World at his feet
Photos and Story by James Hill
Eric Dexter didn’t want to do a term paper for Linda Fergusson-Kolme’s Biology 101 class. Instead, he created a kind of biology music video, which propelled him into a prestigious James Madison University doctoral research program.
“I was amazed at how it turned out,” he said. “I discovered that I have a talent.”
As a result of his video, the 25-year-old will get a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity this summer as he heads to Ghana (Africa) to help film the university’s research. What started as just a fun project with his friends, has turned into a serious career for the PCC student.
His nine-minute video, “World at Your Feet,” featured various types of wildlife that he believes are often overlooked in Portland, including geese, nutria and plenty of insects. Dexter and his friends spent more than 25 hours working on the project, traveling to various parks around the city such as Oaks Bottom and Sauvie’s Island. After filming, he edited and mixed music that they created in his basement.
“It was surprising to me that these types of things were there in close proximity to the city,” Dexter said of the wildlife. “Through a lot of brainstorming, we came up with places I knew had a lot of wildlife, and the theme was that the parks had to be within the Portland metro area.”
After his biology class, Dexter used the video as part of his application to an internship with James Madison. The program received more than 100 applicants for six undergraduate assistant positions. Dexter was accepted and will film the research of eight doctoral candidates.
“The program’s director loved the film so much he asked me to come to Ghana and asked me to make a documentary on their research,” Dexter said. “I was really surprised.”
Dexter, who is in his first year of studies at PCC and wants to eventually transfer to Lewis and Clark College, says the video was a way for him to record music with his buddies.
“It was the music,” he said. “I have friends who I haven’t seen a whole lot of and I wanted to find something creative to do with them. It is a very atmospheric piece, not heavy on scientific content. How it unfolds is low key, much like a music video.”
Dexter, a Florida native who moved to Oregon for its public transportation, wants to pursue a biology degree and some day make biological films that promote conservation to get people behind environmental issues.
“I want to be filming while I’m doing research and produce films based off of it,” he said.
A ROOTS program student, Dexter says his approach to education changed by entering the program. ROOTS helps students at the Sylvania Campus achieve their educational goals with the aim of targeting low income, first generation students and students with disabilities to stay in school, transfer to other institutions and graduate from PCC. Dexter had spent the last five years as a massage therapist and decided he needed to get an education if he wanted to reach his dreams in the biology field.
“ROOTS has been a good way for me to get introduced to college,” Dexter said of the program. “Like me, the people in the program have lives outside of school and must mesh those lives together with their studies. Its not like I’m at a four-year college living a traditional life in dorms and going to classes full time. They are struggling with similar things I am.”
He found his academic home at PCC, but it wasn’t planned.
“A surprise actually,” he said of his taking a liking to PCC. “Since I came to school, I seem to have an ability to do the academic thing well.”