A television production crew with experience working on Emmy award-winning reality shows, such as Survivor and Undercover Boss, was on campus for a weeklong shoot that wrapped up Friday, April 8.
Instead of filming drama-packed challenges on a remote tropical island, however, the crew focused their cameras on 10 Illinois State University students who shared their experiences as Redbirds for a 30-minute episode of The College Tour, scheduled to stream on Amazon Prime Video this fall.
Alex Boylan, an Emmy-nominated producer who won CBS’s second season of The Amazing Race, is The College Tour’s host and executive producer. He developed the show after seeing his niece’s college decision limited to a handful of schools that she could afford to visit. Seeking to expand options for prospective students and families, Boylan thought, “Higher education needs its own television series.”
“Each episode of The College Tour tells the story of one institution, and the best part about it is we tell that in a very authentic way through the lens of real, current students,” Boylan said. “There’s not a better way to learn about the vibe and the culture of a place than real students and their real stories.”
Episodes are available for free on Amazon Prime Video without a membership and can also be watched on The College Tour’s website and through several other streaming platforms.
“Illinois State has a unique and compelling story to tell, and The College Tour provides an opportunity to tell that story to a wide audience,” said Director of Admissions Jeff Mavros. “This is a special place, and there are no better brand ambassadors than our students themselves. Putting them front and center to share their experiences with the world is a no-brainer. I’m excited about seeing the final product because I know it will instill pride in the members of our campus community and the extended Redbird family across the globe.”
Senior acting major Joshua Thomas said he felt “ecstatic” when he was selected from a pool of more than 70 students who submitted audition tapes to be included in Illinois State’s episode. Thomas worked with The College Tour’s team during preproduction to develop a roughly 2-minute script focused on his experience making friends and getting involved on campus through opportunities with the School of Theatre and Dance and WZND, the student-run radio station.
“I hope that students watching my segment will kind of be inspired,” Thomas said. “When I started at ISU, I didn’t know necessarily what I wanted to do—other than be an acting major. But when I attended Festival ISU and saw all the events on campus and all the organizations, I was able to find my way. So, I hope that they see that and are like, ‘Oh, yeah, I will find my way once I get to college.’”
Even though Thomas has experience embodying a character and memorizing lines for theatrical productions including his current role in Mary Stuart (Oswald), he said appearing on-camera—as himself—presented a new challenge. Thomas said he was awestruck by the setup for his segment, which was filmed backstage in Braden Auditorium.
“It was kind of breathtaking because I went in there and they had somebody in my place, getting ready and doing the lighting; and then they were like, ‘OK, you’re going in there now.’ So, I was a little nervous, but it was fun,” Thomas said. “I really liked meeting the crew and networking with them.”
Amelia Korveziroska, a physics engineering sophomore, prepared extensively but felt the pressure when she arrived to shoot her segment in front of the Science Laboratory Building. The crew informed Korveziroska that they had 30 minutes to record her scripted portion before impending rain hit campus.
“We got everything done right as the rain started,” Korveziroska said. “So, it was definitely tight.”
Korveziroska focused her script on unique opportunities for undergraduate research at Illinois State, specifically in Assistant Professor of Physics Dr. Mahua Biswas’s applied nanomaterials research lab. In her first two years at Illinois State, Korveziroska has already co-authored a scholarly journal article, presented at an international conference, and is headed to Harvard this summer through a Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) scholarship.
While Korveziroska would love to work for NASA in a few years, her experience on The College Tour made her consider future opportunities to inspire young women—through television—to pursue an education and career in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) field.
“I felt like I am becoming the role model that I wanted to see in my life,” Korveziroska said. “I am standing up for women in STEM, and the viewers aren’t seeing just one type of scientist. It’s amazing, and I hold it close to my heart that I had the opportunity to do this.”
Boylan, who has traveled to more than 50 schools for The College Tour over the past two years, said visiting college campuses across the country to share student stories—such as Thomas’s and Korveziroska’s—is “invigorating.”
In Normal, Boylan said he and the crew felt the “friendliness” and “spirit” of the Illinois State community. “I personally feel it, and our whole crew has been raving about it,” Boylan said. “This campus is really special. The friendliness and the spirit since we’ve stepped foot on this campus is second to none.”
Illinois State’s episode of The College Tour—the first episode of the sixth season—is scheduled for a fall release on Amazon Prime Video. The show will feature the following students: Sarah Aguilar ’20, a first-year graduate student enrolled in the specialist program in school psychology; Amelia Korveziroska, a sophomore physics engineering major; Katie Leslie, a sophomore nursing major; Danny Less, a senior communications major; Michael Lyman, a senior recreation management major; Abi Mitsven, a junior journalism major; Brittney Oakley, a sophomore accounting major; Michael Severino, a sophomore secondary mathematics education major; Jaychelle Smith, a junior film and theatre studies major; and, Joshua Thomas, a senior acting major.