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Behind the Scenes of the Women in Science Video

In April, I produced a video for the third annual Women in Science Symposium at Colorado State University. The half-day event featured speakers and panelists from Colorado and Oregon, and brought the campus community together to network with others from academic and industry backgrounds interested in promoting gender equality.

Learn more about the Women in Science Symposium

The symposium kicked off with the unveiling of our video featuring a CSU undergraduate student and slam poet, Merall Sherif, reading her poem in research settings across the university. Each scene also featured CSU’s female faculty and students in science or research. The poem, titled “Building a World,” was written by Sherif specifically for the women across the university and for girls aspiring to become scientists and researchers themselves.

Hold onto Good Ideas Until the Timing is Right

Slam poet Merall Sherif and instructor Anna Fontana filming in a construction management lab for the Women in Science video.

I first had the pleasure of “meeting” Merall (over email) when she hosted an Instagram takeover on the @CSUVetMedBioSci account and posted a video of herself performing slam poetry in February 2018, a full year before we produced the Women in Science video.

I knew immediately I wanted to feature her in a video, but I wasn’t sure what the video would be. So, I sat tight hoping an idea would come to me in time. Five months later, I was attending a conference when I saw Twitter’s #SheInspiresMe video, featuring poet Denice Frohman. Cue the metaphorical lightbulb. CSU started the Women in Science Symposium three years ago, and each year the organizers ask for help to create a video that can kick off the symposium. I knew Merall, a woman in science herself, would be the perfect star in a video for the symposium. But the symposium was still nine months away, so I sat tight again.

One full year after my first exposure to Merall and her talent, I reached out to her in February 2019 asking if she would be interested in writing a poem about women in science for the symposium and performing it on camera. To my great relief, she said yes.

Producer + Videographer = Magic

If there’s one person I owe major credit to, it’s Jason Russell, a very talented CSU videographer. When I asked him if he’d like to partner up on the video project, I expressed that I didn’t want to totally rip off Twitter’s idea and asked if he had any ideas to make our video different. He recommended filming Merall reading her poem in different research settings with different female scientists at CSU, and sprinkling some “Power Poses” (as we came to call them) throughout the video.

It was a great (and daunting) idea. I took on the role of producer, coordinating the scientists, times and locations for the shoot. Jason focused on the look and feel, filming and editing for the video. This project would have been nearly impossible without Jason, and splitting up the roles made the project much more manageable.

Get Necessary Approvals

Slam poet Merall Sherif and Jenna Gallegos filming in an engineering lab for the Women in Science video.

Immediately after I came up with the idea in July, I pitched it to my boss. I wanted to make sure I had her blessing before moving forward. I waited until January 2019 to pitch the idea to the symposium organizers, after they reached out to us to see if we could help create a video for the symposium. Once I got the thumbs up from them, I turned to my colleagues to help me develop the concept and asked for advice on how to make it even better.

Asking for help is the best thing I could have done for myself on this project, and they liked being included (…I think).

Leverage Your Network

Slam poet Merall Sherif and professor Ellen Wohl filming in Sherwood Forrest for the Women in Science video.

Speaking of including others, I reached out to the entire social media committee for help gathering names of potential female scientists at CSU to be featured in the video. Without the help of the entire group, I would not have had as many awesome scientists spanning all parts of CSU. I was able to include at least one researcher from all eight colleges at CSU, and at varying stages of their careers (undergraduates, graduate/Ph.D. students, professors, veterinarians, etc.). If you work at a university, you know what a triumph that is.

Give Yourself Time

Slam poet Merall Sherif and professor Josiane Broussard filming in a sleep lab for the Women in Science video.

Jason, Merall and I filmed all the location shots in one day, which was a huge undertaking. Jason’s set-up at each location typically took around 30-40 minutes, and filming took around 10-15. We filmed 9 locations all across campus in 9 hours. In a perfect world, we would have spread the location shoots out over two days. We also filmed 16 power poses over the remainder of the week. Jason edited the video in only a few days, and bam. It was showtime.

Though we were able to pull it off, I would have given ourselves one more week to film if we were to do it all over again.

Get Everyone’s Name

Slam poet Merall Sherif and professor Dr. Blythe Lagasse filming in a lab for the Women in Science video.

Yep, this is a very basic tip and you’re probably thinking “duh.” But in the midst of the chaos, there were additional women we filmed who we did not anticipate and I totally spaced grabbing their names before moving on to the next location. This was a big mistake, because after filming the video I wrote a very short story about the women featured in the video and I didn’t have everyone’s name. So, just a friendly reminder to always get the names of people in a video.

Maximize the Final Product

Merall Sherif posing in front of a camera

The video took a lot of brain power, a lot of labor and a lot of people to pull off. So I wanted to make sure the video got as much reach and life as possible.

After the video premiered at the symposium, I posted the video across social media. As I mentioned earlier, I also wrote a short story describing the video and the women in it, and the story was emailed to CSU’s campus community and beyond.

The beauty of this video is that it’s evergreen. Throughout the production process, Jason and I wanted to make sure the video could have life in future years if it was repurposed for another project or message. Keep an eye out for the video on CSU Social in the future!