Annenberg Undergrads Use Video to Shine Light on Lives of Young Medical Researchers at Penn

Two Penn Annenberg School for Communication undergrad students who used video as a tool to entice young people to pursue careers in medical research have been rewarded for their efforts.

Hanna Bottger and Ernest Owens have been recognized with LabTV’s Video Profile Awards. The Awards seek to recognize student journalists and filmmakers who create videos that best convey the life stories, passions, and challenges of young medical researchers working at National Institutes of Health-funded labs at top universities across the nation. The profiles are designed to connect high school and undergraduate students with medical researcher mentors they can relate to and learn from. They can be viewed on YouTube and on the LabTV website.

Bottger profiled Charlie Mo, a Perelman School of Medicine graduate student working on methods to combat antibiotic resistance. Bottger’s film garnered one of four Gold Awards (the program’s top prize) and $1,500. Owens profiled Stephanie Mujkat, a post-doctoral researcher working on the effects of mechanics on early heart tissue development at Penn Engineering. Owens was one of 10 finalists out of several hundred applicants and will receive a $750 award. The two students were recognized in a special ceremony at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival.

“Hanna did an excellent job in her profile of Charlie Mo,” said David Hoffman, an Emmy award-nominated filmmaker who created video templates for the award-seekers to follow and who served as advisor and helped to judge the final products. “She chose a great subject who has a lot of passion for what he does and was very comfortable in front of the camera. Her lab shots were superb and reflected exactly what goes on in the lab. And her filming style was very professional.”

“Ernest took a risk and used his talents in a way that other filmmakers will notice,” Hoffman added. “He accepted direction well and should benefit from the visibility his work will receive through the LabTV program.”

“It was such a great experience working with David Hoffman and all the researchers I met along the way, especially Charlie,” says Bottger, a senior from Newtown Square, Pa., majoring in Communications with a minor in Cinema Studies. “It was clear that he really loves what he does and feels passionately about his work. He helped me to learn so much about the common misconceptions of being a researcher and his outgoing and friendly nature made him the perfect candidate to profile.”

“I am both honored and a little shocked to be named as a finalist,” says Owens, a senior Communications major who grew up in Chicago and Houston and who worked on the project with a classmate, Miller Sykes Radford, who did the camera work. “Getting the chance to be mentored and guided by David Hoffman was invaluable, and I was truly inspired by my subject Stephanie, who came from humble beginnings and is now one of the many diverse faces we see working in the science community.”

While the LabTV experience was a positive one for both Annenberg students, Owens and Bottger admit it was not without a few challenges. For Owens, most of the challenges in what he calls “a labor of love” involved scheduling conflicts with his cameraman and his subject. For Bottger, she struggled with how to successfully explain and visually represent her subject’s research on screen so that a viewer with no medical background could understand his work. She says it was important for her to understand what he was talking about first, so that she could ask him the right questions and successfully relay his message to the audience.

Owens, who has had a lifelong love affair with science, says he wants to incorporate science subject matter into a career in multimedia journalism. Bottger, who says she has used her Annenberg education and her experiences as co-director and president of PennUTV.com to understand what goes into turning a concept into tangible media, hopes to become a television producer in New York City.

“Up until now, I’ve mainly studied communications in the context of politics and public service,” adds Owens. “But this project reawakened my interest in research and the field of science and gave me some wonderful professional experience, which is really the prize I’m happiest to take home.”

“I really connect with LabTV’s mission of encouraging undergraduate and high school students to explore the medical research field,” Bottger says. “I knew with my technical skills I could contribute to this cause in my own way as a filmmaker, and that was really exciting for me.”

Media Contact: Julie Sloane, jsloane@asc.upenn.edu, 215-746-1798