‘How the world communicates’: Broadcasting major at Pitt under construction


Image courtesy of Pitt Studios

Kevin Smith teaches a class on broadcasting through Pitt Studios in 2020.

By James Paul, Staff Writer

With the creation of the Television and Broadcast Arts Certificate under his belt, Kevin Smith said his goal has always been to turn the program into a fully credited major. 

“My job is to show the students how to achieve what they’re doing in the broadcast industry and give them the confidence to achieve it,” Smith, the director of undergraduate studies in broadcast, said. “That’s it. I don’t do the heavy lifting. They do all the work, and that’s why the major can exist.” 

Smith said the 18-credit certificate, which he started designing five years ago, includes classes in media production and on-air training to give students the “confidence” to enter careers in broadcasting. Currently, Smith is working with David Pettersen, the director of the Film & Media Studies program, and colleagues across the University to launch a dedicated broadcasting major in as little as three years.

“I’m not a betting man, but I think two to three years [until the major to be implemented] is optimistic,” Pettersen said. “I would say five years is probably more realistic. But really, it just depends on how willing the different parts of the University are to put money behind this.”

Pettersen said credit requirements for the major are still an ongoing discussion. He said one of the biggest roadblocks for the major is a “lack [of] teaching space.”

Smith said the major will likely include more broadcasting coursework in production and on-air acting. He said these classes will be added to the certificate in the meantime.

 “Down the road, we want to have courses that are specifically on how to shoot live events, be they sporting events, award shows, you name it, you know, live coverage in the field as a journalist,” Smith said. “So there’s specialty classes that have to be added, which means we have to not only create the courses, but create the space to do it.”

Michele Spiller, a sophomore film and media major, transferred to Pitt from the State University of New York in New Paltz because of Smith’s personal endorsement of the certificate. She said she was visiting Pittsburgh to tour the campus and got on a Zoom call with Smith to talk about the program.

“He gave me a whole rundown of everything that Pitt has to offer, and then he was like, ‘By the way, are you still in Pittsburgh?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah,’ he’s like, ‘Do you want to come to class tomorrow?’” Spiller said. “And he just invited me to his broadcasting one class and since meeting him and touring the program and seeing the classes I am able to take at the school, I fell in love.” 

Spiller said Smith’s “dedication to broadcasting” makes him the perfect person to spearhead the major. 

“Not only is he dedicated to broadcasting, he’s dedicated to his students,” Spiller said. “Like as soon as he finds a [professional] opportunity he can grasp his hands on, he sends it out to all of his students. He wants us to be successful.”

Spiller is currently taking Smith’s class “Pitt to the Point,” a production class where students create one hour of weekly television content that’s streamed globally. Smith, she said, has told her about his plans to create a major. Though the program likely won’t be implemented before she graduates, she said she is telling her friends in high school about the opportunity because of how she “fell in love with that [broadcasting] class.”

“It’s a 9 a.m. class and there’s always music blasting, so it’s good vibes to start,” Spiller said. “Like we know it’s the end of the semester, but he likes to make sure everyone in the class knows each other and that we’re comfortable, so we do a lot of group work.”

Smith said in the first year that Pitt added broadcasting classes to its catalog, he had students who went on to do post-production for FX, engineer for Starz and direct broadcasting for the ACC. Smith said the success of those students is what enabled the program to “really take off.” 

“The group of students in that first class were so elite that word spread quickly to other students of the opportunity that these students took full advantage of,” Smith said. “And that’s what did it. I can design all the curriculum in the world but unless you have the students like that, it doesn’t matter.”

Donni Blackwell, a sophomore film and media major, transferred from Towson University this year. Like Spiller, Blackwell said Smith convinced her to transfer by highlighting the broadcasting curriculum as a way to “jumpstart [her] career.” 

“Kevin had honestly built a relationship with me, prior to me coming to Pitt, and that’s the main reason I wanted him to be my teacher,” Blackwell said. “He’s really a great professor. He builds a personal connection with everyone and that’s kind of weird to me because it’s such a big school.” 

Though Blackwell completed the certificate, she also currently takes Smith’s Pitt to the Point class. She said if Pitt added a broadcasting major, it would be “turning over a new leaf for the entire University.”

 “If broadcasting was an entire major, you’d be following a straight, direct path instead of finding little niches here and there like the certificate,” Blackwell said. “If it was an actual major, you would just go straight in from freshman year pursuing your career.”

Currently, Smith said there are 123 students taking broadcasting coursework each semester. He said more students taking broadcasting classes demonstrates a demand that would warrant a major. 

“As we grow with the students, it justifies the University then spending the money to hire staff,” Smith said. “I think by three years there should be around 200 students that are in broadcast, which is great for a major. That’s impressive for a major and we’re on that pace.”

John Twyning, the associate dean of Undergraduate Studies and the College of General Studies, said all major proposals are reviewed by the Dietrich School Undergraduate Council, where elected faculty and students decide whether or not to send it to the Dietrich School Council for approval. 

From there, Twyning said the Provost’s Advisory Committee on Undergraduate Programs reviews the proposal before a final decision to implement the major is made by the Provost.

Pettersen said he estimates that the process of having the major reviewed will take a “minimum of a year,” once a proposal is submitted. He said a proposal will only be ready for submission to the Undergraduate Council in a minimum of two to three years. 

Pettersen said that the proposal for the major will have to overcome several roadblocks before it can be implemented by the committee. Change in Dietrich school administration, he said, will mean having to get new department officials familiar with the initiative to create the major.

“The dean [Kathleen Blee] is stepping down,” Pettersen said. “I assume that [the new administration] is going to be as supportive as the previous administration, but we’re going to have to renew those relationships in the coming year.”

Despite the challenges the prospective major might face, both Smith and Pettersen are optimistic it will be implemented. 

“There’s two ways people communicate — mathematics, because it’s a universal language, and broadcasting,” Smith said. “Written journalism, on-air journalism, radio or podcasting, that’s how the world communicates. So to understand how to broadcast and how to broadcast properly is the greatest tool you can imagine.”