Unleash Your Inner Documentarian

Duke employees receive 10 percent off Center for Documentary Studies classes

Tracy Doaks, senior director of service delivery at Duke Health Technology Solutions, took Continuing Education photography classes at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke. Photo by Tracy Doaks

Marc Menish, an associate professor from Aoyama Gakuin University in Tokyo, is spending a year-long sabbatical learning documentary filmmaking skills at Duke’s Center for Documentary Studies.

The Continuing Education program at the Center for Documentary Studies (CDS) in Durham draws local residents, including Duke employees, and others from around the world to campus for continuing education courses and certificates in video, audio, writing, multimedia and photography.

Menish, who’s lived in Japan for 20 years, is staying with his wife and children in the Old West Durham neighborhood while he works to complete a Certificate in Documentary Arts in a year. Life’s much different here from the urban bustle surrounding their Tokyo apartment, he said, and he’s considering exploring Appalachian musical traditions through his camera lens.

While in Japan, Menish created his first short documentary about the motorcycle culture and Harley-Davidson fans in the country. But he said the variety and affordability of classes at Duke’s Center for Documentary Studies, as well as the flexibility of scheduling, drew him to the Continuing Education program. So far, he has taken classes on photography, video and an intensive introduction to documentary studies.

“For people my age, people who are older than the normal college student, you have work. You have family,” said Menish, 46. “I have two small children. The fact that Duke allows you to coordinate and put together your own program really appealed to me."

The CDS Continuing Education program, which offered more than 40 classes during the spring semester, provides a Certificate in Documentary Arts for on-site and distance learners. For both tracks, students complete a certain number of courses and a documentary project for public presentation. Enrollment in the certificate program is not required to take classes.

Duke employees receive 10 percent off classes at the Center for Documentary Studies. Courses range from $50 for a short workshop to $375 for multi-week classes. The Duke discount does not apply to the Center’s summer institutes, which range from $400 to $1,450.

April Walton, the director of Continuing Education at the CDS, said that since they started offering Continuing Education classes about 15 years ago, some students have turned their projects into features on NPR and full-length films. A Raleigh woman used her certificate experience at CDS to make the documentary “Granny’s Got Game”, which has screened at festivals.

With a combination of mentorship, online and weekend classes, and summer workshops, Walton said, students who work full-time and want to complete the full track, a Certificate in Documentary Arts, should be able to do so in two to four years.

“We’ve had a couple of people who’ve done very personal projects about their family, which have been very emotionally packed and really great projects,” Walton said. “Students may have much larger goals, like a book or a feature-length film, but when people see they can do a piece of it, it’s very empowering.”

Tracy Doaks, senior director of service delivery at Duke Health Technology Solutions, started working at Duke last summer and began looking for an after-hours photography class. She wanted to move beyond using the automatic settings on her Nikon camera to better understanding its functions.

Doaks said she used her Duke discount on 8-week courses in digital photography and photograph composition.

“I tend to be very black and white and have been for a long time, but being in leadership and management, you do need to understand how to navigate the gray,” Doaks said. “That takes some innovation and creativity. I was trying to find a creative outlet.”

Lomax Boyd, a Duke genetics and genomics Ph.D. student, is preparing to finish both his Ph.D. and Certificate in Documentary Arts this fall. He’s interested in the evolution of the human brain, but documentary arts have taught him how to share his science and research work beyond the lab results.

“As someone with a notebook and a camera in your hand, you have a lot of power to represent different communities,” Boyd said. “Documentary film is the most effective way of trying to connect with people who aren’t already invested in science.”