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Kuiper’s Documentary ‘A New Normal,’ on University’s COVID-19 Response to Air on PBS in 2022

PhotoAssociate Professor of Television and Digital Media Production Nick Kuiper has produced “A New Normal,” a one-hour documentary on Ferris State University’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The documentary is available for viewing online and will be released to Public Broadcasting Service affiliates in February 2022.

While the world is far from being past effects and implications of the COVID-19 pandemic, an associate professor of Television and Digital Media Production at Ferris State University has completed a documentary, “A New Normal,” on the institutional response to initial unknowns and reactions that followed in 2020.

Nick Kuiper, a graduate of the TDMP program who has taught for a decade at Ferris, said that while the memories and emotions of the pandemic were fresh in mind, he got to work on gathering responses from the campus community.

“I began filming in February 2021, when there was a greater level of safety for participants, along with the certainty that the project could be developed,” Kuiper said. “In retrospect, we were at the height of a curve before the vaccines now in use were widely available.”

It was a nine-month process as Kuiper went from pre-production determination of his intentions to the finished product.

“I had seen an eLearning story, produced by my Instructional Design students, which prompted me to take up a documentary that was wider in scope,” Kuiper said. “I wanted to capture the sum of the involvement and to tell Ferris’ story, as it related to operations during a pandemic. The written information in place from the COVID-19 Community Response Team and the Re-Entry Committee was so impressive that I felt documentation of this effort was worthy of offering it in video.

Assistant Professor Emmanuel Jadhav, from the College of Health Professions, was my first interview subject. This helped establish safety protocols that we met consistently throughout production. I assured interviewees a safe, comfortable environment, using masks in all cases, with the application of Zoom or any other accommodations requested taking place. It allowed me to get real-time reactions, so we could document what we had done as a university. Those agreements were important to the end product.”

Kuiper acknowledged that part of his learning as a TDMP student helped shape the direction of his production.

“Emeriti faculty member Clayton Rye had taken up documentaries on campus developments, which are now in university archives,” Kuiper said. “I took his work to heart when I was a student and felt that chronicling the COVID-19 response is part of the institution’s legacy. That includes showing how custodians were working to make our residence halls safe for students and employees and that our scientific staff and faculty gathered wastewater, a valuable method to test for and track the spread of COVID.”

Gathering 20 hours of responses from some 50 interviewees required a considerable investment of time and effort. Kuiper said he was dedicated to presenting the broad view of how the university and its students reacted to the sudden changes and requirements in the name of continued learning and assured the safety of those involved.

“It amounted to 3.7 terabytes of data,” Kuiper said. “I wanted to capture the sum of the involvement and to tell Ferris’ story. I was pleased to meet with Study Abroad students, who had gone to Peru on spring break, then had considerable struggles to return home in the throes of ‘first wave’ restrictions on international travel. Other great opportunities came about from hearing the stories of those impacted by COVID-19 security measures and recording recommendations they made to consider the needs of the campus and those of the greater community. I am glad that so many people will share their stories and make such a significant contribution to the story, which was accomplished during an active schedule as an instructor.”

Kuiper said logistical concerns and making personal choices to accomplish his goals were among the considerations he had to address.

“We can thank the networking our department has done over the years because a video production studio in Lansing that had accepted a number of our students made space available to me,” Kuiper said. “Zoom has become very familiar to a larger segment of the population, with real benefit to those conducting a meeting, but it proved to be limited as a resource in my work, as its audio and video capabilities presented a real challenge. Tracking down students to participate and relate their experiences was also an obstacle, since their interest in responding to emails outside of their instructional circle proved tough, at times.”

Looking back on the work to gather, review and develop “A New Normal,” Kuiper believes he met his expectations and felt the result was a compelling retrospective of the pandemic response in his workplace.

“This was not made for Ferris, per se. It was really a product of my pent-up energies,” Kuiper said. “I had student assistance for my first segment and two others who helped on the last, but in between, I did the rest of the work to gather these interviews. I want to be sure to express my thanks to everyone willing to share their stories, as they made such a significant contribution to this documentary.”

He added, “I would conduct an interview, and the respondent often suggested other contacts they thought I should approach to broaden the consideration. Some of those turned out pretty great. It was a smooth progression as far as producing documentaries go. I feel it is a heck of a piece that details our capabilities, in the context of responding to the worst pandemic in a century. It also demonstrates the ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking and collaborative efforts that helped meet personal protection equipment needs and create valuable testing methods to build a base of information they could easily access. It took a spectrum of contributors to make all this happen.”

Kuiper added that his finished work is playing well with those who offered their thoughts to the production.

“The reactions I have received from our contributors have been very positive,” Kuiper said. “I hope that more people take the time to view this and consider it. It is available on Vimeo. I have intentions of placing it on YouTube and am grateful that the Public Broadcasting Service will make “A New Normal” available to its stations across the country this coming February (2022).”