Student Spotlight: Matthew Adkins

Environmental Sciences major Matthew Adkins

Environmental Sciences major and University Honors Scholar Matthew Adkins spent his final semester in the College of Natural Resources filming a documentary for his capstone project. Supported by the CNR  Student Assistance and Enrichment Fund, Adkins’ project takes a closer look at the impact of permaculture in North Carolina.

Tell us about your hands-on experience.

For my capstone research project, I chose to produce a documentary about permaculture in the Triangle region of North Carolina. I conducted background research, reached out to people in the region to ask for and schedule interviews, traveled to conduct and film interviews, filmed B-roll footage, and edited interview footage and B-roll together to produce a full-length documentary.

How did this experience impact you?

Producing my own documentary was eye-opening and incredibly fun. This experience challenged me in a number of ways. Through the planning, filming, and editing stages of my project, I strengthened my skills (and developed new ones) in communication, research project design, videography, conducting interviews, and video editing.

What did you learn about yourself during your experience?

I already knew that I enjoyed research, but during this experience I learned that I especially enjoy conducting research when there is a more creative element to the process. This project reminded me how satisfying it can be to begin a project with a vision and to follow through with that vision until I’m proud of the product I’ve created. This would not have been possible without the people who encouraged me and gave me ideas and support along the way.

What did you enjoy most about your experience?

While filming this documentary, I enjoyed visiting people to conduct interviews. I really appreciated getting to meet so many wonderful individuals, and talking with them about their interests and their experiences, both in general and in the world of permaculture. I also enjoyed traveling and seeing some cool places that I might not have had an excuse to visit otherwise.

What did you find most challenging about your experience?

One of the challenges in producing my documentary was preparing to conduct the interviews. With each interview, I learned more about what kinds of questions to ask, how to ask them, what advice to give the interviewee ahead of time, and how to interrupt or redirect the conversation as necessary to stay focused on my line of inquiry, without missing out on any valuable insights or making the interviewee feel restricted in their responses. I enjoyed working through this challenge and learning how to be a better interviewer, as well as how to be a better interviewee.

Why would you recommend this experience to other students?

I actually love writing papers, but in making a documentary for my capstone project, instead of writing a research paper as many or even most students have done, I gained an experience that otherwise would have been missing from my undergraduate studies. Taking this route was a great decision. To students who have written a lot of papers, but haven’t delved into other forms of communication for their research, I highly recommend considering whether a documentary might be the right way to go for your project. You’ll get to try something new while learning new skills and learning about yourself and your own creative process.