As a current senior, I am completing my Senior Individualized Project, or SIP, in the English department this year and often look back to when I first learned about what the SIP was. I first heard about this requirement while touring Kalamazoo College four years ago, and I imagined the hours spent writing a fifty-page research paper. However, I soon learned that at Kalamazoo College, this senior project can be creative, as well as research-based, depending on what interests you. Once I heard about the creativity I could have with my SIP, I immediately scheduled a meeting with the head of the department fall term of my first year here. While I was told I was way ahead of the game, I was still excited about the possibility of doing a film, something I have been very interested in for a long time.
As I came to the end of my junior year, I was planning on doing a documentary, and I was having trouble coming up with the topic. Knowing that this project was supposed to be a culmination of what I have learned at K, I thought back to all of the opportunities the college has given me. I recalled the externship I was able to do after my first year of college in New Orleans. An externship is a competitive opportunity where alumni of the school offer to let one or two students shadow them at their jobs and see what it is like to live a few weeks in their shoes. My placement happened to be with a college professor and filmmaker in New Orleans. He was shooting a full-length, independent feature film and on that set, I was given the hands-on knowledge of what it is like working on a film. I had the opportunity to perform many jobs on-set, which helped cement my love of film and commitment to a career in the industry. I was able to be behind the camera and create shots, download and back up footage, clap the slate in front of the camera and call shots, and even had a small cameo in the film itself!
My senior project therefore, led me back to New Orleans where I shot a documentary on the unique food culture of the city. I spent two weeks down south over the summer developing my story, choosing restaurants, shooting footage, and gathering interviews. I met so many interesting people and ate more beignets, muffalettas, po’boys, and sno-balls than I could count! I was able to enjoy the Southern Decadence festival in the French Quarter, see baby alligators in the wild, and visit the friends I made while down there for the first time. I was able to explore the intricacies of the city in a way I had been unfamiliar with before because of the independence I had when filming my SIP. Learning about the importance of the city and the people through its food helped me gain a deeper understanding of how culturally unique it is. Now that I am back at K, I have been editing my film under the guidance of my SIP advisors. I couldn’t be more excited to premiere my film for the college community and take another step toward my chosen career. Now, to book a room for the screening…!
Ximena Davis is a senior majoring in English and minoring in Anthropology and Sociology. She has a concentration in media studies and American studies.