Paul Ardoin: Director of new degree program builds community of future filmmakers at UTSA

May 24, 2024
Paul Ardoin: Director of new degree program builds community of future filmmakers at UTSA

When UTSA launched the Film and Media Studies major in fall 2022, Paul Ardoin and his fellow faculty were excited to help meet the need for an underserved area of the arts at the university. They did not, however, anticipate such rapid growth in two short years. There are currently over 375 applicants for fall 2024 — a more than fivefold increase from the 70 students they started with when the program began.

The Film and Media Studies major was originally offered as a niche track within University College’s Multidisciplinary Studies degree, which acts as an incubator for new academic programs based on student interest and workforce trends. The program’s swift success called for a move to the College of Liberal and Fine Arts (COLFA), where it will become a standalone major this fall.

Ardoin, associate professor of humanities in COLFA and founding director of the Film and Media Studies program, says the popularity of the new major became evident during a student film showcase in the program’s first year.

“I think that’s when we realized something big was really happening,” Ardoin recalled. “We had a screening on campus over in the Student Union at the end of the semester, and we were hoping that maybe 30 or 40 people would show up. But the whole night, we were having to go and find more piles of chairs. Eventually, it was standing room only and out into the hallway.”

The semesterly screenings made the move to nearby Santikos Palladium theater to accommodate the growing crowds and are now an integral part of the major. They also give students something to look forward to each term, knowing that their work will publicly premiere on the big screen instead of being submitted solely for a class grade.

Viewers packed the theater at the Santikos Palladium for the end-of-semester student film showcase.
From left: Ardoin and fellow faculty Guillermina Zabala Suarez and Ernest Hernandez
on the red carpet at an end-of-semester student film showcase.

The student showcase is one of many unique experiences that film and media majors have outside the classroom. Ardoin and his colleagues have organized over 70 events since the program’s debut, including opportunities to work on professional television and film shoots and bringing industry experts to campus for speaker series and Q&A sessions. The program has also formed partnerships with big names like Netflix, A24 and Riot Games.

It all comes together to create an experiential learning environment where students gain real-world industry knowledge, network and share their work with the public. It’s already led to impressive outcomes, with students landing internships at the San Antonio Film Commission, Sinclair Broadcasting and the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. Students have also interned or screened work at film festivals across the state, with one student film, “Soul of Word,” earning a Remi Award at the 2024 WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival.

“Students and families feel like it's risky sometimes to get involved with an arts area, or that it’s going to hinder their career prospects,” Ardoin said. From the beginning, we were making sure students had positive outcomes coming out of this program, so that it wasn't a risk for our student population.”  

Ardoin and his team also created the Screenwriters Spring Break and Directors Workshop programs. Each program brought several Hollywood screenwriting and film professionals to San Antonio to share their expertise with students, including Emmy-nominated writers and producers whose resumes include “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “The Vampire Diaries” and “Selena: The Series.” 

Actor and San Antonio native Jesse Borrego (center) poses with UTSA students during the Director's Workshop
in January. Borrego was featured in the students' film and served as a mentor.      

Both programs gave Roadrunners an opportunity to collaborate with students city-wide — including from the University of the Incarnate Word, San Antonio College, Northwest Vista College and the SAY Sí local youth arts program — in an effort to build a community of creatives on UTSA’s campus and beyond. Forming this strong community was a top priority for Ardoin when launching the Film and Media Studies program.

“The thing we started building right from the start is a community, a culture and identity about being a film major,” Ardoin said. “We have these community-oriented events to build and contribute to San Antonio’s film community, and I think we've really brought the film education community around town together. Every year, there will be some big production or event that allows students to participate from across town and results in cool tangible objects coming out of it.” 

This sense of community can be seen in action at the UTSA Film Production Hub, a new space on campus where film students can meet, create and share ideas. It includes an equipment room, multiple spaces for shooting and post-production, and areas for screening work and socializing.

Ardoin says the hub has become like a second home for many of his students.

“There's always somebody occupying every room. They have their club there, they eat their lunch there, they hang out between classes and plan new projects together there,” he said. “It’s really inspiring to see that students have taken that and made it their own space and really got invested.”

The rising success of the Film and Media Studies program has not gone unnoticed. The program’s team took home two honors at the 2024 UTSA University Excellence Awards in April. 

Ardoin won the Richard S. Howe Faculty Service Award, which recognizes those who have gone above and beyond in their commitment to students outside of the classroom. In addition, Ardoin and colleagues Guillermina Zabala Suarez, John Herrera and Marta Solis were unanimously selected for the Innovation and Impact Award. The award, which they won for establishing the Screenwriters Spring Break program,recognizes impactful and inventive team projects that involve multidisciplinary partnerships across the university.



From left: COLFA Dean Glenn Martinez,  Guillermina Zabala Suarez, Paul Ardoin and Marta Solis
celebrate their achievements at the UTSA University Excellence Awards in April 2024.
“I’m beyond excited about the awards and anything that brings attention to the amazing thing we’re building over here,” says Ardoin. “That Innovation and Impact team, along with core film faculty Ernest Hernandez, Camille Morales-Zayas, Anna Stypko, and Jude Okpala, and along with our collaborative and industrious students, are working all the time for an incredible educational experience today and an incredible film community tomorrow.”
Read more Faculty Features about other interesting and accomplished faculty at UTSA.