Penn State Professor Launches ‘Faces of State College’ Project Alongside Students

In her first semester at Penn State, associate teaching professor Mila Sanina is showcasing what journalism is all about.

Putting a twist on Brandon Stanton’s “Humans of New York” project, Sanina is bringing her love for local news to the streets of State College in the social media initiative “Faces of State College.”

Before coming to Penn State, Sanina began her journalism career in Kazakhstan covering politics and policy in Central Asia but quickly realized the danger surrounding her.

“In that part of the world, journalism is not exactly a profession that is safe. Journalists are threatened. Their family members face lots of risks,” Sanina said. “At some point, I had to make a choice if maybe it was safer to go a different route.”

Her career and education in the United States include a master’s degree in public policy, time at both CNN and PBS newsrooms, and taking on the position of deputy managing editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

“I don’t take it for granted — the fact that you can actually do journalism in the United States still without being scared for your life,” Sanina said.

But, this new teaching endeavor has brought her passion for local news to light, and she is sharing that with her students in COMM 481 within the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications.

The students are the driving force of the Faces of State College project, deciding how it will run, how often, and where it will begin.

“Advanced multimedia is about storytelling, and the best way to learn storytelling is by talking to people and finding extraordinary stories,” Sanina said.

The project will allow the audience to see a glimpse into others’ lives, where they talk about their background, things that inspire them, or anything else that might give an insight into their life.

This is also open to much more than students. The creators will interview friends, people in the class, and most important in Sanina’s eyes, strangers.

“I think there is a lot to be said about just very simple connections that people make as humans,” said Sanina.

Sanina is also challenging the students to ask questions that might be out of their comfort zone and talk to people who they normally wouldn’t interact with on a day-to-day basis.

The professor described it as “trying to break fault lines” and put a huge emphasis on challenging the stigmas that come with not knowing anyone’s true background or story.

As much as this class is about learning multimedia journalism, it’s also all about the community.

“I also hope for journalism students or people who deal with and care for people’s stories that would also be an inspiration to do their own thing to engage in conversations,” she said.

While the class has been preparing for the launch of Faces of State College for quite a while, the initiative officially commenced on Monday, September 26, and it hopes to continue for many semesters to come.

“The hunch is right that there are stories everywhere and they are so beautiful and compelling and leave a lot of food for thought,” Sanina said.

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About the Author

Mara McKeon

Mara is a senior staff writer majoring in English and public relations. She loves all things sports and anything that has peanut butter. You can usually find her obsessing over country music or Penn State wrestling and counting down the days until she gets to see Luke Combs in Beaver Stadium. Feel free to reach her on Twitter @MckeonMara, and for more formal affairs, her email is [email protected].

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