All posts by Donna Smith

Videography Students Get “Reel” World Experience

SPC VIdeography students shoot a scene

For more than a decade, students from St. Petersburg College’s Advanced Videography class have had the opportunity to network, pad their portfolios and gain some real-world experience, thanks to the college’s partnership with WEDU Public Media.

According to videography professor John Muehl, the students, who work in teams of three or four, pitch and put together six-minute segments for WEDU’s Arts Plus program. Not every group makes it in, but Muehl said the majority of SPC students have done so.

“Over the past five years, 85 percent of our students’ stories have aired, and half of those have gone national,” he said. “Tampa Bay is the 13th largest market in the US, with a potential audience of millions of people. Having something that they worked on actually air is a huge boon to their portfolios.”

Under the guidance of their professor and WEDU Producer Farah Vickery, students apply everything they’ve learned, including pitching ideas, preproduction, storyboarding, writing scripts and scheduling shoots. They then move into production, where they shoot interviews and footage, then enter the post-production editing process. When it’s all wrapped up, the story package goes to WEDU for feedback. WEDU Senior Vice President Jack Conely said the SPC submissions often get used outside of the Tampa Bay market.

“One of the perks of this collaboration is that our local segments are contributed to a common pot, and some of the stations that are in big media markets – we’re talking about Chicago and New York – pick them up,” Conely said. “To be able to walk away with a degree and an experience like having a segment seen nationally, that’s something else.”

SPC videography students conduct a shoot

Not only do they get seen, but one group even won a Suncoast Regional Emmy Award for a piece they did on Pinellas County’s Sanitation department. Others have been hired as freelancers by WEDU. Isaac Locke recently participated in the project and said he could see a career coming out of it.

“It pushed me to do my best, and I know that it’s going to roll the ball forward in many ways,” Locke said. 

You can watch Arts Plus segments here.

SPC Prof wins Music Composition Grant

Two sheets of sheet music.

Dr. David Manson, a St. Petersburg College Music Professor and a founder of the college’s Music Industry and Recording Arts program, was recently named a recipient of a music composition grant from Creative Pinellas, a nonprofit arts organization dedicated to supporting local artists and nurturing a vibrant arts community in Pinellas County.

Creative Pinellas provides $5000 grants to local artists who have excelled in their practice, and Manson was the only recipient of a music composition grant.

David Manson directs orchestra

Manson, who teaches jazz studies and recording arts at SPC, is a composer, trombonist and producer. He has worked in many areas of music, including jazz, orchestral, world music, rock and chamber music. His bands include O Som Do Jazz, which features bossa nova and samba jazz, Helios Jazz Orchestra, which was voted Best Jazz Group – Best of the Bay by Tampa Bay Magazine, the Mobile Itinerant Funk Unit, a New Orleans-style street band featuring funk, jazz and world music, and Glorious Brass, a brass quintet.  

He also finds time to give back to the community. As the director of the nonprofit EMIT, he oversees the many workshops and concerts involving new music, jazz, world music interactive electronics, improvisational and interdisciplinary art forms. EMIT is also the presenter of the annual St. Petersburg Jazz Festival and the Recording Arts Program (RAP) with Boys & Girls Club students at the Royal Theater in Midtown.

“I view music education as an investment in our community for current and future audiences,” Manson said. “It also leads to wonderful collaborative projects with area artists.”

Manson said he plans to use the music composition grant for production of his compositions as well as to improve his branding.

“It’s an honor to receive the award, and it also gives me the means to document my music in a tangible form through recording.”

SPC Professor publishes short story

Book lying open on a table in front of a yellow wall.

St. Petersburg College Professor Gregory Byrd recently published a short story in the Winter 2021 issue of Baltimore Review.

Headshot of Professor Gregory Byrd in a dark shirt and vest.

Byrd, who teaches writing and humanities at SPC, spent time as a Fulbright Fellow in Albania in 2011, teaching creative writing. His story, Dita e Verës, is a tale of unimaginable grief juxtaposed with a festive setting at the annual Albanian celebration of spring by the same name.

“While I was there, my mother sent news that my cousin had been murdered in rural Nevada, her body buried in a shallow grave,” Byrd said. “About that time, we attended the Summer Day festival and it seemed ironic in a sort of T.S. Eliot way, that there would be a celebration of life while I was thinking of my cousin’s murder.”

Byrd has been nominated for a prestigious Pushcart Prize, and his poetry and prose have appeared widely, recently in Apalachee Review and forthcoming in Saw Palm. He is currently working on two World War I novels: Where Shadow Meets Water, about a pilot from Florida, and Long Train Home to Scarborough, about a reporter and a nurse. His poetry chapbook, The Name of the God Who Speaks, won the Robert Phillips Prize from Texas Review Press.  

CTE Month Spotlight: Reily Cruz

CTE Month Spotlight. Student pictured is Reily Cruz.

This profile is part of a series celebrating Career and Technical Education (CTE) Month at St. Petersburg College. Be sure to check out the full story to read more about the experiences of SPC students. To explore all of our degrees and credentials, visit

While in high school, Reily Cruz, 29, made plans to study for a career in aeronautical engineering. But after graduating and beginning studies towards that degree, he realized after only two semesters that it wasn’t his destiny. He was looking for his passion, and instead of finding it in science, he decided it lay in a different sort of engineering: music. In the fall of 2014, he heard about SPC’s Music Industry and Recording Arts (MIRA) program and attended an open house event.

“The college offered a degree in audio engineering, which lined up with what I decided to pursue in life: music production,” Cruz said. “Although aeronautical engineering offered financial security and other benefits, I couldn’t see myself being content with that career path years down the road. I believe that enrolling in the MIRA program over at SPC has been one of the best decisions I’ve made.”

The open house event left a good impression, and Cruz enrolled for classes in SPC’s MIRA program in the fall of 2015. Armed with only basic music knowledge, he started learning more about music production on a Digital Audio Workstation, and he began taking piano lessons to learn more about music theory.

“Other students had been playing music since grade school,” Cruz said. “I felt like I had to play catch-up. It was like learning a new language. Prior to the MIRA program, I would have to attempt to describe what I was hearing creatively in my head without having the proper level of musical jargon to explain ideas.”

Cruz said he was offered a wide variety of experiences throughout the program, many hands-on, which he says was integral to his learning.

“Providing students with a real-life experience in the field grants us a view into the world we’ll be soon head into,” he said. “I interned at the Palladium for a semester and got experience in a live setting. I was able to get studio experience at Creative World Recording, which is run by George Harris. I had a lot of fun and learned so much from him.”

Cruz graduated with an Associate in Science degree from the MIRA program with focus on production in 2019. Along the way, he earned the Audio Technology Certificate with a Production subplan. He recently produced his first record under the name Reily Ilo. He hopes to start his own record label. He said the credentials he earned at SPC have given him the knowledge and ability to start his career, along with the confidence to pursue his dreams.

“A lot of 17- and 18-year-olds get dropped the heavy question: ‘What do you want to do in life?’” he said. “A lot of us are overwhelmed by it because we are still experiencing the self-discovery process. MIRA provided me the confidence to venture off into the world and start my career.”

Set Design Award Goes to SPC Prof

set design

St. Petersburg College Theater Director Scott Cooper won the Best Set Design award at the 2020 Theater Tampa Bay Awards last week. Cooper’s winning design was for the set of Morningside, which was performed at Tampa’s Stageworks Theater in February.

Morningside is a play about a baby shower in Atlanta’s Morningside neighborhood, which brings nine multi-generational women together for a revealing afternoon.  Cooper, who has an MFA in set design and 25 years of experience, said it was important to understand those characters and make the set look like they belong in it.

“Morningside is a real place in the Suburbs of Georgia, so I did a lot of research to see how the homes really looked,” Cooper said. “First, I had to design the house and then decorate it for the party. The leading character is a bit of a snob who is very worried about appearances, so it would be tasteful and the best of everything. It had to be high end everything and perfectly placed – not tons of cheap stuff.”

Students were able to enhance their SPC theater education by helping Cooper build and paint this set and others for professional productions through SPC. Cooper said it’s a great opportunity for hands-on learning and lessons in professional behavior.

“These productions teach the facts of deadlines: you can’t ask for an extension—the show opens when it opens,” he said. “They also learn the collaborative process first-hand. Things change and opinions are asked – even from the students at times.”

The opportunity to work in a professional setting also makes students’ dreams seem attainable.

“There is a real professional theater world out there with jobs. You just have to get a foot in the door,” Cooper said. “Many have gone on to work for these theaters professionally, which is always great to see.”

This isn’t Cooper’s first nod for set design. This is his sixth win for Best Set Design with the Theater Tampa Bay Awards, and he has also taken home the Best Scenic Designer for Creative Loafing’s Best of the Bay awards four times. He has also been nominated twice for the Jefferson Award in Scenic Design in Chicago.

“Winning is great,” he said. “But honestly, I love being nominated. That just shows approval of your work by your peers. This win is pretty amazing, and it reminds me how lucky I am to do what I do professionally.”

SPC Grad Kaylee Stepkoski Publishes Books

Kaylee Stepkoski

St. Petersburg College graduate Kaylee Stepkoski was never a big reader, and she really didn’t like writing until, as a 16-year-old dual enrollment student at SPC’s Tarpon Springs Campus, she was given an assignment in her Composition I class to rewrite an essay into a story. She had so much fun doing that, she began to feel a desire to write something else. Last month, Stepkoski, now 19, published the second book in her science fiction adventure Ever series, Ever: The Return.

Stepkoski said that though she had been wanting to write something since that assignment, she didn’t know what to write about. Then, the idea for the book series came to her in a dream.

“I had this crazy dream where I was in a museum that was surrounded by military people because there was a being there who was not human,” she said. “I woke up knowing that this was it.”

Student support

Stepkoski began work on the first book, Ever, while still a 17-year-old student at SPC. She said her professors were very supportive, with science professors Kelli Stickrath and Mark Peebles offering advice for the science-fiction elements, and her creative writing professor, Ned Johnson, assisting with dialogue.

“My professors are awesome. They care, and they love their jobs,” she said. “Professor Johnson told me to not tell so much and to trust the reader. He helped my writing skyrocket to a whole new level.”

Her psychology professor, David Liebert, also read her work and offered encouragement.

“Dr. Liebert told me that I was doing a good job in portraying the psyche and emotions of characters,” Stepkoski said. “He was really great and helped push me to finish.”

“I saw potential and encouraged her, along with other faculty members,” said Liebert, who, along with Johnson, wrote blurbs to tout the second book. “But from my perspective, I see this as being solely her accomplishment.”

Kaylee Stepkoski

Stepkoski published Ever in the summer of 2019 at age 18. The book sold more than 200 pre-order copies in one day, and Ever: The Return came out came out in September 2020. After graduating from high school and SPC with her Associate Degree in May 2020, Stepkoski is taking a gap year before pursuing a bachelor’s in creative writing from the University of Tampa. After completing an internship with her publisher, Two Penny Publishing, she was offered a position there managing promotions.

“What’s great is that not only do I love writing, I like helping others get their stories out,” she said.

You can see descriptions of the Ever series and purchase books in either paperback or electronic formats at Two Penny’s website.  

Palladium to reopen Oct. 3

The Palladium reopens

In early March, St. Petersburg College‘s Palladium Theater was booked almost every day until the Fourth of July with local music, opera, recitals and other events. But by mid-March, the theater had to close its doors to the public for more than six months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That all ends this Saturday, when the venerable theater will open Hough Hall for the first of a series of performances this month.

Palladium Director Paul Wilborn said this is great news for many reasons.

“I love sitting in my theater hearing a great show, and we’ve been shut down so long,” Wilborn said. “If people can come out safely and enjoy something optimistic, it makes us all happier while going through this period.”

The Palladium shows, which will be on October 3, 10 and 17, will offer around 180 seats in the 831-seat Hall. People who buy tickets together will be seated as a group, and groups will be separated in a safe distance from other patrons. The 90-minute shows will not have intermission, and masks are required to enter or move about the building.

“These shows allow us to support our local artists,” Wilborn said. “We’ll have blues guitarists from Tampa, four local comedians as well as local jazz.”

Getting local artists back to work

Supporting local acts is a priority for Wilborn, who noted that, despite the greatly diminished number of seats available, the acts will receive the usual pay. While the Palladium doors were closed, he and his staff have worked to implement live streaming capability that will create a new revenue stream for the Palladium and allow performers to get back to work. In addition, the Palladium Creative Class, funded by a private donation, will pay local musicians and dancers to create work to be performed at the Palladium.

“These artists are like my extended family,” Wilborn said. “And I’ve been worried about them.”

Making the best of it

The theater has also used the down time to update the theater and its website.

“We’ve hired theater sound consultants to study the main hall to offer improvements that will take us through the next 10 years,” Wilborn said “We’ve also revamped our website, and we took all the recordings of our previous nightclub shows that featured live local bands and edited them down. WUSF is airing a monthly Palladium side-door show using these recordings. The station plugs the show regularly on air, so even though we haven’t been doing shows, we hope that is keeping the Palladium alive in people’s minds.”

palladium reopens

This Saturday, October 3, will feature Tampa blues guitarists Jose Ramirez and Anson Funderburgh. Tickets and information regarding the other October shows can be found on the Palladium’s website.

Wilborn believes that it is time, and, at least for now, audiences can enjoy live music and have a safe experience.

“Because Pinellas and St. Pete have been very diligent about masks and other measures to lower the rate of infection, numbers are at a safe enough place where we feel good about having a show.” 

Michael Jahosky connects faith with culture

michael jahosky in Israel

When SPC Humanities Professor Michael Jahosky was 16 years old, two important things happened: He renewed his Christian faith, and he was introduced to author J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Nineteen years later, those two events have collided, resulting in Jahosky’s first book, The Good News of the Return of the King. With this book, Jahosky hopes to demonstrate Christianity’s principles through Tolkien’s lens.

Jahosky, who began teaching humanities at St. Petersburg College in 2010, says his book has been a long time coming.

“Although I’ve been writing officially since 2015, I’ve been working on this book, or the book has been working on me, since I was 16,” Jahosky said. “This was also 2001, the year of the first Lord of the Rings movie, and my brother began to read the books to me before we saw the first film.”

Jahosky said he was studying Christianity in 2010, when he discovered the writings of N.T. Wright, who spoke of the story of Christ in a way that reminded him of Tolkien’s story of the Return of Aragorn as king in Lord of the Rings.

“I began to see resemblances between the biblical story and Tolkien’s, and I realized that Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings is a parable about the return of the true king—God himself becoming king on earth as he is in heaven,” Jahosky said. “I realized God put these things in my way so I could see how they were connected, and thus, I began to write a book about how Tolkien communicates the truth of the Christian worldview in a way that resembles Jesus’s parables, and that both stories are about the return of the King.”

Though Jahosky says Tolkien’s books are not fictional retellings of the story of Christianity, they are an expansion of it and can make Christian teachings more accessible with the connections made in his book. His book explains this, along with Christianity’s relationship to other religions.

Michael Jahosky

“I wrote this book to help people who struggle with faith and tolerance of people with different beliefs,” he said. “I hope people will also see a different side of Christianity and the important place that the imagination has in our walk with Jesus.”

The Good News of the Return of the King can be ordered directly here, and will also be available on Amazon as a paperback or a Kindle E-book.

Jahosky can also be found on Facebook, Twitter (@MichaelJahosky) and LinkedIn.

The Laramie Project Nominated for Best of the Bay

The Laramie Project

Creative Loafing’s 2020 Best of the Bay nominations have St. Petersburg College all over them! This includes SPC Theater Department’s performance of The Laramie Project, which was nominated for Best Theater Production for 2019-2020. 

The Oct. 2019 performance documented the true story of Matthew Shepard, a young gay man from Laramie, Wyoming, who was kidnapped and murdered in a hate crime. The story is told in the voices of more than 200 Laramie townspeople, who were interviewed by the Tectonic Theater Project, who, along with playwright Moses Kaufman, crafted the play from those interviews.

SPC Theater Director Scott Cooper says this play is important, and will continue to be until something can be done about hate and violence aimed at the gay community.

“Matthew Shepard’s death and the subsequent trial of his killers has a real impact on the town of Laramie,” Cooper said. “And to see the ripples that this murder creates in the residents of this town is something that needs to be seen.”

Cooper said the challenges to this play were many, given the proximity of the audience, the fact that each actor is playing multiple characters, and the difficult subject matter.

The laramie project

“This cast was amazingly smart and empathetic,” he said. “We did it with the audience on stage surrounding the actors so they would be part of the play, and that is always a challenge. The actors had to deal with emotions that the play brought up in them – when they cried onstage, those were real tears.”

In addition to the Theater nomination, The Palladium also received nominations. Including the Palladium itself, its staff and artists who perform there, The Palladium is nominated for a whopping 38 different awards!

You can vote once per day from now through 5 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 3. Reader’s Pick and Critic’s Pick winners will be revealed in the Best of the Bay issue on Thursday, Oct. 1.

Cooper said it’s an honor to be nominated, and noted that college theater productions aren’t usually among the nominees in this category.

“All of the other theater productions nominated were great, and it is wonderful to be in that kind of company,” he said. “We do great theater at SPC, and I look forward to getting back into the theater and telling more stories with these amazingly talented students.”

Forum to inform local artists of community resources

community resources

St. Petersburg College‘s Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions is bringing community leaders together on Thursday, June 25, 2020, from 1:30-2:30 p.m. via Zoom to help local artists who may be struggling due to COVID restrictions learn how they can access funds and resources.

ISPS Executive Director Kimberly Jackson said the goal is to ensure that the needs of local artists are met during this trying time.

“We heard the voices of the artistic community on their challenges with COVID and partnered with non-profit leaders in the community to provide better guidance on organizations that will support our innovative community,” Jackson said. “We are grateful for organizations like Creative Pinellas, Arts Alliance and Healthy Foundation St. Pete for their commitment to our keeping our communities healthy.”

The program will feature the following community leaders:

  • Jessica R. Eilerman, Small Business Liaison, Office of the Mayor and Manager, The Greenhouse, Planning & Economic Development
  • Kim Vogel, St. Pete Greenhouse Manager
  • Jocelyn Howard, Grow Smarter Manager
  • Dr. Cynthia Johnson, Director, Office of Small Business
  • Daisy Rodriguez, Director of Human Services
  • Reverend Watson L. Haynes, II, President of the Pinellas County Urban League
  • Shaina Bent, COO of the St. Petersburg Free Clinic.

Advance Zoom registration is required and is currently accessible via Facebook as well.

Participants in the webinar can expect substantive resources and information on community programs to assist with economic challenges during COVID and beyond. The discussion includes a Q & A.

Community partners and sponsors include: Creative Pinellas, Healthy Foundation St. Petersburg and the Arts Alliance.  Participating Community Partners include: St. Petersburg Fighting Chance Fund, St. Pete’s Business Resiliency Team and Arts Navigator, Pinellas Cares Fund for Individuals and Pinellas Cares Small Business Grants, Pinellas County Economic Development, Pinellas County Urban League and the St. Petersburg Free Clinic.

For further information, call 727-394-6942.