Through a Lens Darkly
Reflecting the Truth: A Conversation with Dominic Iocco of John Paul the Great Catholic University
Following up on that notion of combining some of education's more abstract elements with an intentionally practical side, tell us about the "year-round structure" you have, which makes it possible for your students to graduate in three years rather than the ubiquitous four. What are some of the benefits to that approach?
Well, there are two big benefits. The first, of course, is that you save an entire year. Since we operate under the quarter system, there is no summer break. And that means our graduates finish off their degree more quickly—four academic years in three calendar years. That's a pretty big benefit, obviously. The other benefit is that it makes it possible for us to take on bigger, more ambitious media and business projects. It would be tough to accomplish some of these big projects—like Red Line, for example—if our students disappeared for three months during the summer. You can lose a lot of momentum to a summer break. (I think quarters replicate the real world a bit more accurately, as well.)
Plus, in my experience with the semester system, you have this great energy at the beginning, coast through the middle months, and at the end, explode with that last bit of effort to make sure you get that "A." Our approach is accelerated and definitely intense, but its shortness helps with the natural tendency of "dropping off," for sure.
In addition to the various degree tracks you would expect from a university that focuses so closely on media—Production, Screenwriting, Animation & Gaming, even "The New Evangelization—you also have a "General Education" component that covers "the Catholic core, humanities and the natural sciences." Why does John Paul the Great make these sorts of classes such an integral (even required) part of your students' education?
I like to say that you can't tell great stories without being exposed to and understanding great stories. And you can't make films that reflect the truth without really understanding the truth—exploring what makes it true particularly in comparison to other modern philosophies that don't hold up under scrutiny, for example. By combining the media pieces with some humanities, philosophy, and theology courses, I think you get a great sense of what is necessary to come up with stories and film that manifest the truth, and that help to show the world why the Catholic world view has the Truth in it. And after these first few years' experience, I can say that it works really well, practically. It's a great combination.
Along these same lines, there was one "General Education" course that immediately caught my eye: Humanities 302—Culture Making. Do you find that your students approach this culture making as a specific and primary goal? Or does it grow organically out of the theological, moral, and artistic components of their education?
I think that we're pushing for the "organic" approach in the more idealistic, abstract realm, but in practice, it ends up being pretty close to a 50-50 percent split. We have some students who feel called to evangelize within their own church, and who come to John Paul the Great for the theological and technical skills to help parishes and parochial schools throughout the country broaden and deepen their outreach. We have kids who graduate and go on to work for Catholic Answers, or move in that direction. And there are some who move to LA and try to find their spot in The Industry. So I think the program's designed to produce subtler filmmakers, not "in-your-face Catholic" movies.
Joseph Susanka has been doing development work for institutions of Catholic higher education since his graduation from Thomas Aquinas College in 1999. He blogs at Crisis Magazine, where he also contributes feature articles on a variety of topics.