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Unprecedented Resilience in the Era of Covid, Political Extremism, and Recession … Wait! How About an Everyday Success Story Instead?

Well, for all of the pandemic dashboards you can find, no one started a national Covid-19 countdown clock.  It is not like the Iran hostage crisis (Google it if you need to …) when the number was pounded home to everyone on the news each night.  Vague figures like “a year and a half” float in and out of conversation these days.

For the record, it has been 618 days since the first person was diagnosed with Covid-19 in Chicago.  Experts and pundits keep using words like “unprecedented,” ‘resilient,” and “hero” quite a bit.  And the ever-popular “essential worker,” a clever term for people who risk exposure to a deadly virus so the rest of us can eat takeout and get groceries as if everything was normal.  It isn’t; it is, um … things are still unprecedented. And we need to realize, as many do, that it isn’t over yet.  Get your shots.  Wear your masks.  Wash hands & sanitize.  We have a way to go to the end of this thing.

CMMA faculty, Antonio and Richie
CMMA faculty, Antonio and Richie

But while we were scrambling to throw everything on Zoom and upend most of our regular routines, another story was unfolding.  One that actually involved some resilience and even some heroics.

Even as we finished the craziness and fear of the  Spring 2020 semester, the USF Encounter graduated our senior designer, Antonio Smithberg.  He quietly got a job, not at a newspaper, magazine, TV station or PR firm, but at a salon products distributor.  Salon products, like shampoo, conditioner, and hair gel.  And hundreds of other things. And right here in nearby Rockdale!

 You may wonder what sort of media work such a company needs, but Professional Salon Concepts (PSC) is a firm right in our backyard that does distance education, podcasting, events and

other media work for stylists and salons all over the place. 

When Antonio started with them, the demand for online material accelerated during the lockdown.  The following year, his USF Encounter design colleague Richie Mroz was hired to keep up with the print, online, and video production demands of PSC.  And if there is big demand for products to ship out to salons, they sometimes help carry boxes in the warehouse, too.

Since then, the two of them have revolutionized the PSC multimedia office.  They have built a four-camera video studio for recording educational videos for the industry, including how to market services and products.  Yesterday, the Communication and Media Arts faculty visited PSC to see what these two young men have created. 

PSC knew that multimedia production competence would be important to deliver educational materials during the pandemic.  They had also invested significantly in the educational side of their business, including extensive preparation and presentation facilities for traditional face-to-face education. 

This provided a strong base for Smithberg and Mroz to build on.  They researched cameras and other necessary equipment and built the video studio from the ground up.  PSC already had some gear, like microphones and computer screens, but Mroz and Smithberg were able to match and coordinate all of the devices to create a beautifully functional digital video studio on a budget.

In addition to video work, they create email marketing campaigns, produce flyers and signage, design and maintain the PSC web page, and run sound and video for events and classes in a theatre-in-the-round mini-stadium adjacent to the video studio.

Mroz and Smithburg’s office is reminiscent of the USF Encounter newsroom; they even have computer workstations next to each other as they did when they were students producing media content here.  They say that they basically do everything they learned in our CMMA program, and are comfortable  extending their knowledge to meet the needs of PSC.

So, for PSC, these two CMMA alums have done some heroic work.  Work that helped the company continue the educational part of their mission in these unprecedented times.  To Smithberg and Mroz, PSC did the heroic work of hiring them fresh out of college, challenging them to use their education and skills to grow into professional multimedia specialists. 

It warms my heart to see alums doing this kind of media work that helps sustain a business and a host of salon professionals, mastering the necessary technologies as well as honing designing their design abilities.

Who would have thought a local salon products company would need this kind of multi-media work done?   It is unprecedented.  They were, and are resilient, and persevered to solve the hundreds of problems that it took to get the job done.  They are having fun, doing the work, and made smooth transitions from college to their first jobs.  And that is quite a wonderful success story, if you ask me.

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