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Student radio, TV, cinema coming to you live

Students gain hands-on experience in state-of-the-art studios in new Marcus Hall  

With the quarantine of 2020 long in the rear-view mirror, students at San Francisco State University are back to developing skills and making friends the old-fashioned way — in the flesh. Better yet, a new energy has emerged in George and Judy Marcus Hall for the Liberal and Creative Arts, the new building where students use state-of-the-art studios and labs to operate a radio station, produce television programs and much more. 

KSFS radio  

KSFS is the online student-run station based in the Broadcast and Electronic Communication Arts (BECA) Department, representing the best of college radio with programming as diverse as San Francisco State itself. Students have the freedom to play and say pretty much whatever they like, leading to avant-garde playlists from all music genres (one DJ is still dedicated to spinning vinyl) and talk shows and podcasts on a range of topics.  

Samantha Ferro, Jennifer Gee and Alexandra Lopez host “Crave Radio”, airing Wednesdays at 10:30 a.m. this semester. Each brings her own perspective and passion to her segment: Ferro focuses on the culture of her home country of Italy, Gee explores soul searching and Lopez discusses the San Francisco 49ers. 

“The BECA program has provided me with hands-on experience that you just can’t get outside of college. You can do radio, podcasting, video or script writing,” Gee said. “I get to learn with different people and see how they work and also learn about myself and how I work. You also go out of your comfort zone and grow as a person.” 

The three hosts only met last fall but already are completing each other’s sentences as if they’ve been lifelong besties.  

“Without SF State we could not do this,” Lopez and Ferro said in unison.  

Listen online 24/7 at BECA Media or download the app.

The Under SF set as seen through the viewfinders of a video camera

‘Under SF’ 

Things can get zany in Marcus Hall when “Under SF” is filming at Studio One. The weekly variety show, produced by two BECA classes, brings in artists, musicians and social justice advocates, even sending in the clowns of the Finelli Circus. 

The hosts, producers, directors, writers and crew members — all students — operate in a professional television environment, preparing them for careers in the television industry. 

“It’s a really good experience learning how to work with a crew in a studio … having fun together while also being able to make mistakes and learning from our mistakes,” student Luna Cardenas said. “When it was my turn to direct, [we] came together with the production group. … We just worked together a lot. We all cared about each other and our work.” 

Watch “Under SF” on the BECA Media YouTube channel. 

‘State of Events’ 

Every Tuesday, BECA student journalists present a full-length television news program, “State of Events.” Broadcast from a set with a street-level view of Holloway Avenue, the show covers news from the SF State campus to the greater Bay Area. 

Watch “State of Events” on the BECA Media YouTube channel. 


BECAfest is the annual showcase and celebration of the work produced by BECA students. Emulating Hollywood’s top award shows, the event features award-winning work in video, audio, writing and radio, among other categories. This year’s event takes place Friday, May 19, at 7 p.m. in Studio One. 

Film Finals 

At SF State, the media arts are on display beyond BECA and Marcus Hall. In the Fine Arts building, students in the School of Cinema — recognized as one of the nation’s top film schools — enjoy a soundstage, editing rooms and recording facilities developed with guidance from industry legends including Francis Ford Coppola.  

A Gator tradition for more than half a century, Film Finals is the juried showcase of the year’s best student films — and the city’s premier student cinema showcase. It returns to the Roxie Theater, at 16th and Valencia streets in San Francisco, on Tuesday, May 16, at 6 p.m.  

Related screenings of SF State Cinema student films include the Queer Film Finals, scheduled for the Roxie Theater on Monday, May 15, at 6:30 p.m., and the Animation Finals on Thursday, May 25, at 6 p.m. in the August Coppola Theatre on campus. 

Visit the SF State calendar for a full list of events. 

Learn more about the SF State BECA Department and School of Cinema

University Dance Theatre: a student showcase and career stepping stone

Annual concert, March 30 – April 2, pairs student dancers with renowned choreographers to perform rigorous, expressive works 

San Francisco State University not only provides stages for performers to discover their artistic identity and develop their skills, but also public showcases that lead to opportunities in the Bay Area’s dance scene. The long-running University Dance Theatre concert, taking place this year from March 30 to April 2 in the Little Theatre, is a case study. Taught by Associate Professor Ray Tadio and Lecturer ArVejon Jones, the course pairs 19 student dancers with renowned choreographers to perform new, rigorous and expressive works.  

Jones attended San Francisco State alongside his twin brother Dar Vejon Jones, and the faculty noticed their talents right away. They participated in University Dance Theatre together and have gone on to successful careers in dance. Dar Vejon Jones (B.A., ’12) is a sought-after choreographer and a Master of Fine Arts candidate at City University of New York, Hunter College. 

ArVejon Jones (B.A., ’13) performs with Janice Garrett + Dancers, coaches for the African-American Shakespeare Co. and performs every holiday season in “The Velveteen Rabbit” for ODC/Dance. It was University Dance Theatre that introduced ODC/Dance and ArVejon Jones. With choreographers from ODC/Dance serving as guest artists for the event, he landed an apprenticeship at the company. 

“Through that networking opportunity and being in rehearsals with them at their institution and at school, it propelled me to go into the professional world. It was a catalyst,” he said. “It made everything happen a lot quicker.” 

ArVejon Jones selfie

Dance Lecturer ArVejon Jones

As a student, he would spend 12 hours a day dancing, beginning with an 8 a.m. Pilates class at SF State and ending with evening classes off campus at Alonzo King LINES Ballet, with other Dance courses on campus in between.  

“I definitely remember my first time being in rehearsal as a student, and I was overwhelmed,” he said. “Now I look at it and I really see what everybody was trying to tell me.” 

‘SFSU has made me into the artist that I am today’ 

Johan Casal, double majoring in Dance and Cinema, is one of the latest successes. He is performing in two pieces at University Dance Theatre: Tadio’s Keith Haring tribute “Roxy” and guest choreographer Marlayna Locklear’s new contemporary/jazz work. Casal is also directing a short film based on the “Roxy” performance.  

He says this year’s event marks a true comeback from the COVID-19 pandemic, full of fresh ways to present dance as an in-person and on-screen experience. 

“There’s been such a great sense of collaboration and a new feeling,” Casal said, “and a new energy that comes out of iust being so stationary for the past two to three years." 

Casal has parlayed his SF State projects into a fast-rising career. He was hired as the lead dancer for Netflix’s “The Queen’s Ball: A Bridgerton Experience” in San Francisco last year and has launched his own film company, Kuya Johan Productions. He credits faculty and peers for helping establish connections, in both film and Filipino folk dance. 

“SFSU has made me into the artist that I am today,” he said. “Now I am ready to step beyond the campus.”  

Purchase tickets to University Dance Theatre. 

Learn more about the SF State School of Theatre and Dance. 

Alumna’s authentic curiosity leads to science podcasting success

Alie Ward was unhappy with her career until her love for the sometimes grubby natural world opened new doors

Science communicator Alie Ward (B.A., ’99) has unique advice for anyone starting a new career: “Get in like a cockroach.”

“Don’t wait to be invited in like a vampire,” said Ward, the host of “Ologies,” an award-winning popular science podcast, and a Daytime Emmy Award-winning science correspondent for CBS’s “The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation with Mo Rocca.” “Get under cracks and doors.”

Ward says that can include repeatedly sending cold emails, volunteering, asking questions, being authentic and weird, and generally being persistent.

While emulating roaches might not be common career advice, it’s paid off for Ward, who followed a winding road in her journey to science podcasting. (She also points out that despite their bad rep, cockroaches are fastidious, resourceful and humble.)

“It took me until my late thirties to really find science communication as a goal. I didn’t even know that you could do it,” she explained. Instead, she spent many of her early years debating whether she should follow her passion for science or her love of arts and entertainment.

Initially, she leaned into science by becoming a Biology student at the University of California, Santa Barbara. After a year, she transferred to a community college, largely due to affordability, and then transferred to San Francisco State University to finish her undergraduate career as a Cinema major.

“I loved science, but I was also really missing the arts aspect. I thought maybe I would go into science illustration, but I was missing performance and writing and humor,” Ward said. She hoped she’d eventually find a way to combine science with film. “I wasn’t quite sure how it was going to pan out but I did it anyway.”

After participating in dozens of student films and building an entertainment-focused network, Ward got an agent, relocated to Los Angeles and moved further away from science. After acting for a few years, she worked as an illustrator for LA Weekly, a writer/editor for The Los Angeles Times and even a culinary TV personality with the Cooking Channel. She’d sprinkle in science when she could, but she no longer felt authentic, and she became increasingly dissatisfied with her career path.

Yet through all of this, one thing remained consistent: Ward’s lifelong fascination with bugs. She began posting about them on social media simply for the joy of it and caught the eye of Lila Higgins, an entomologist at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. Higgins invited Ward to the museum for a behind-the-scenes tour and encouraged Ward to volunteer. Ward listened. Volunteering — something she did purely for fun — helped Ward feel like herself and led to her becoming a science correspondent for CBS.

“I love science. Yes, I also love TV and film. Yes, I also love being on [‘The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation with Mo Rocca’]. You know what’d be a little bit better? If they had to do less with tech and more with biology,” Ward said. “You just start to whittle down what’s really at the root of what you love and who you are.”

In 2017, nearly 20 years after she pursued science at school, she launched her podcast “Ologies.” It now ranks consistently among the top science podcasts on Apple Podcasts. Each week, Ward chats with an expert about their field and their passions, unafraid to ask seemingly silly questions she knows she and her listeners have.

The conversations are led by her guest’s passion and Ward’s curiosity. She didn’t want expert sound bites that lacked any personal depth. She adds “asides” in her voice to provide necessary explanations or context. She realized she could also provide little “brain breaks” in the form of tangents, like one about wicker furniture in the middle of a conversation about molecular biology.

She also keeps in the occasional expletive — though she agonized over whether she wanted her podcast marked by a little “E” for explicit. None of the other top science podcasts had an “E.” But eventually she decided to opt for personal authenticity over phony decorum.

“If everyone’s shaving off parts of themselves to make this smooth surface, then the smooth surfaces look identical to each other. Then where’s your impact? Where’s your voice?” she asked. “Being gravely weird can sometimes be the most comforting thing. I would rather have a hundred people like my authentic self than a thousand people like a façade.”

Learn more about SF State’s School of Cinema.

Alum’s Oscar-nominated film shows transformative power of kindness

‘Stranger at the Gate’ is screening in San Rafael Feb. 28

San Francisco State University alumnus Conall Jones (B.A., ’05) was floored when he learned the short documentary film he produced with the production company Smartypants was nominated for an Oscar. “Stranger at the Gate” is his proudest accomplishment to date, but the film wasn’t getting critical recognition at first. It wasn’t accepted into the Sundance, Telluride or SXSW film festivals, he says. But Jones wasn’t looking for recognition — what he wanted was people to see the film because of its powerful message.

“Stranger at the Gate,” a 2022 film executive produced by Nobel laureate and education activist Malala Yousafzai and released by The New Yorker, isn’t what it seems. It starts off like a true crime story, with hints about a terrorist plot and a possible suspect. “This was intentional so we would have the widest appeal as far of viewers. We wanted to draw people into the story,” Jones said. But the story is so much more than that. “It ends with positivity and love,” he added.

­­­The film is about former Marine Richard “Mac” McKinney, who returned home from service in Afghanistan to Muncie, Indiana. He suffered from PTSD and saw Muslims as targets, something he learned in combat. Fueled by fear and hatred, he began making plans to bomb the local mosque. When he went to the Islamic Center of Muncie to gather proof that they were dangerous people, he was welcomed with kindness. Not only did McKinney drop his terror plot, he ended up joining the community and converting to Islam.

“The message of the film is so great, especially with so much division and hatred out there,” Jones said. “This film is a lesson in expanding your horizons as far as people you interact with.”

Eventually, the film had a successful film festival run, winning major awards at Tribeca Film Festival, Indy Shorts and others, which qualified it for the Oscars, Jones says. And now he's promoting the film at theaters across the country in the lead-up to the Oscars.

He isn’t typically involved in the promotion of films. As a producer, his role is mostly behind the scenes helping to plan and strategize shoots abd build out stories with directors and production executives. For “Stranger at the Gate” he mapped out all the logistics for the shoot, did pre-interviews with sources and even did on-camera interviews. After filming wrapped, he stayed on to help director Joshua Seftel edit the film and craft the narrative.

The School of Cinema alumnus says he learned how to be deliberate about his shoots while at San Francisco State. “Because we were limited in the film supplies we had ... you had to plan everything out,” he said. “Every shot had to be storyboarded and there had to be a reason for taking that shot. Every shot was $5 because film processing wasn't cheap.”

He admits he was a mediocre student until he took an introductory course on documentary film with Professor Greta Snider during his sophomore year. “My grades went from B’s and C’s to straight A’s my final year because I kept doing as many documentary-related classes as I could,” he said. “Academically, I got much stronger because I found my passion.”

After college, it took Jones a few years to find his footing in the documentary film and TV world. Once he moved to New York City he started freelancing. Now, he has producing credits on several major projects, including Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9,” Morgan Spurlock’s “Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken!” and Netflix's “Worn Stories.”

“I’ve worked on tons of documentaries that, if you include all of the TV episodes I’ve worked on, it’s probably 60 to 70 pieces,” he said. “But this film is my favorite because of its message. I feel like the message can transcend audiences like no other film can. ... I would like everyone in the U.S. to see this film.”

Learn more about SF State’s School of Cinema.