Streaming TV series ‘The College Tour’ profiles Siena Heights University
By David Panian, Lenconnect.com I Daily Telegram I September 6, 2022
ADRIAN — In November, Siena Heights University will be featured on an Amazon Prime series that takes viewers to colleges and universities around the country.
But this year’s incoming freshmen got a sneak peek at SHU’s episode on “The College Tour” during a watch party Aug. 28 at Sister Kevin McLaughlin Music Hall in the Spencer Performing Arts Center that closed out Welcome Week, and the episode is online now on SHU’s YouTube channel.
The show is hosted by Alex Boylan, a television personality who first became known to viewers when he won CBS’ “Amazing Race” when he was 23. He has since been a part of several others shows, including “At The Chef’s Table” and “Animal Attractions” on PBS and being Rachael Ray’s sidekick on the “Rach to the Rescue” segment of her talk show. Boylan was on hand at the watch party to meet with students and share his insights on making the episode and what the students should get out of their college years.
SHU is the first college or university from Michigan to be featured on “The College Tour,” which visits schools large and small — from state universities as large as Arizona State to community colleges — to profile students who share what it was that led them to their school. The episodes let prospective college students check out several schools to start narrowing down their choices.
The show’s website, www.thecollegetour.com, includes classes designed to help college-bound students figure out what kind of school they want to attend.
Ten SHU students were profiled in the episode, demonstrating the diversity of their hometowns and interests. The students came from as nearby as Adrian and as far away as Brazil. One student is a first-year student this year, while another received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from SHU.
During his time working with SHU, Boylan said, he became well aware of what the school calls the “Siena effect.”
“It’s palpable with the students. Here, I would say, overall the feeling of community and purpose just exemplifies it,” he said. “…Whatever it is that they’re studying here, there’s an angle on it here where it’s like, hey, we’re going to give you this ethical viewpoint to hopefully take these skills and not only just get a great job so you can prosper in life but to give back to your community.”
The students who were profiled were:
• Paige Westergaard, first-year student from Sterling Heights, majoring in biology and minoring in art.
• Liam DiPietro, a senior from Adrian majoring in Spanish and business administration.
• Wyatt Howe, a sophomore from North Branch majoring in nursing.
• Mercedes Starr, a junior from Tempe, Arizona, majoring in business administration and minoring in communications and Spanish.
• Autumn Bradford, a junior from Sterling Heights majoring in musical theater.
• Alexis Hirst, a senior from Clinton Township majoring in history and business administration.
• Adam Baker, a senior from Flint majoring in musical theater.
• Ashley Bearden of Jackson, who received a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice in 2014 and a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling in 2021.
• Ben Ellis, a sophomore from Doylestown, Ohio, majoring in politics and international business.
• Wilhelm Weissheimer, a senior from Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, majoring in exercise science and minoring in biology.
After watching the episode, the audience and Michael Orlando, SHU vice president of student life who was the event’s master of ceremonies, asked questions to let the student cast members expand upon topics in the episode.
Bradford and Baker were asked how Siena helped them come out of their shells and become great performers.
“Honestly, faith and just knowing that that’s one of the things that I am here to do on earth,” Bradford said.
There have been times when she doubted if she was doing something well, she said, but she’s had faith that performing is what she is here to do, to let people attend a show and take their minds off whatever might be troubling them.
Baker said when he started at SHU he wasn’t thinking of studying musical theater, but then he met professors Mark DiPietro — Liam’s father — and Michael Yuen. He only saw himself as a singer, but through their encouragement found a passion for theater.
“When you know that you have something in you that you have a passion for, it’s like that core, gut feeling that every time you get to do it, it gives you the most joy, the most passion,” he said. “That is the thing that you chase, even if it’s uncomfortable because you’ll get to a place to where you’re uncomfortable but you’re comfortable in it because you know that you’ve been called to do it. And Siena has helped me to do that.”
Boylan’s two-word advice to the first-year students was “show up.”
“It’s really to try new things and explore,” he said. “You’re probably never in your life going to be exposed to so many things and have the ability to explore. … This is your time on Planet Earth to try things because soon you’re going to be in the real world where it gets to where you really have to figure it out. … You never know where you’re going to get this feeling that, man, I really like this.”
For Boylan, being on “The Amazing Race” flipped his career aspirations from doing something with his degree in international business to making a career in TV.
Boylan started the show after an experience he had with his niece who lives in Wisconsin and came to visit him in Los Angeles and tour colleges there. She wanted to go around the country visiting schools but, like most college-bound students, didn’t have the means to do that.
“The reality is that there’s 2,500 colleges out there,” and students want to visit them, he said. “That was where the light bulb went off that, why is there not a television show about higher education? We’re so fortunate to be in America with so many amazing institutions and so many options for students. The accessibility to higher education in this country is like nothing else in the world.”
He went to his producing partners, Lisa Hennessy and Burton Roberts, and they put the show together. They’re now filming the seventh season of “The College Tour” and by the end of it will have shot almost 100 episodes in two years.
“Never would I have thought that higher education and Hollywood would fit so well together, and they do,” he said. “Because at the end of the day, what they’re doing has meaning, has real story, and real, authentic pure story, and in Hollywood we love telling stories so it just works perfectly.”
It takes about six months to make an episode, Boylan said. There is about 10 weeks of preproduction, which includes meeting with the school staff, casting students with “great stories” and preparing them for their segments; then five days on campus filming; then another 10 weeks or so in postproduction, which includes double-checking things with the schools, like making sure they have video of the correct buildings to go with each student.
Along with Amazon Prime, episodes can be viewed on several streaming services, including Amazon Freevee, Tubi and Roku, as well as on Apple and Android phones and tablets through The College Tour’s app.