what makes the University of Northwestern – St. Paul’s (UNWSP’s) program different from other schools’ programs is that, “Dozens and dozens of schools offer workshops or practicums for students to get involved with media … but to my knowledge, we are one of the only universities that is intricately connected to a media network.” As of the time of this writing, the only other school we are aware of that offers a media and entertainment program that is most like UNWSP’s is the University of Florida.
UNWSP students’ ability to work closely with the school’s own media network offers an outlet for them to gain practical, real-life experience that is not offered in many other parts of the country.
Each of the workshops are largely student-led. The workshops create a space for students to freely brainstorm, craft a story idea, and then bring it to life in whatever form of media they are doing—whether it be radio, television, PR, film, or journalism. A professor still “oversees” the workshop, but they largely help answer questions that the student Executive team have a hard time answering. The professor may also help students struggling to come up with story ideas and/or how they should approach a topic they want to cover.
Communications Professor Wendi Marshall, who oversees the PR workshop, says that seeing students in the workshops “learn how to create content without having to grade what they do,” is her favorite thing because, “They seem more open to trying new things and taking risks when there’s no fear of failure” in the workshops. Yes, you read her statement correctly—the content students produce is not graded!
Another awesome thing about joining a workshop is that “anybody can join The MEL in one of our workshops. No experience is needed,” noted Seignious. If a student has always been interested in trying out media production, they do not have to be a Communications, Journalism, PR or Media Production major to join the workshops. A student can come just as they are!
Speaking of “students can come just as they,” yours truly is an accounting major with dual minors in journalism and political science. It wasn’t until my junior year at UNWSP when I decided to give the journalism workshop a try. Once I started with the workshop, there was no going back!
When asked what advice she would give fellow students who are unsure if they should join one of these workshops, Elena Nowlin, a junior majoring in communication studies and public relations, recommends students “join a workshop even if you aren’t required to take one for your major. They teach practical skills and there are some unique ways for you to highlight any of your skills outside your major!” In her years as a student at UNW, she has been a part of the radio workshop, journalism workshop, and is currently in the PR workshop where she is as an Executive Director of the MEL PR Agency.
Fellow UNW student Molly Krueger—majoring in media production, content creation and journalism—who serves on the Executive team for The MEL’s television workshop, gives similar advice to students who are interested and want to try a workshop out. Molly stated, “I think that all people should join workshops because it is a community. You connect with people while doing projects with them and improve your creativity as well as problem-solving skills. Video is something anyone can learn, so jump into a workshop and try something new.”
For both Elena and Molly, they both enjoy teaching, as well as learning from, others on how they can improve in their media content creation. Another aspect they both enjoy is how hands-on and interactive the workshops are. In these workshops, there are no textbooks, mid-term papers, exams, or anything else students do in a regular classroom. Here, students get to apply what they already know—regardless of whether or not they have taken any courses related to the workshops.
Speaking to the long-term impact these creative media outlets have had on students, Seignious said “We have had several students through the years stumble into one of the workshops where it completely changed the direction of their lives.”
The next time you drive by The Mel Johnson building, remember that there is way more than what meets the eyes or that 98.5 KTIS radio comes from this brick building on the south end of UNWSP’s campus. In classrooms located throughout it, student-led workshops are busily creating content for actual radio, television, films, PR, or journalism production. For some students, being part of the media workshops—and their experiences with them—will permanently change the course of their life beyond the day they walk across the stage to receive their collegiate diploma.