Student wins raffle for advanced screening of documentary

Written By Emily Bennett, Co-Copy Desk Chief

When junior journalism major Hannah Lapiska entered to win a screening of Leonardo DiCaprio’s environmental documentary, “Before the Flood,” she had no idea that her submission would be chosen out of more than 5,000 others.

“I filled out an application, and I got an email saying, ‘out of 5,000’ participants, your response will take a while,’” Lapiska said. “I got an email a week later, and it said that Point Park had been chosen.”

The environmental journalism program Lapiska wrote about in her entry is brand new at Point Park. So new, in fact, that the undergraduate program, which concentrates on both writing and science courses, currently has zero students.

“The program’s pretty new, obviously,” Lapiska said. “So it was really big. They basically chose us because of our environmental journalism program.”

Lapiska, a Penn Hills resident and commuter student, found out about DiCaprio’s film project while scrolling through Facebook. She started following Leonardo DiCaprio on social media after he delivered his famously powerful speech on climate change and the harsh effects of global warning at the Oscars.

“Leonardo DiCaprio is a huge supporter of addressing climate change…like huge,” Lapiska said. “Nobody even knew it until he went up onstage to accept his Oscar, and so nobody knew until he went up and talked for ten minutes about this. So I started following him, because I’ve always been a huge advocate for climate change.”

The brand new film, set to screen Nov. 11 from 6:30-9:30 p.m. in the Center for Media Innovation (CMI), follows the renowned actor as he travels the world and addresses the effects of climate change.

Upon receiving the news that Point Park won the rights to have the screening, Lapiska wasted no time emailing School of Communication higher-ups to make the event as visible and effective for students as possible.

This included working and emailing with Director of the CMI Andy Conte, associate professor of photography and photojournalism and faculty representative for the environmental journalism program Chris Rolinson and Hannah Lessner, graduate assistant to the environmental journalism program.

“They all emailed me in this group email, and from there, it was determined that screening the film in the CMI would be beneficial — not only to the journalism program in general, but to anyone who wanted to view the film and become more acquainted with the concept of climate change,” Lapiska said.

The new environmental journalism major, made possible financially by the Heinz Endowments, is in a phase of preparation this year. This groundwork for this major is partly rooted in creating events for students like the “Before the Flood” screening, a social media presence and high school recruitment.

The major is set to function monetarily for only two years, but has a chance to renew for another three years. By then, according to Rolinson, the program should be self-sustaining.

“Heinz has a commitment to educating the next generation of environmental reporters,” Rolinson said. “And I personally like providing as many opportunities for students as possible. My goal is to hope that they’re interested enough to participate and take part in it.”

The program is unique in the sense that it has a strong journalism focus alongside a considerable scientific emphasis. Rebecca Lessner, who is developing digital signage for the film screening, said environmental journalism is a significant field that paves the way for students to become professional, data-centric journalists.

“It’s important because it’s a focus in the environment,” Lessner said. “So through this program, you’re not just taking journalism classes; you’re taking biology classes and things of that nature for your electives. I’m getting an education in science as well as journalism, so you can load your stories up with facts and understand them.”

Although the film addresses issues that might initially pique the interests of students interested in the environmental journalism program, Lapiska said the subject matter of the film transcends all majors, and emphasized that she wants Point Park to use their identity as young, innovative college students to kick-start a process to curb the dangers of entities like pollution and global warming.

“People totally overlook climate change, and I think in order for things to change,  starting at universities is a great beginning,” Lapiska said. “Starting at Point Park University is a great place because of our location and our students. We’re the Steel City. These streets used to literally be covered in soot, so this is a great place to start.”