North Central College - Naperville, IL

Lights. Camera. Action. Design. Shoot. Edit. Animate. Produce.

Kelly Rivard wants to bring high-tech skills to a traditional industry: agriculture. RJ McNichols wants to become a great writer and a film director. Kevin Hannon’s web design skills are key to an Internet start-up company. Adam Gierhart produces sports media materials for a professional softball team.

All have chosen to major in North Central’s unique Interactive Media Studies (IMS) program to develop expertise across all types of media and technology and they’ve found their talents are in demand. New technologies for the web, phone apps, video games, movie animation, video production and graphic design means that there will be a continuing need for people who have both technical abilities and good communications skills. In response, North Central established a unique

IMS program with three tracks:

  • Graphic arts, which includes courses in typography, design, photography and digital illustration;
  • Interactive media technology, which combines courses in web site programming, multimedia presentations, game programming and video/audio and editing;
  • Convergent media, which focuses on writing for the various media along with TV, film and video production and web design.

In just four years, the program has grown to 85 students, who choose North Central over more technical schools because of its full liberal arts curriculum. That means IMS students become more well-rounded by taking courses in English, history, math, science, psychology, sociology, religious studies and languages like Spanish, French, German, Chinese and Japanese. They also are encouraged to study abroad for a 10-week term.

“It’s a very interdisciplinary major,” says Stephen Renk, professor of computer science and coordinator of the IMS program. “When a potential student is just as interested in journalism as video game programming, I know North Central is the right choice.” Professors who teach in the program have backgrounds in art, computer science, English, journalism, mass media and broadcast/speech communication. “Our goal is simple: we want our students to effectively communicate in any medium,” adds Renk.


North Central’s facilities are equipped with modern technologies critical to the IMS learning experience. These facilities include a chroma key (green screen) studio, an audio lab, a Mac lab and three other computer labs. Students also can develop their skills at the College’s award-winning radio station, WONC-FM 89.1, or at Naperville Community Television (NCTV), which has close ties to North Central.

Upper-level students can participate in a practicum called Viewfinder and publish an on-line, multi-media magazine. Other resources are available through the College’s instructional media office in Oesterle Library, including audio recorders and digital camcorders that students can use if they don’t have their own equipment.

The IMS program awards talent scholarships to incoming first-year students based on a portfolio presentation. The portfolio, often presented as a DVD, might include a video or film production, computer animation or graphic design samples. Interviews for IMS scholarships are typically held in February for graduating high school seniors. For more information, go to

Students of IMS

Nearly every IMS student completes one or more internships before graduation. Those in the convergent media track have worked at NCTV and Fox News Chicago. Graphic design students have been hired by Sightmark Signs in Naperville, for production design at Sourcebooks in Naperville and as a gaming web site editor for a San Francisco firm.

Others have worked for sports teams to develop media guides and publicity posters. Media technology students have interned at firms such as Automotive Internet Media, based in LaGrange, IL, for web design and development.

IMS students find opportunities to develop their skills on campus, such as working in the Office of Marketing and Communication, Sports Information and the Office of Campus Ministry and Service.


Kelly Rivard: Graphic Arts

Kelly Rivard knows from her rural Illinois upbringing that the agriculture profession is rather slow to adopt new communication tools.

The graphic design track within IMS is giving her expertise with video production, social media and the Internet—which can benefit farmers and agriculture organizations—to forge her career. “The challenge is to help farmers gain access to the current technologies,” she says. “Some still have dial-up Internet access.”

She has already become a video editor and is pursuing an English minor to polish her writing skills. Kelly has interned with AgChat Foundation, which teaches farmers and ranchers how social media can reach consumers; and also for the Illinois Corn Marketing Board and NutraHealth Media, a marketing company for health foods. “North Central gives you opportunities and you can build your career from there,” she says.


RJ McNichols

RJ McNichols: Convergent Media

RJ McNichols has been writing and producing videos since age 12, so finding a college that could help him launch a filmmaking career was important. “But I knew I wanted more than a technical focus,” he says. “I wanted to learn about history and other topics, and become a better writer. Plus, I wanted to run competitively. North Central was the perfect fit.”

RJ’s classes in the convergent track within IMS incorporate film production, mass media and screenwriting, along with English courses such as Creative Writing and Advanced Creative Nonfiction-Multimedia, which helps him think as a creative writer. “The best directors write their own screenplays,” says RJ. “I really like films such as Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums and The Darjeeling Limited.” He also works on campus productions and creates features for Viewfinder, the IMS online magazine that’s offered as a practicum.


Adam Gierhart

Adam Gierhart: Graphic Arts

Adam Gierhart has found that combining the graphic arts track in the IMS program with his interest in sports has created a multitude of opportunities in sports marketing.

During a class, his professor mentioned an opening for an intern with the Chicago Bandits, the professional softball team best known for star U.S. Olympic pitcher Jennie Finch. He landed the internship and designed a media guide, poster and other marketing materials. He also assisted with media relations and was asked to travel to a national softball tournament in Louisiana.

Adam also does design work for the Northern Illinois University Ice Hockey Club. “What you learn in a 10-week class just scratches the surface,” Adam says. “You have to pursue other opportunities and internships outside of class to prepare for a career.”


Kevin Hannan

Kevin Hannan: Interactive Media Technology

Kevin Hannan was set on the computer engineering program at the University of Illinois. In fact, it was the only school he applied to. But after three years in that program, he knew in his heart that it just wasn’t the right fit. “It was very technical, I needed something more creative,” Kevin says. So he transferred to North Central to complete his bachelor’s degree in the IMS program.

Kevin chose the media technology track and really enjoys web design and development. He landed an ongoing internship with Automotive Internet Media and has developed two websites, and

He’s also presented his expertise on search engine optimization (SEO) to a North Central class. “I really like how easy it is to talk with my professors,” he adds. “At a big school like Illinois, they’re not available to you as a resource like they are here.”


Samantha Suarez

Samantha Suarez: Graphic Arts

Samantha Suarez got interested in graphic design while working on her high school yearbook, so she decided to major in art education during her first term at North Central. But then her roommate started telling her about the cool classes she was taking in IMS.

“I started reading the course catalog about the major, and I realized I really wanted to learn how to work on the web and use Flash,” she says. Samantha also started a job in the Office of Marketing and Communication as a graphic designer. And her first projects were designing a bookmark, a schedule for the campus shuttle and flyers for study abroad programs.

Her most recent project: designing a poster to send to high schools promoting the IMS program.


Central Time, Volume 3, Issue 2