SHOW RUNNER Lisa Hennessy

SHOW RUNNER Lisa Hennessy

By Ed Leibowitz, Illinois Alumni Magazine I January 12, 2022

On a crisp, clear afternoon in February 2021, Lisa Hennessy, ’91 LAS, returned to the U of I for the first time since her graduation. Tan and fit, her blond hair bleached by the sun, she looked for all the world like a pure product of Southern California, though she’s Illinois born and raised.

Stepping onto the Quad, Hennessy immediately came face to face with Alma Mater, who greeted her with open, bronze arms. “It was literally the first thing I saw,” she recalls. “This beautiful iconic statue welcoming me to my home.”

For her three-hour, self-guided tour, Hennessy navigated without Google Maps, preferring to find her favorite haunts by memory. “The Quad,” she says, “is a great north star.”

The old KAMS bar had been torn down, though a new one had arisen elsewhere in town. She had no problem finding Weston Hall, where she lived as a freshman, nor her sorority, Gamma Phi Beta, where she served as social chair. “I give a lot of credit to that job,” Hennessy says. “Ever since then, I’ve loved planning events.”

You may be among the many millions of television viewers who’ve seen some of Hennessy’s post-college “events.” She is one of the chief architects of reality television, executive producing the groundbreaking show Eco-Challenge and helping to develop Survivor in the 1990s. The following decade, she produced The Contender (in which young boxers competed under the watchful eye of Sylvester Stallone), and served as executive producer of Rock Star: INXS (in which contestants vied to become the next lead singer of the platinum-selling Australian band). During the 2010s, she went on to executive produce Expedition Impossible and The Biggest Loser.

Hennessy’s work has taken her from the South Island of New Zealand to the Patagonian mountains of South America to the jungles of Krabi, Thailand (where a posse of macaque monkeys tried unsuccessfully to steal her two-way radio).

Hennessy tours campus with Matt Wszolek, U of I senior executive of marketing and media, during Amazon Prime’s The College Tour visit. (Image courtesy of Lisa Hennessy)

Her walk across Campustown brought back wonderful memories, but like so many of her adventures, it took place during her regular course of work.

Since September 2020, Hennessy has been spending quality time on the nation’s campuses shooting episodes of The College Tour. Hosted by Alex Boylan, her business partner and co-executive producer, the program streams on Amazon Prime as well as on The College Tour app, and aims to tell a university’s story through the experiences and personal stories of its students.

High school juniors and seniors are the target audience, including those unable to visit faraway universities in person, either because they lack the travel funds, or, more widely over these past two years, because of travel restrictions and campus shutdowns in the midst of a pandemic.

“It’s the series you wish you had when you were looking at schools,” Hennessy says.

In the U of I episode, we meet Kennedy Campbell, a pre-med student who launched a physician-mentoring program, as well as Mike Skibski, a business major who co-developed an app, launched a club for the Rubik’s Cube-obsessed and released his first indie folk album.

Also in the mix is Mihir Vardhan, an engineering student from India who was enlisted by one of his professors to help develop an artificial, electromagnetically actuated animal spine.

The students also talk about their desires and expectations for the future.

Lisa Hennessy is one of the chief architects of reality TV. She produced the entire nine-year run of the groundbreaking Eco-Challenge, considered by many to be the first modern reality show. (Image Ryan Young)

One-way ticket to L.A.

As for Hennessy, life after graduation meant taking an entry-level position in the garbage industry. Her father’s best friend from boyhood headed the Chicago office of Waste Management Inc., one of the nation’s largest waste haulers. “My dad thought it was time for me to get a real job,” Hennessy recalls. “I didn’t have to apply.”

Although she would hardly be getting her hands dirty as an assistant sales coordinator, Hennessy, like all new hires at Waste Management, was required to spend a week riding shotgun in a garbage truck while it made its rounds. She had some interesting conversations with the drivers, while enduring the stench and constant clanking emanating from the rig’s rear.

Sometime during that week, Hennessy had a revelation, asking herself, “What am I doing? I’m not meant to be here.”

Hennessy’s childhood wasn’t particularly adventurous. She was raised in Park Ridge, a Northwestern Chicago suburb, in the same home with a front porch where her mother grew up. “We lived in a really lovely suburban bubble—an all-American upbringing,” Hennessy recalls.

During her time at Illinois, she longed to be part of the global community—to learn about the lives and experiences of people from other continents. After her sophomore year, she became a camp counselor in Maine—which seemed like a pretty exotic locale to her at the time—and where she made friends with staffers from England and Ireland. For her junior year, Hennessy enrolled in the U of I’s Institute of European Studies Abroad and went to Vienna. “That,” she recalls, “really took the blinders off.”

Bowing out of Waste Management, Hennessy left for Los Angeles with a one-way ticket and about $500 to her name. She crashed at a fellow alum’s place for awhile, then moved into an apartment with a roommate. She landed an internship at a PR company where she worked on an anti-smoking campaign during the day, while bartending and waitressing at an Italian restaurant during the evening.

Hennessy (center) with her mother, Linda, and her father, Larry, during the production of Eco-Challenge Borneo. (Image courtesy of Lisa Hennessy)

It was six months after her arrival that her roommate came home with a brochure from a tiny production company that she’d begun interning for. Hennessy picked up the flyer and started reading about a project called Eco-Challenge Utah. Teams would race cross the state’s canyons, cliffs, deserts and lakes at a breakneck pace—canoeing, biking, rope climbing, horseback riding—to the finish line, where the winners would collect a $100,000 prize.

The production company was run by an entrepreneur named Mark Burnett, a former British Army parachute-squad commander who didn’t have a producing credit to his name. Hennessy met with Brian Terkelsen, who was then Burnett’s business partner. He hired her on the spot and told her they’d be flying to Utah together the next morning to do some prep work. But Hennessy told him she’d have to give her current employers two weeks’ notice, so Terkelsen hired someone else.

That next morning, Hennessy drove to LAX and made a beeline to Terkelsen’s departure gate before his 6 a.m. flight to Salt Lake City (such things were possible in the pre-9/11 years). She convinced the Delta rep at the gate counter to hand Terkelsen a postcard when he checked in. The postcard read: “I should be on this flight—not this postcard—but I know I was meant to work with you.”

After that bold gesture, Hennessy had little doubt she’d get the job. “If you knock down the door to get in,” she says, “then look them in the eye and have a smile on your face, it’s hard [for them] not to hire you.” Sure enough, Hennessy was brought on board with Burnett and Terkelsen—which raised the number of total staff to four.

Reality TV is born

The logistics of Eco-Challenge would have been difficult enough for an established studio—never mind capturing the exploits of multiple teams across hundreds of miles of rugged terrain on video without the benefits of cell phones or email. And Burnett’s four-person operation was hardly a seasoned one. “We were just this small production company,” Hennessy says, “and we had to pull things off on that kind of scale.”

Nor could they learn from the experiences of production companies that had made similar shows in the past, because there had never been a show remotely like Eco-Challenge. “We were creating the model,” Hennessy says. “And to do that, we had to be confident and take ownership.”

Hennessy would produce Eco-Challenge for the entirety of its nine-season run. Under her aegis, the field of play expanded across the globe—from Borneo to British Columbia to the entirety of the Kingdom of Morocco, ultimately earning her an Emmy Award nomination.

Eco-Challenge is widely regarded as the first modern reality show—in which competition is fierce, and winning it all involves physical and mental prowess, teamwork, resilience, a little cunning and a superhuman ability to keep one’s composure during situations that would drive most people to the brink of insanity.

That breakthrough show cast the mold for future reality shows that turned Burnett’s little shop into a $500 million company. His follow-up series, Survivor, is a perpetual juggernaut now entering its 21st season.

Hennessy’s more recent work has focused on ordinary people trying to emerge from extraordinarily difficult circumstances. On The Contender, many of the young boxing contestants were striving to bring their families out of poverty. As for the morbidly obese contestants on The Biggest Loser, Hennessy says, “the show clearly gave them a powerful toolkit they could use for the rest of their lives.”

There are also contestants who walk away from their season finales with a desire to break into Hollywood. “A lot of people who’ve competed on reality shows,” Hennessy says, “moved to L.A. because they want to pursue TV.”

Clockwise, top left: Hennessy’s production credits range from Rock Star: INXS (with guitarist Dave Navarro), Survivor (shown with producer Mark Burnett), and Expedition Impossible. (Images courtesy of Lisa Hennessy)

Her current business partners, Burton Roberts and Alex Boylan, are prime examples.

Roberts was introduced to audiences in 2003 as a member of the Drake tribe in Survivor’s seventh season. Voted off the island, he was banished to the Outcast tribe, whom he convinced to vote him back onto the island by promising that he would never lie for the rest of the season. He kept his word, to his detriment, proving himself to be perhaps the most honest contestant in the program’s history.

For his part, Boylan won season two of The Amazing Race—sprinting to victory on a San Francisco bluff and joining his teammate and friend, Chris Luca, in a massive bear hug with show host, Phil Keoghan, after battling their way across five continents and 52,000 miles.

Boylan met Hennessy at a dinner with Roberts in 2011. “From that moment, Lisa and I became fast friends,” he says, “and we’ve been friends for many years.”

Hennessy joined forces with Boylan and Roberts in 2017 to produce DreamJobbing, in which contestants are given the opportunity of a lifetime to pursue their dream careers. In one episode, a college student intent on pursuing a photojournalism career lands a two-week assignment documenting the people, towns and mountains he encounters travelling across Norway. In another episode, a filmmaker who wants to break into the travelogue business is given 10 days to shoot the sights, natural splendor and people of Thailand—spanning Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Phuket.

Boylan came up with the concept for The College Tour while his niece was looking at schools. “She was able to take one [college-scouting] trip, when she came to visit me in L.A.,” he says. “Then with COVID-19, the journey to figure out where to go to school became a massive challenge for her. I’d never created a show out of a problem. But this was a very simple problem that we turned into episodic television.”

Boylan is at no loss for words to describe what Hennessy brings to their partnership. “Lisa is a powerhouse,” he says. “I don’t know whether there is a more experienced show runner or executive producer out there. And apart from Lisa’s organizational and management skills running big operations, she’s also extremely creative. She always has her finger on the pulse of what the audience is looking for and what’s really going to matter.”

Fighting social media addiction

In 2006, when Fear Factor marched its contestants into a dark pit and then dumped hundreds of rats on top of them, and when The Real Housewives of Orange County began debating the virtues of breast implants and Botox, reality TV was widely declared a cultural catastrophe.

While Hennessy has steered clear of the loudmouth and gross-out programming that often gave reality TV shows a bad name, she believes the negative impact of even the most egregious examples was exceedingly mild compared to today’s dominant cultural addiction.

“Compared to social media,” she says, “it’s not even close.”

In February 2017, Hennessy provided some powerful evidence for that argument when she and Boylan transported five Instagram- and Facebook-addicted millennials to Southeast Asia to film a documentary called Escape: A Digital Detox in Thailand.

Just before boarding the train that would take them into a 10-day adventure through pristine wilderness, a woman in traditional Thai dress confiscated all of their iPhones and Androids.

“Especially among the girls, there’s this false reality,” Hennessy says.

“They’re constantly comparing them-selves against these idealized versions of other girls on social media. And in our show, you could see that pressure being taken off. The young women didn’t have to pose for selfies. They could just be themselves.”

After 10 days of exploring and connecting, the millennials were reunited with their devices. Some were not too enthusiastic about the prospect of plunging back into a social media–saturated existence, where they would once again be obligated to manufacture glorified versions of themselves, and where everything they shared would be scrutinized and judged.

“When they got their cellphones back, they were so confused,” Hennessy recalls. “A couple of them didn’t want to leave where they were—because for the first time in a long time, they got to feel what it was like to be present.”

Alex Boylan, Producer of The College Tour

Postcards Magazine I December 31, 2021

Ever wonder what college life is like at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville (or what it is like at any university, for that matter)? Now, anyone can experience a virtual college visit and hear about campus life directly from college students – including Sam Houston State University (SHSU) students.

Created by reality television contestant, TV show host and producer Alex Boylan, The College Tour is a streaming series designed to help prospective students with the daunting task of choosing the college or university that is right for them.

“Our mission is to tell real stories, through real students,” explained Boylan. “I knew from the get-go that I wanted a certain format and a diversified portfolio of schools from big universities to smaller state schools.”

In the season 2 episode, ten SHSU students share their college experience and show what life is like to be a Bearkat. This includes a glimpse into the academic life, research opportunities, student life, athletics and friendships of SHSU students.

The approximately 40-minute show highlights a variety of colleges located on the main campus in Huntsville, along with Conroe and The Woodlands. The James & Nancy Gaertner Performing Arts Center is described as a world class academic and performing center; the Criminal Justice Center is highlighted along with the Veterans Resource Center on campus; the Dan Rather Communications Building; and the College of Nursing in The Woodlands are all spotlighted with personal stories from students in each college. The students’ love, admiration and respect for SHSU and its faculty is evident in each segment.

Season 2 aired November 8th and can still be viewed on any of the available platforms. Season three will begin airing on Amazon in early 2022.

Well, let’s start with the most obvious question. How did you come up with this original idea?

Sometimes great TV shows come from simple places. Approximately two years ago, my niece was a junior in high school trying to figure out where she wanted to go to college. She is from a small town in Wisconsin, and my older sister granted her one college trip, so she decided to come see me in Venice, California. As the uncle guiding my niece on this journey, it was so fun! I took her to UCLA and all the schools around the Los Angeles area. During that trip, she said, ‘I also want to check out some schools in Texas, New York, Florida, and other places around the country.’

I could hear my older sister quickly say, ‘What do you think I’m made of money? She just got a trip to Los Angeles.’ Now, the average cost of a college trip outside of someone’s hometown is $2,500. So that wasn’t in the cards. Not long after that, COVID hit, and the country got shut down, so I started helping my niece navigate this process online. I quickly realized this was a huge challenge for me to try to find the right place for my niece. Every school has their own marketing approach, their own story, some have very high-end commercials – every school does their own thing. Being an outsider, trying to do this with my niece was very hard. That’s really where the lightbulb went off – higher education needs its own television series.

So, the journey began.  The journey has led Boylan (and the approximately 50+ production team) to universities and colleges around the country, including the Lone Star State.  Texas schools included thus far have been Baylor University, Texas Christian University, and the Piney Woods’ own SHSU in Huntsville (all Season 2).  The University of North Texas will be featured in Season 3, and The University of Texas at Austin and St. Edwards University in Austin will be included in Season 4.

 University life is about finding your passion, your people, and learning who you are and your place in the world. I want students to know there is always a way to make it to college.

How does the selection process work for the schools?

We have a partnership team, and we are constantly looking for great universities. For us, the biggest thing right now is making sure we have a diversified series for the audience. If you want to be an engineer and work in aerospace at NASA, Florida Tech might be a great fit for you. If you want to go to an awesome state university, Sam Houston State is an awesome opportunity, and you’re right outside of Houston. We really just want to go big, small, medium across the country.

What made you choose SHSU for a spotlight?

There are so many awesome things about Sam Houston University. The school is very historic, 140 years old, and there’s something about the motto. That motto penetrates throughout the university–through its student body, its faculty, and alumni. “The measure of a Life is its Service.” – I think that’s the easiest way to sum that up. It’s a great institution, great location, and it was a joy. The students were awesome!
There are some really unique aspects to that university.

What are some of those unique aspects that stood out to you while filming?

There are a lot of really amazing pieces in the forensic science program; it is top notch. That’s not something every university has. In the episode, forensic science doctoral student Ryan Gutierrez shares the cutting-edge research and technology he uses every day, which is getting national attention.  I recall that Gutierrez said, ‘My research focuses on improving DNA recovery from challenging samples, particularly those that crime labs have trouble with. I’m able to make an impact on a field I’m passionate about.’

The College of Osteopathic Medicine was also rather impressive. The hands-on learning and hands-on experience inside their new facility is what university life is all about.

You walk in there and feel like you’re in an actual doctor’s office or a live hospital. It is real-life simulation every minute of every day. It was as if I was filming in a real hospital with how everyone was handling every situation. They take it very seriously, and I think that hands-on experience is going to translate into great doctors.

Another thing that stood out for me was the history connected to the university. Everywhere I went, I was asking questions, because there’s just so much history there. That was just a highlight for me and something really special.

Also, another highlight of the university is that being an hour north of Houston is a huge advantage. You get the isolated university experience, but you’re not far from a big city where there are internships and big opportunities.

What makes The College Tour different from just going online and looking at college websites or the high-end commercials you mentioned earlier?

I knew from the get-go that we wanted to create a series which had a format the audience recognized and knew what they were going to get. If you watch The College Tour, you know what the format is going to look like, and you get a real authentic look at the school, regardless of where it’s located. It has been so important to us to tell that authentic story through real current students, and that’s what we’re most proud of. You’re going to get to know the students, the campus, and hear real stories. Hopefully, it will help students find their vibe, their tribe, and what’s the right location for them. These are all variables that high school students and their parents are trying to figure out what’s best. We now have this great television series on many platforms, all for free, to help students and their parents find the right fit. We want them to see places of higher institution outside their hometown. Some kids are going to go far away for college, and some are going to go right next door, but we want to tell as many stories as possible about higher education across the country.

Why do you think it is important to have college students share their story and talk about the school?

What is really cool is that we are getting college students to talk to high school students. That doesn’t happen. High school students look up to college students; they want to be college students, but there’s a divide–and we’re finally bridging that gap. Instead of someone’s mom, some professor or guidance counselor, now it’s the student who is only three years ahead of them saying, ‘This is who I am, this is what I do here, and maybe it will be a good fit for you, too.’ How powerful is that?

I think the show helps tell students why they need to go to college, and there’s always a way to get to college. In college, you are going to grow, think about things, and be exposed to things you never knew about, have relationships that last a lifetime, and have resources you will never have in the real world. I say this a lot to high school students, ‘These four years you can never get back, and the moment you graduate college – or decide not to go to college – you’re in the real world with the rest of us and that’s a really tough place to be. So, take this time to find your passion, find your purpose, and find your people.’

So, how do you put this series together, and how long does it take to produce?

This really becomes a co-production with the university. We really become one team and work together as a family in order to make an episode.  

There are two months of hard work done before we ever step foot on a campus. We work with the university team, and we start with the basic conversations of what are we going to talk about on the show, what makes the university tick, what are the highlights, and what does the world need to know about this school.

Then casting becomes key. We look for students who have genuine, authentic stories that co-align with the topics we’re going to talk about. Once we have the topics and students locked in, we focus on the student’s unique story. The first draft of their story is written by the student, not us. We need to know their story and what it is about the school’s program that has changed their life. So, when you’re listening to the students on the show, it’s not complicated; it’s just their story.

Then we shoot film on campus for a week, and we’re jamming. By the time we come on location to film, we are all seeing the same movie in our head. On location is the most fun for us and the university. We have very talented directors who have worked on the biggest shows in the world, so they know what to do. We keep a small crew and a small footprint in the field.

From there, we wrap the week, and there’s about two months of post-production to put the show together.

So, what ever happened to your niece? Did she use The College Tour to decide on a school?

That is a great question. She watched the episode we did on Arizona State University. On part of the episode, they talked about this Starbucks scholarship program at ASU. My niece was like ‘I work at Starbucks’ and checked into it. Then, boom–she had a full ride to ASU with this Starbucks scholarship she learned about from The College Tour.

That’s amazing. Do all the schools talk about scholarship or financial aid opportunities?

Not typically, but we do talk about programs, so it all depends on the school. That particular episode featured a student who wouldn’t have been going to ASU if it wasn’t for this Starbucks program and how it changed her life.

Where can a person find and view The College Tour?

We are on multiple platforms. The segments can be viewed online at www.collegetour.com, and the app may also be downloaded on IOS or Android phones. The show is also streamed on The College Tour Channel for free on television platforms around the world, including: Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Android TV, and on smart TVs from manufacturers such as LG, Samsung, Sony, Panasonic, Phillips, Sharp and other TCL Android-driven smart televisions.  The series also airs on ImdbTV & Amazon Prime.

We also work with about 60,000 high school college counselors across the country, and every episode gets distributed to that group of people, which is then distributed to their students. Our goal is to tell the stories of these institutions to high school students around the world, for free.

Tell us a little about yourself? How did you get into television?

My first TV experience was being part of the winning team on The Amazing Race with my buddy Chris Luca, whom I have known since kindergarten. That is where my life changed. I saw the world of television production for the first time, and I was floored. I knew I was going to be a travel producer. I loved every second of it. Afterwards, I got an opportunity to work for a small production company in Florida and started hosting shows, then producing shows for them. Then I created and hosted Around the World for Free. It was the first online, interactive experience show that we did with the CBS network, and that turned into a little franchise. That catapulted my career, and I became known as this travel interactive specialist, which has definitely helped out with The College Tour. I learned to take a very small crew into the world and come back with a story.

Have you always liked to travel?

Before I was on The Amazing Race, I went to Jackson University in Jacksonville, Florida and was an International Business major. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with the degree, but I liked to travel. I knew that whatever I did, I wanted to live with passion and purpose. My father was a pastor and lived with so much passion, and he instilled that in us at an early age. I believe you only live once, so might as well make it awesome. I want to be excited every day when I wake up, be passionate, be driven, have some purpose, and leave the planet better than when I had it.

For a blue-collar kid from the north shore of Boston, Massachusetts, you’ve had a pretty amazing life. Are there any experiences you feel helped shape who you are and your career?

It has been an awesome ride. I had great parents who exposed me to the world and definitely raised me in a way that I thought I could do anything.

In high school, I was on a semi-pro soccer team and spent a year living in Brazil during my junior year. Soccer was a big part of my life when I was young.

When I was a kid, my parents took my siblings and I on an amazing trip that has really helped me in life. It was the early 90s, and the last year all my siblings and I were going to be under one roof. I have two older siblings and a younger one. It was my freshman year of high school, and my parents pulled us out of school to spend three months together, backpacking across Europe as missionaries. We started in Ishmire, Turkey and backpacked through Turkey, Greece, down southern Europe, and ended up in Scotland. I’m talking about air B&B before it was a ‘thing,’ buses, trains, and couch surfing. I was at a really impressionable age, and the world was a lot bigger back then. My parents gave me experiences like this that shaped me into the human I am today. They didn’t have to, and they didn’t necessarily have the money to do so, but they found a way because they felt it was that important.

I tell my parents all the time, ‘Isn’t it interesting what I’ve gone on to do – tell stories from every corner of the world.’

Regardless of where his journey leads him, Boylan’s philosophy is simple:

We are all born with a different size backpack; it’s what we do with that backpack on that matters. When looking back, I believe time is our greatest asset. Time can’t be bought, time can’t be stopped, and time spent following your passion or your purpose is ‘time’ you will never get back. That, I believe, is the synopsis of how I try to live life.  And a big reason why we work so hard on The College Tour.  There is so much passion and purpose behind this TV series.

Kensley Grant

Hailing from the small West Texas town of Paducah, Kensley Grant was one of the students spotlighted on The College Tour episode featuring SHSU.  A second-year osteopathic medical student, Grant was elated to share his experience as a Bearkat and SHSU’s new state of the art Osteopathic Medical School.

“The way the world is moving, we rely pretty heavily on technology for information. With people looking for more and more avenues of education, I think it’s a really nice way to express things about your school in which you’re passionate,” says Grant. “If it had been around when I was looking for schools – especially medical programs – I would have used it. It shows more than what a webpage and a page of text can.”

Located in Conroe, Texas SHSU’s College of Osteopathic Medicine is the university’s eighth college and only the third college of osteopathic medicine in Texas. According to SHSU, its mission is to develop osteopathic physicians, grounded in osteopathic principles, who will serve the healthcare needs of rural and underserved Texans. The facility serves as an all-inclusive campus complete with lecture halls, research and anatomy labs, library, full mock hospital suite with an emergency room and surgical suites, and a mock clinic with actors who have ailments which students diagnose and treat. Students are even provided simulated patient mannequins that have full mobility and allow faculty members to set up different scenarios for the students.

“Their eyes move, you can take a pulse, hear respiration, and they are even hooked up to telemetry machines,” explained Grant. “We are trained exactly the same way as an M.D. (medical doctor), have all the same basic and advanced science classes, except we’re also trained in manipulative medicine,” said Grant. “We practice hands-on patient care where we are manipulating different joints or bones to help muscular skeletal pain or what-have-you.”

Along with the basic body systems, Grant says they are trained in osteopathic medicine to look further into a patient’s health and consider their mind, body, and mental health. Factors such as nutrition and stress are even considered when looking at a patient through the osteopathic lens.

“We use a more multi-faceted approach with our patients,” said Grant.

After getting his undergraduate degree from The University of North Texas in Denton, Grant made his way to Huntsville and SHSU so he could train specifically to help the rural communities.

“My hometown taught me so much about life in general and made me want to focus on rural medicine. My wife and I grew up in that area and like the small-town vibe. We want to raise a family in a smaller rural setting,” said Grant. “Plus, I’ve seen how underserved that population is healthcare wise, and there is such a need for more healthcare workers, not just physicians.”

Grant says the school’s mission and focus on rural medicine is part of what brought him to SHSU, along with the school’s dedication to primary care practices, developing compassionate physicians with cultural diversity awareness, and providing the training needed for rural communities.

“To be in rural medicine, you must be well versed in multiple areas, because you might be the only doctor that patient sees and not have the option to refer them to a specialist,” explains Grant. “Even if you can, there’s no guarantee they will go see the specialist, if they are two or three hours away.”

Grant is active in political advocacy for rural healthcare and has served for the last two years as student body president for the College of Medicine Student Council.

Grant and other students from the college travel to the Salvation Army in Conroe once a month to give basic health care attention to anyone in need. They are accompanied by faculty members who are licensed physicians.

Courtney Sumaya-Herrera

Life may have started in Northern California for this Bearkat, but her heart is in Texas. As a first-generation college student and an ag teacher hopeful, Courtney Herrera couldn’t wait to get to Texas after graduating high school. Herrera also shared her story on The College Tour, representing the College of Agriculture and her experience working on Gibbs Ranch. Deeded to SHSU in 1993, it is an 1800-acre working ranch with cattle and goats—and, for many ag students, it is a second home.

With a major in interdisciplinary agriculture and a minor in secondary education, Herrera hopes to share her agricultural knowledge and experiences with young minds someday.

“Agriculture has always been near and dear to my heart,” said Herrera. “My favorite memories as a young child are from helping out on the ranch back home. In high school, I was active in FFA, showed livestock, and earned the highest FFA degree possible – the American degree.”

In the future, she hopes her varied experience in agriculture can help find common ground between Texas and her home state of California.

“While political views between California and Texas may be different, they are very similar in the ag sector. My thought was that if I can thrive in my community back home, it would be great to experience another form of agriculture. Then if I do go home, I can bring that aspect to bridge the two sides,” said Herrera. “Even though the states have two different atmospheres, we are actually all together when it comes to the industry.”

Along with a basic love for agriculture, Herrera loves SHSU’s dedication to using new innovative technology to get young people more involved in the industry and the personal connection she has with students and faculty.

“Everyone here is so supportive–they won’t let you quit if you get discouraged, but rather tell you ‘keep going’,” said Herrera. “I gained a second family here at SHSU.”

Lights, Camera, Action

By Jenna Marina Lee, Pegasus Magazine I December 9, 2021

Premiering in February 2022, UCF will be featured on The College Tour, which was co-produced by a local film company staffed by alums

When Orlando-based Adrenaline Films was tapped to co-produce The College Tour a year ago, the team — made up of a strong contingent of UCF alumni — knew it was only a matter of time before they would get to tell UCF’s story. UCF will anchor a one-hour episode as part of the series’ third season lineup, airing on The College Tour app before the end of the year and streaming channels, including Amazon Prime and IMDb TV, by February 2022. Each episode is dedicated to highlighting a college or university with tour guides that include students, faculty, staff and alumni. The series is hosted and executive produced by former The Amazing Race winner Alex Boylan, who was inspired to start the show when his niece could not tour during the pandemic while she considered colleges in high school.

“I’m excited to show people just how cool and unique UCF is as this major metropolitan university with amazing opportunities here in Orlando. I feel so lucky to have the opportunity, and that’s partly due to UCF and the education I received and the connections I made there.” 

Martin Olarte ’12, supervising producer of The College Tour and former UCF adjunct

8,300+

Words spoken about UCF

207

Miles logged between locations over 10 days

108

Hours of filming

34

Filming locations

9

Alumni involved in filming, producing and editing

Martin Olarte ’12 (right) strategizes with the crew behind the scenes at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.
UCF showed off several spaces on the main campus, including the Maker Space Lab Complex at the UCF College of Engineering and Computer Science.
The College Tour host Alex Boylan filmed on location by the Reflecting Pond.
UCF Associate Professor of physics Adrienne Dove (left) hosted the space segment of UCF’s episode.

FIU students, alumni in latest season of The College Tour

By Madeline Baro, Miami’s Community News | December 14, 2021

Florida International University is the star of the latest episode of The College Tour, an Emmy-nominated series currently available for streaming on Amazon Prime TV. The series showcases colleges and universities around the country through the eyes of students.

Each episode of The College Tour features a different university and is led by real students and recent alumni who provide an insider’s look at campus life, academics, students and recent alumni who provide an insider’s look at campus life, academics, housing, sports, activities, and more. FIU is the first public university in Florida to be featured.

“This is an innovative way of recruiting new students from around the world even when we are not able to be together in person,” said Jody Glassman, FIU Director of University Admissions. “Through The College Tour we’re able to reach millions of students and still give them a true, student-driven taste of our FIU.”

On the show, 20 FIU students and alumni gave insight into a different element of FIU campus life. The cast includes Binta Olabasi, an economics student from Nigeria speaking about student diversity; D’Andria Hollins, a biology student who is dedicated to giving back to the community and studies plant compounds that could treat diseases, and Carlos Vasco, an FIU alumnus and critical care nurse who discussed health education at FIU and the Simulation Teaching and Research Center (STAR) Center, a state-of-the-art clinical simulation center.

FIU President Mark B. Rosenberg also is featured in a segment, having cafecito with The College Tour creator and host Alex Boylan.

“The idea for The College Tour TV series came to me from my 16-year-old niece. Because of the pandemic and finances, she wasn’t able to travel to tour colleges,” Boylan said. “So, using our skills as executive producers we created a series inspired by her and millions of other young people who are interested in attending college.”

Other universities that have been featured in the series include UC Davis, Baylor University, Arizona State University and the University of Connecticut.

Students calling Knoxville home featured in new TV series

The Knoxville Focus | December 9, 2021

The College Tour episode is running on Roku and Apple TV, Amazon Prime to come

Carson-Newman University is one of a limited number of universities in the southeast featured in the TV series, The College Tour. The program is created by Emmy-nominated and multi-award-winning producers. Hosted and produced by Amazing Race winner Alex Boylan, each episode highlights one college or university from across the country.

“It was awesome to get to travel to Jefferson City to visit campus,” Boylan said. “The warm sense of Christian community along with Carson-Newman¹s beautiful location, makes it easy to see why students choose this university. We are so excited to have them as part of The College Tour.”

The episode is comprised of 10 segments each featuring a different C-N student discussing a variety of topics. Of the 10 segments, four students hail from Knoxville. These are Emma Denton, a junior elementary education major; Alex Derusha, a junior finance and economics major; Antwon Harris, a senior nursing major; and Taylor Pritchett a senior child and family studies major.

Carson-Newman joins other schools including University of Cincinnati, University of Central Florida, Utah State University and Miami University as part of newly released Season 3. Each segment features a current C-N student with the final segment highlighting University President Charles A. Fowler sharing the mission and vision of the institution.

Danette Seale, acting vice president for Enrollment Management and Executive Director of Financial Aid, said she is excited to share why Carson-Newman is a place to be considered when looking for colleges. “Carson-Newman is a place where when you visit our campus, you not only feel at home, but you find a vibrant, beautiful campus community with faculty and staff that pour into our students to help them reach their full potential. Our episode is an innovative way to help prospective students and families really see the fabric of our mission in a more authentic way than ever before. Anyone considering attending a Christian University will get to see what it¹s truly like being a student at Carson-Newman.”

Already showing on Roku, Apple TV, Android TV, and The College Tour App, Carson-Newman’s episode explores the University’s location, various programs, affordability, athletics and other areas of interest. The episode is slated to launch on Amazon Prime in February.

To watch the full Carson-Newman episode, as well as individual segments, visit: www.cn.edu/the-college-tour

For more information on The College Tour, visit: www.thecollegetour.com

Founded in 1851, Carson-Newman is a Christian liberal arts-based university affiliated with the Tennessee Baptist Convention. The University is located in Jefferson City, Tennessee, among the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. Carson-Newman offers 50 undergraduate majors, as well as associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. The institution’s website is cn.edu.

Carson-Newman University featured in new TV series

Carson-Newman Campus News | December 2, 2021

Carson-Newman University is one of a limited number of universities in the southeast featured in the TV series, The College Tour. The program is created by Emmy-nominated and multi-award-winning producers. Hosted and produced by Amazing Race winner Alex Boylan, each episode highlights one college or university from across the country.

“It was awesome to get to travel to Jefferson City to visit campus,” Boylan said. “The warm sense of Christian community along with Carson-Newman’s beautiful location, makes it easy to see why students choose this university. We are so excited to have them as part of The College Tour.”

Carson-Newman joins other schools including University of Cincinnati, University of Central Florida, Utah State University and Miami University as part of newly released Season 3. Each segment features a current C-N student with the final segment highlighting University President Charles A. Fowler sharing the mission and vision of the institution.

Danette Seale, acting vice president for Enrollment Management and Executive Director of Financial Aid, said she is excited to share why Carson-Newman is a place to be considered when looking for colleges. “Carson-Newman is a place where when you visit our campus, you not only feel at home, but you find a vibrant, beautiful campus community with faculty and staff that pour into our students to help them reach their full potential. Our episode is an innovative way to help prospective students and families really see the fabric of our mission in a more authentic way than ever before. Anyone considering attending a Christian University will get to see what it’s truly like being a student at Carson-Newman.”

Junior communications major Lee Rose Koza, had the opportunity to help with the episode production. “Being a part of the college tour solidified my decision to purse a degree in communications,” said Koza, who was featured in a segment on C-N’s location. “Working alongside the crew was inspiring. Carson-Newman is my home away from home for many reasons and the opportunity to showcase the university’s location and all the fun it brings was truly amazing.” 

Already showing on Roku, Apple TV, Android TV, and The College Tour App, Carson-Newman’s episode explores the University’s location, various programs, affordability, athletics and other areas of interest. The episode is slated to launch on Amazon Prime in February.

To watch the full Carson-Newman episode, as well as individual segments, visit: www.cn.edu/the-college-tour

For more information on The College Tour, visit: www.thecollegetour.com

Carson-Newman University to be featured in TV show ‘The College Tour’

Van Jones, News Channel 11 | December 1, 2021

JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Carson-Newman University has been chosen to be featured on an episode of the television show ‘The College Tour,’ which highlights various universities around the United States.

A release from the university states the episode featuring Carson-Newman takes a look at the school’s location, cost of attendance, athletic program and more.

The episode follows a student and wraps up highlighting the university’s president, Charles Fowler, as he explains the mission and vision of the university.

‘The College tour’ was created by award-winning producers and hosted by Amazing Race winner Alex Boylan, and each episode strives to give prospective students an in-depth look into various colleges around the country such as the University of Cincinnati, University of Central Florida and more.

“The warm sense of Christian community along with Carson-Newman’s beautiful location, makes it easy to see why students choose this university. We are so excited to have them as part of The College Tour,” said Boylan.

“Our episode is an innovative way to help prospective students and families really see the fabric of our mission in a more authentic way than ever before. Anyone considering attending a Christian University will get to see what it’s truly like being a student at Carson-Newman,” said acting vice president for Enrollment Management and Executive Director of Financial Aid Danette Seale.

Lee Rose Koza, a junior communications major from the university, got the opportunity to help out with episode production, which solidified her decision to pursue a communications degree.

“Working alongside the crew was inspiring. Carson-Newman is my home away from home for many reasons and the opportunity to showcase the university’s location and all the fun it brings was truly amazing.,” Koza stated.

Carson-Newman’s episode of ‘The College Tour’ is now streaming on Roku, Apple TV, and The College Tour app. The episode is expected to launch on Amazon Prime in February, according to a release from the university.

FIU students, alumni star in the latest season of “The College Tour” on Amazon Prime

FIU News | November 18, 2021

Florida International University is the star of the latest episode of “The College Tour,” an Emmy-nominated series currently available for streaming on Amazon Prime TV. The series showcases colleges and universities around the country through the eyes of students.
 
Each episode of The College Tour features a different university and is led by real students and recent alumni who provide an insider’s look at campus life, academics, housing, sports, activities, and more. FIU is the first public university in Florida to be featured.
 
“This is an innovative way of recruiting new students from around the world even when we are not able to be together in person,” said FIU Director of University Admissions Jody Glassman. “Through The College Tour, we’re able to reach millions of students and still give them a true, student-driven taste of our FIU.”
 
On the show, 20 FIU students and alumni gave insight into a different element of FIU campus life. The cast includes Binta Olabasi, an economics student from Nigeria speaking about student diversity, D’Andria Hollins, a biology student who is dedicated to giving back to the community and studies plant compounds that could treat diseases, and Carlos Vasco, an FIU alumnus and critical care nurse who discussed health education at FIU and the Simulation Teaching and Research Center (STAR) Center, a state-of-the-art clinical simulation center. FIU President Mark B. Rosenberg is also featured in a segment, having cafecito with “College Tour” creator and host Alex Boylan.
 
“The idea for ‘The College Tour’ TV series came to me from my 16-year-old niece. Because of the pandemic and finances, she wasn’t able to travel to tour colleges,” Boylan said. “So, using our skills as executive producers we created a series inspired by her and millions of other young people who are interested in attending college.”
 
Other universities that have been featured in the series include UC Davis, Baylor University, Arizona State University and the University of Connecticut.

The College Tour on Fox Entertainment

Fox Entertainment | November 10, 2021

Great piece on The College Tour by Liza Aristizabal Hesse for Fox Entertainment.

‘The College Tour’ highlights the unique, invigorating Baylor experience

Baylor Proud | November 17, 2021

Earlier this month, The College Tour premiered its second season on Amazon Prime — a season that includes our beloved Baylor — and we could not be more thrilled!

Hosted and produced by Amazing Race winner Alex BoylanThe College Tour is a powerful series created to empower high school students to virtually travel across America for an inside look at colleges and universities. Each episode features a college or university through the eyes of its students, faculty and alumni, providing future students with an intimate look at life on campus beyond what is written in brochures or websites.

Baylor’s episode is no exception:

In addition to hearing from our students, we also hear from Dr. Jonathan Tran, a Baylor religion professor, on how BU faculty invest in students, and from President Linda Livingstone on what faith means at Baylor.

“What stands out at Baylor, besides the fact that you get this amazing Christian education on a beautiful campus in a fantastic location, is the traditions,” Boylan says. “Some of the oldest, not only in the state of Texas but in the country. When you see what Baylor does for Christmas and for Homecoming, I don’t know if there’s a better story out there — how every new class gets to be a part of those traditions, and how special that is.”

The video above is just a teaser; the entire episode (and each of the individual segments) are available at baylor.edu/tour. We’re so excited to be able to showcase our great school on this international platform.

Sic ’em, Bears!