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Liberal Studies

for the 21st Century

E-Series Faculty Profile: Dr. Andy Opel

Andy is a Professor in the School of Communication and the Director of the Digital Media Production Program at Florida State where he teaches and researches documentary video production and environmental communication. 

E-Series Course:

  • IFS 3033 - Media, Culture and the Environment
  • IFS 2103 - Documentary Film:  History, Theory and Practice.  


1. Please tell us about yourself.
I am a Professor and the Director of the Digital Media Production Program in the School of Communication.  I came to FSU in 2001 after completing my PhD from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill in August 2001.

2. Tell us about your research interests and why you are passionate about this topic.
I am interested in environmental communication.  Specifically, how documentary film can be used to tell stories about the environment and help translate complex science into narratives that can be understood by the general public.  I grew up in a very beautiful place and have been concerned about the connections between public policy and environmental sustainability from a very early age.

3. What do you want the public to know about your research? Why is your topic important?
A core premise of my work is to make an impact on the world here and now.  Helping people understand the connections between their purchasing decisions and the way land, resources, and human labor are impacted is central to my work.  Food and water and two great topics to make those connections because everyone eats food and drinks water regardless of your politics, race, gender or class.  I find students very ready and willing to think about the systems that deliver the food to their plates.  This is very concrete, unlike the slow moving and largely invisible forces of climate change or the preservation of large wild animals they may never see firsthand.  Once students begin to think critically about where their food comes from, it is not hard to begin to expand that thinking and to consider the impacts of electronics purchases, clothing or other consumer goods that have global footprints

4. Who has influenced you the most in life?
Probably my father. He was an imposing personality who was always pushing to ask what I was doing to make this world a better place.  He was trained as an Episcopal minister but left the church to pursue real world change through the US Dept. of Health, Education and Welfare, helping provide healthcare to children and disadvantaged families.  He always said the bible stories were about this world, not the afterlife, parables to serve as a guide not to be taken literally.  His voice has been a guiding influence in my life, making me a spiritual person, not a religious person.  He was always very clear about the danger of organized religion and I continue to see the divisions in our world that are driven by religious leaders who seem to forget the core messages of any number of “holy” texts and instead pit people against each other over fables that were meant to help people make good decisions, not start wars or turn neighbors into enemies.

5. What is your favorite part of your job?
I love two things:  Getting to work with enthusiastic and energetic students, and getting to create my own research and creative projects.  There are fewer and fewer places in the world where one can tap their own creativity on a daily basis and make new things happen.  Being a professor is the closest thing I have found to NOT having a job - instead having the opportunity to create new and interesting classes and new and exciting research projects.


6. What E-Series course do you teach and what is it about?
I created and teach both IFS 3033 - Media, Culture and the Environment and IFS 2103 - Documentary Film:  History, Theory and Practice.  The first one covers three areas: Media coverage of environmental issues,  popular culture and the environment with an emphasis on food, and the media strategies of environmental organizations.  The second class is an introduction to documentary film, outlining some of the core debates about the documentation of reality, tracing the major developments in the genre since the first documentary in the early 1920s and finally giving students a chance to experience firsthand what happens when they try to document something in the real world.  This is such an exciting time to be working in documentary and because of all the great films it is really hard to decide what to show to the students in any given semester.  I often see students get very excited about the genre after seeing films where the characters are more compelling than anything a screenwriter could ever dream up.

7. How do you like to spend your free time?
My favorite hobby is playing music.  I play the stand up bass, guitar and mandolin and have played in many bands over the years.

8. What did we naively not ask you that we should’ve, and your answer to it?
Why I love border collies!  -  Because they are amazing dogs, smart and responsive!  Our current dog Bella is 4 years old and is a great companion to our family and helps get us out of the house every day for ball playing at the park!

Liberal Studies for the 21st Century is located in room A3502 on the third floor of University Center C in the stadium

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