A SUNY Oswego student-faculty collaboration is producing a documentary demonstrating the biodiversity and community history of the Sterling Nature Center (SNC), a preserve 10 miles west of the lakeside campus, thanks to support from the Shineman Endowed Fund. 

The students taking part in this project –- Ryan King, Wells Liscomb and Lauren Smith –- and faculty members Laura Donnelly of English and creative writing and Tiffany Deater and Jarrod Hagadorn of cinema and screen studies, conducted interviews with people associated with the center over the years to learn more about its history. 

King was surprised to learn the property originally was slated to be a nuclear power plant before neighbors came together to oppose this move.

“The people in the town of Sterling basically said no, and we’re against that idea,” said King, a May 2023 SUNY Oswego graduate. “It’s really just an interesting story about the power of the people.” 

The process of filming didn’t always run perfectly, but this allowed for a variety of learning experiences. Jim D’Angelo, the director and naturalist at the SNC, believes that the students overcoming these challenges gained valuable experience from this as well as taking part in the overall project.

“The students benefited from real-world experiences and having to adapt to unexpected events like rain, poor air quality and power outages,” said D’Angelo. “They had to manage scheduling and filming of interviews in a more controlled setting but also film outdoors where they couldn’t control the setting or subjects as much.”

The project at the SNC had multiple goals that those involved wished to accomplish, including telling the story of ordinary citizens who came together and advocated for legislative action, covering the crises of climate change and producing an informative and compelling final product. 

Not only did the students learn about film and production, but they also learned a lot about the impact different people had on the SNC throughout the years. Donnelly shared a new understanding of some of the things people who had connections with the center did as advocates. 

“It was remarkable to gain insights on the nature center from people who have a half-century (or more!) of history with it. Getting to hear Barbara Bartholomew talk about reporting on the site for the (Oswego daily newspaper) Palladium-Times in 1972 was a highlight of this,” said Donnelly. “At that time, Rochester Gas and Electric had plans to develop the site into a nuclear power plant and/or a coal burning site. Hearing people remember the battles over these plans decades ago, and then reflect on the nature center today, was quite powerful.”

This project gave students many different opportunities to learn, both about the history and community of the SNC and also the art of film production. 

“I think a big takeaway is that nothing is ever going to be perfect. You just have to keep working hard and have to try new things. If you mess up it isn’t the end of the world,” said King. 

About the Shineman Endowed Fund

The Richard S. and Barbara P. Shineman Foundation and Dr. Barbara P. Shineman made a combined $5 million dollar investment in 2012 to SUNY Oswego. The purpose of the gift was to establish an endowed chair in the Chemistry Department as well as a flexible pool of earnings, managed by a campus committee, to support educational and cultural opportunities. 

The created Shineman Endowed Fund at SUNY Oswego supports collaborative pursuits brought forward by staff and faculty members that will benefit all constituents; SUNY Oswego students, campus community and the Oswego County region. The committee is comprised of campus and Shineman Foundation members charged with reviewing the grant proposals and making recommendations to the university's provost and vice president of university advancement.  

Through spring 2023, this fund has supported more than $283,000 in projects. The next opportunity for funding is fall 2023. Interested campus members may review the parameters and timelines at the Office Research and Sponsored Programs Internal Funding Opportunities web page.

-- Written by Lila Boudissa of the Class of 2023