Shared Discovery: The Value of a Sabbatical

by Sophia Sakellariou Staff Writer

Just as students devote a majority of their time to their studies, professors often devote their whole lives to theirs’. However, being holed up in a classroom can lead their constant quest for knowledge to a stalwart, leaving them uninspired and in need of performing new research. This is when a sabbatical comes in handy.

Sabbaticals are paid leaves of absence granted to a professor or other professionals in order to travel or study. These moments away from a university not only improve a professor’s personal development academically, but that of their students and co-workers upon their return, for the knowledge they accrued on their leave will enhance the learning experience of those who work with them.

Professor Michael Grabowski, of the Communication Department had one such experience, having taken a sabbatical during the Spring 2018 semester. Dr. Grabowski has an extensive background in film and new media and television production, making him a valuable asset to the students in his production classes.

His sabbatical was focused around neurocinematics which he explained as a field of study that examines how the brain processes movies and what ecological relationships are revealed in the brain when watching movies. “There is a reason why movies captivate us: they tap into a perceptual system that has evolved over millions of years in a natural environment. How that works is of interest to me,” said Dr. Grabowski, “I am interested in this area both for what it can tell us about how we understand our reality, and for generating explanations for why certain filmmaking techniques work.”

Dr. Grabowski is happy to be back on campus, but enjoyed having the time to gather this research.

“Being on sabbatical allowed me to travel to destinations and conduct interviews for my research, including the Castle Noel house in Ohio, which features a collection of Christmas movie sets and storefront windows, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Illinois, and the Institute for Creative Technologies at the University of Southern California,” Grabowski said.

His travels enabled him to develop a new course for the Media Production concentration as well as work on his book. “The book examines how we perceive and process our environment, old and new media like VR and digital media, and tourist destinations constructed from fictional places and concepts,” said Grabowski.

The new course he developed, Introduction to Story and Post-Production, is said by Grabowski to “take an innovative approach by combining instruction in story construction with motion image editing.”

Grabowski gathered over 30 clips from films as well as readings on storytelling and myths that will provide students with a better understanding of how to be a good storyteller in the works they will one day produce.

Head of the Communication Department, Dr. Thom Gencarelli, is happy to have Dr. Grabowski back. On filling the void in classes when professors like him leave, Dr. Gencarelli said it’s always hard.

“Because of what we do, its best to hire adjuncts from the industry with expertise,” Gencarelli said.

However, he explained that even industry professionals don’t seem to do as good of a job in classes such as senior seminar as full-time professors.

Gencarelli thinks the new course will absolutely be of great benefit to the students in the media production concentration. He explained how the dynamic between film and editing is changing. In the past, mistakes in footage were not seen until the film was sent out for editing. Now, films are being shot in 6K and the production team can see rushes right there and make the essential edits and reshoots within minutes.

“Film is all about storytelling- making sense of things as they are in the world or as we make them up as a figment in our minds,” Gencarelli said.

Rather than focusing primarily on one media platform such as television news or radio, Grabowski’s emphasis on storytelling will allow students to learn how to make works with respect to narrative and fiction and can use these skills for non-fiction based productions as well. After all, news reports, even this article tell a story and it’s important to understand how they can be told best.