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The SPI Files: Jennifer Stancil, WQED

by Mike Smith, Station Products & Innovation

Last week on the SPI Files, we got the inside scoop on Montana West, Integrated Media Producer at NHPTV. This week, we're heading out to "Steel City" to speak with Jennifer Stancil, Executive Director of Educational Partnerships at WQED in Pittsburgh.

Q: Who are you and what do you do at WQED?
A: I am the Executive Director of Educational Partnerships and the architect of our new six-year education strategy, iQ: smartmedia*. (*iQ: smartmedia is a new paradigm in multimedia. iQ is a network, a tool, an action…and more. iQ harnesses the power, inspiration, and creativity of new media and provides a framework for expression, learning, and collaboration. It aspires to help each child realize their full potential. iQ: smartmedia allows WQED to create and curate multimedia and corresponding educational opportunities toward a best-practices model for our region, nation, and the world in integration of media and education.)

Q: How long have you been at WQED?
A: Since March 2010

Q: Before WQED, what did you do?
A: I spent almost 14 years in the museum industry, opening and running two new museums in the southeast from an educational leadership role. Just prior to WQED, I was the Executive Director of the Girls, Math & Science Partnership, which went from pilot program to global authority on the issues of Girls and STEM education. I advise the White House to this day on the issue.

Q: What skills and expertise did you gain in your previous work that you were able to integrate into your role at WQED?
A: Beyond the really important “administrative” functions such as relationships management and fundraising, I think that my work with informal learning has made project collaborations like www.iqzoo.org (with the Pittsburgh Zoo) and www.getcuriouspittsburgh.org (with the Children’s Museum) a lot more seamless because I understand the business.

I also have treated the opportunity at WQED as a “start-up.” The goal is to reimagine the integration of multimedia for educational purposes. That I was given a tabula rasa plays to my strengths – creativity, collaboration, brand strategy – and I am thankful that the leadership of WQED has given me that blank canvas.

Q: How has WQED managed to remain successful over the past 50+ years?
A: I think that WQED isn’t about a particular set of productions, a division/department that has consistently performed, or even our core values of innovation and changing lives. For me, WQED is part of the culture of Pittsburgh. It’s woven in the tapestry of who we are in Southwestern Pennsylvania – the narratives we tell, the pride in our neighborhoods. WQED is as relevant and essential to the Pittsburgh community today and possibly even more so than in 1954.

Q: How is WQED engaging with social media like Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr?
A: I’ve become a big fan of WIRED and TedTalks and Mashable. Keeping abreast of what’s happening with the intersection of kids, creativity and multimedia – especially in the social sphere – really pushes us to explore what we can do in education. Being next door to Carnegie Mellon University helps as well in many ways. But being the first to use QR codes with iQZoo (locally combining zoo animals with PBS video content) in the system is really great. We hope there is more to come with gaming, augmented reality, and engagement with kids.

Q: What is the next big thing for WQED?
A: As it relates to education, I think WQED is in the first stages of its “next big thing” already with the iQ:smartmedia strategy. I believe it is an ambitious and potentially transformative set of initiatives that we have already delivered partially on and will continue to do so over the coming years.

Q: What do you see as the future for public media and how does WQED fit into that vision?
A: I think there are PR issues for public media that are really shaping the landscape that is before us. For me, to watch my own four year old daughter be able to experiment with physics after watching a 60 second segment of Curious George is brilliant. If I am the face for WQED in this regard, even I have been astonished at what public media can teach children. We need to, at both the national and local levels, start telling our stories at a different volume. We need to be louder and more frequent in sharing the successes that we allow millions of people to achieve every day, regardless of their race, socioeconomic status, or gender. There is no lack of ideas or innovation or access. As we say with the Pittsburgh Steelers, you gotta have a little “swagger.”

And - just for fun - a few quickfire questions:
  1. Elmo or Grover? Super Grover. Hands down.
  2. iPhone or Android? I have two phones, iPhone and Blackberry
  3. I am currently listening to ... The Fleet Foxes, Jennie O and Neko Case
  4. I am currently reading ... I’m taking The Emporer of All Maladies and Cinderella Ate My Daughter to the beach. That and the new Annie E. Casey Foundation report on raising the potential of kids.
  5. I'm currently watching (TV, film, etc) ... anxiously awaiting the next season of Fringe and the DVD of Super 8. And an adorable French kids’ short that I brought back from Europe for my daughter. And football.

Know anyone you'd like us to profile? Let us know in the comment box below!


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