One hot and muggy Virginia afternoon two years ago, while grading my students’ third-year Russian language essays, I received a call from an old filmmaker friend who was working on a project with Course Hero.
“Did you know that a professor at your university teaches a super-popular course on Dracula?” my friend asked.
“Yes, that’s Stan, the vampire guy!” I said. “He’s a colleague of mine, and a total legend. His class is one of the 10 must-take classes at UVA—there are literally hundreds of people on the wait list every semester.”
“Yes, we heard,” said my friend. “We’re fascinated by how he does what he does, and we’re coming to make a film about him.”
A little background on “Stan,” full name Stanley Stepanic: He holds a PhD in Slavic Languages and Literature from the University of Virginia. His course is called Dracula. And, surprisingly, Bram Stoker’s Dracula isn’t required reading for the class! In a talk Stan gave to Course Hero, he explains that he uses the vampire as “a frame for human experience,” touching on wide-ranging topics including sociology, history, pop culture, psychology, anthropology, economics, and folklore.
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Stan is incredibly passionate about his subject and committed to his students’ learning—and making that happen is hard, hard work. I was delighted that a crew from California was intrigued enough to fly out to film him in order to better understand his teaching philosophy. And, since I’d picked up some digital media and film experience working at the Digital Media Lab at the University of Virginia, I was invited to work with them. Armed with a fair amount of grit, I set out to help the crew as much as I could, to make the shoot a success.
And this wasn’t just a day-in-the-life classroom shoot! We filmed practically around the clock, in the blazing heat, on wet grass, as early as 4 a.m., and as late as midnight. What got us through was knowing that at the end of the day, we were helping to spotlight an amazing instructor and person who, in a way, revolutionized the teaching of folklore, getting students to think about it as a fascinating subject. (Because what student would sign up for a class called Folklore?—a point made in a cameo appearance by yours truly in the opening moments of the video!)
Here’s the finished product, so judge for yourself!
That video, filmed in 2017, was essentially a pilot project that took off, becoming the first of a series of Master Educator films shot by the Educator Community team at Course Hero. Each film spotlights an instructor known for their innovative teaching style. I was lucky enough to freelance for them for the next two years, flying around the country to shoot other outstanding educators, such as University of Michigan’s John Branch, Georgetown University’s Maria Trujillo, and Virginia Tech professor John Boyer, who are all now part of our Educator Community.
Finally, in the Fall of 2018, I was midway through my seventh—and final—year working on my dissertation (entitled Prison Slang in Russian Literature) and was ready to start looking for a job. The senior director of Course Hero’s Educator Community and Partnerships, and now my boss, had invited me to come work for the company full-time, and the moment was right. I now continue to work on the Master Educator films, as well as on other Course Hero projects and events. Most recently I’ve been part of the team planning this summer’s Education Summit, an annual teaching-focused event that brings together hundreds of educators who are passionate about teaching and learning. (And yes, I’m also finalizing my PhD in Slavic Languages and Literatures.)
I can’t wait to see what the future holds for the Educator Community team—I know we will continue to connect with and highlight the achievements of some of the most amazing educators in the country, and, hopefully, the world! Some mornings, as I’m having my coffee, I still can’t believe that I get to do this for a living.