At Champlain College, the senior capstone project is designed to push students’ professional skills to the next level. For Broadcast Media Production students Isabella Spano ’23 and Patrick Hathaway ’23, their capstone project also helped push the college into national spotlight. Their documentary Steep Slope—a profound exploration of the impact of climate change on Vermont’s ski industry—was one of five winners for Best Documentary at the prestigious Intercollegiate Broadcasting System (IBS) Media Awards in New York City. 

This accolade, won under the mentorship of Associate Professor and Broadcast Media Production Program Director Keith Oppenheim and Jess Wilson, executive director of the Media Factory, encapsulates the program’s commitment to blending rigorous academics with real-world applications.

Steep Slope navigates the complexities of climate change, weaving its narrative through the perspectives of resort staff, meteorologists, and other local professionals. “What they had to do was to get experts and people on the inside,” Oppenheim reflects on the process. Experts including a representative from the National Weather Service, a meteorologist from Channel 22/44, and Champlain Visiting Instructor Chuck Bush, among others, contributed authentic and comprehensive views of the issue at hand.

This project showcases what our senior broadcast capstones are all about: combining student-led exploration with fulfilling and practical learning. “I don’t tell them what to do. I tell them what might work, what won’t work, and how to go about it,” Oppenheim explains, emphasizing the initiative students must take to complete their own projects.

Watch the 10-minute documentary Steep Slope, produced by Broadcast Media Production students Isabella Spano ’23 & Path Hathaway ’23 for their capstone project.

Following its success at the IBS Media Awards, Steep Slope captured audiences on local cable and is set to air on Vermont Public Television. This exposure not only amplifies the documentary’s message but also showcases the significant reach and influence of student work. “For our students to take their work at that serious level and have an impact…it makes them really understand that they are responsible for what they say to a much larger audience,” says Oppenheim as he highlights the documentary’s role in fostering a deeper public engagement with the climate crisis.

Creating a documentary like Steep Slope is no small feat—a sentiment Oppenheim shares openly. “It’s hard to make a 10-minute documentary. It really is. It takes a lot of labor, planning, and it’s a capstone.” This process demands a blending of the skills and knowledge the students have developed over the course of their education, from writing and field production to sound design and editing. Yet, their hard work is rewarding, providing a valuable calling card for students as they enter the professional world. “Pat and Bella now can say on their resumes or on their LinkedIn pages, ‘I made this, take a look,’” Oppenheim notes, underscoring the tangible benefits of their accomplishment.

As Champlain College continues to cultivate future media professionals, the recognition of Steep Slope serves not only as a testament to the students’ dedication and skill but also as an inspiration to others. Oppenheim, reflecting on the broader impact, shares, “We’ve done ridiculously well, and I’m proud of ’em.” This sense of pride extends beyond these individual achievements to the collective ambition and creativity nurtured within the Broadcast Media Production program.

In the end, Steep Slope is more than just a documentary; it’s a reflection of Champlain College’s vision for education—one where students are not only prepared to enter the workforce but are also equipped to tackle the pressing issues of our time through thoughtful, impactful media. As Spano, Hathaway, and their mentor look to the future, their journey from concept to award-winning documentary acts as a constant reminder of what it means to learn, create, and inspire change.

Hanna Blankenship '24
Law & Marketing