If image is everything, digital image in today’s economy must equate to everything-squared.

Southern Oregon University students majoring in emerging media and digital arts (EMDA) understand the power of their image-crafting work — whether digitalized or exquisitely hand-drawn.

As an integral part of the SOU EMDA program, students are also learning how to market that work in today’s image-driven world.

The third annual Emerging Media Conference (EMCON), held at SOU on Friday, May 6, gave SOU students, northwest regional experts in the field and local community members a chance to explore the application of images within the worlds of entertainment, business and art.

“The EMDA program is designed to create critically informed makers,” said Miles Inada, SOU co-chairman of creative arts and professor in both the departments of art and EMDA.

“The goal of the conference, which was started, and is run by students, is to give everyone a chance to connect to the larger world and see their work as relevant to where they will go after graduation,” added Inada. Thirty students presented at this year’s event.

The wide array of career directions which falls under the SOU EMDA umbrella includes (but isn’t limited to): cinematography, 3-D model creation, comic book character design, digital animation, game design, graphic design, hand-drawing, videography, photo-manipulation, independent filmmaking, and more.

Design, whether in digital or traditional form, is the driving concept for both students and faculty involved in the program. The application of that design is where students learn to direct their studies based on their individual interests.

“Our degree is really designed to allow students to self-define their career direction,” said Inada. “It was created as an interdisciplinary program through partnerships between the art, communications, business, and computer science departments and the digital media center.”

The connection to northwest regional professionals with students at the conference, and throughout their training at SOU, augments classroom projects and academic learning.

In addition to conference expert panel presentations, students also learned by presenting samples of their own work for the public to review and ask questions about. Students began the real-world experience of selling themselves and their skills in this one-on-one venue.

While students’ skills with the “elevator pitch” for themselves varied, the student projects at EMCON demonstrated a radical and exciting breadth of topics and skills.

SOU senior Nickolas Alexander’s presentation project was an excellent example of the “non-traditional” flavor of the EMDA students participating in the program and conference.

“I’m interested in the cross-over between language and media,” said Alexander, who is bilingual in Spanish and English. “I wanted to use my interest in cinematography and Spanish to bring stories to us here from those cultures who don’t get the same exposure.”

Alexander, while on an unpaid internship at a university in Nicaragua last year, wrote and filmed the story of his professor’s extraordinarily joyful struggles in raising a son with cerebral palsy.

Alexander presented the short independent film, entitled “Fatherly Love” at the conference. It is filmed in Spanish with English subtitles (view it at youtu.be/IISxbIs3Ihk).

“I appreciate the way in which I could integrate both of my areas of interest here,” said Alexander, regarding the EMDA focus on self-definition. “I couldn’t foresee how these two things could come together.”

But together they did come and now Alexander has plans for his future after graduation.

“I will continue to teach Spanish part-time at Cascade Christian High School and freelance with my cinematography while I look for an outlet overseas. I want to continue documentary work abroad and be a digital storyteller,” said Alexander.

With approximately 125 EMDA majors at SOU, Inada notes that each of them is learning through doing.

“We always have a product aspect to the program designed to show what each student can do," Inada said. "At its core, the program teaches how to develop a concept, design it and take it through to final product.”

Biographies for this year’s presenting SOU EMCON students and more information about the conference may be found at souemcon.com.

Freelance writer Julie Raefield is a resident of Ashland.