By Hannah Prince (Jour'22)
Photo by Kimberly Coffin (CritMed, StratComm’18)

Fourth-year student Shawn Mitchell of Crossville, Tennessee was drawn to create, but the route to discovering his passion was not what he expected. 

After his first year as a college student, Mitchell took a gap year to emancipate himself and become an in-state student in Colorado. During that time, he was exposed to Colorado’s music industry, and the experience changed the course of his college experience. From lighting to visuals, he became intrigued with production work and switched his major from physics to media production in order to explore immersive multimedia. 

Critical media practices really changed how I view media."

For his honors project, Mitchell created a virtual reality video game, using the medium to represent social anxiety cycles. Originally Mitchell thought the project would be distant, only taking a scholarly approach, but he discovered the beauty in combining personal experiences and academic work.

“A project is never fully done for the artist,” Mitchell said, adding that he plans to continue work on the video game and other similar projects in the future.

This month, Mitchell will graduate with a major in media production, specializing in immersive media, and a minor in creative technology and design. He’ll do so with the distinction of being the Department of Critical Media Practice’s William W. White Outstanding Senior, an award given to students in each department based on a combination of academic merit, professional achievement and service to the college.

We checked in with Mitchell to learn more about how he’s discovered his passions and what graduating college represents for him.

 How has the major you studied shaped the way you look at the world? 
I think critical media practices really changed how I view media. The major teaches us how to critically analyze and break down all of the technical and aesthetic components of a media artifact, which I think is a type of perspective that I will take with me and utilize no matter what type of media I’m enjoying. 

 Was there a project you worked on or a real-world experience that you gained as a student that you’re especially proud of or that taught you a lot? 
I think the one project that really pushed me out of my comfort zone and utilized everything that I had learned over my time at CU would be my honors thesis project. The project involved developing a VR video game which allowed me to utilize a lot of what I learned in DCMP, but also pushed me to learn and develop my skills with the Unreal Engine far beyond what I had previously considered within my skill set. It really allowed me to prove to myself that I was capable of creating such a project on my own.

 It’s clear that you took academics very seriously during your time at CMCI. Outside of classwork, what’s something you learned about yourself during college? 
I learned that I have severe ADHD. The thought was always at the back of my mind, but it wasn’t until my junior year that I was officially diagnosed. Having that sort of official notice really allowed me to understand how I went about school and projects and gave me a better way to tackle them. 

 Based on what you know now, what is your best piece of advice for other students? 
I would advise that students take some time off from school to really determine what they want to pursue. I took a gap year after my freshman year, and during that time, I realized that pursuing physics was more of a hobby and not something that I wanted to have a degree in. This is when I found DCMP within CMCI and found my true passion. Without that break, who knows how things would have turned out.

 What does graduating from college represent for you? 
Graduating college has always been this thing that I just always expected of myself to accomplish, but now that it’s actually happening, it feels good. It represents this internal ability and drive to overcome any sort of hurdle that college itself, and life, can throw at you. 

 Ten years from now, if you could create your perfect career, what would it look like? 
I think my perfect career would be owning/founding my own game studio. I’ve always been interested in video games and being able to run a team that could bring my visions to life sounds like the ideal environment for me. 

Connect with Shawn Mitchell on Instagram at ravvioli_.