The educational needs of Mali met through digital media

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Robert Trim, Mike Harper and Ken Wilcox assemble the equipment necessary to document the educational state of Mali. Photo credit: Trent Bates/UVU Review

Robert Trim, Mike Harper and Ken Wilcox assemble the equipment necessary to document the educational state of Mali. Photo credit: Trent Bates/UVU Review

Defying the average senior project, three digital media students accompanied by two professors will be in Mali Jan 9. through Jan. 18 filming a documentary in support of the Mali Rising Foundation.

The documentary is meant to promote educational development in a country where, according to, there are barely 8,000 primary schools for 15,000 villages.

“They are going there to document the opening of schools to which investors have contributed so these kids will continue to have funding for their education,” said Mike Harper, an associate professor of digital media technology and designated content expert for the expedition. “The Mali Rising Foundation doesn’t have the funds or experience to put this media together, so these students volunteered their skills.”

The concept stemmed from the mind of student Jeff Davis who had previously worked with the Mali Rising Foundation on a small project. Davis brought the idea to the attention of his classmates and was approached by Ken Wilcox and Ty Jensen, who wanted to be involved with the project. Things naturally fell together.

“They needed people for the project, and I am really surprised no one else volunteered,” said Jensen. “Who wouldn’t want to go to to Africa?”

Going to Africa, getting video footage and creating an enlightening documentary are only pieces to the puzzle. There will be many additional benefits for those involved in this project.

“When we do international projects, the whole goal, whether it is in Mali or Mongolia or Russia, is to go and have an experience that changes lives,” Harper observed. “The project is a vehicle, a means to an end. They are applying their trade, they are doing what they are studying, but the trip itself will provide a life-changing experience.”

Although the destination is romantically foreign, and adventures will no doubt be had, they have only a week to get adequate footage, which leaves little time for leisure activity.

“They are going to areas that they aren’t prepared for, it won’t be a vacation. We are going to be working 15 hours a day, and they have a week to get their media, so they will be working full time,” Harper said. “We are going to some pretty amazing places, most people don’t know that Timbuktu actually exists, so when you look at it from that angle, that’s where the experience is. It is going to be an extraordinary adventure.”

Hours of dedicated preparation made this trip possible, including equipment assemblage, readying the necessary documents and learning conversational French.

“There has been a lot of sacrifice to get over there. We all have to be on malaria medication and we had to get yellow fever shots. There is a lot of risk involved but we are willing take them because of the reason we are going,” said Jan Bentley, associate professor of digital media technology and administrative authority of the trip. “It’s all about the need for schools over there and getting it documented so people know about it.”

A  philanthropically-centered project is not the general road taken by students. The passion and commitment behind this challenging yet fulfilling endeavor is obvious.

“It is going to be incredible because the Mali Rising Foundation is doing amazing things for the education for people who live in e of the poorest countries in the world,” Wilcox explained.