Winston-Salem State University and Adobe unveil state-of-the art media production lab for students, faculty, and the community

Image of Winston-Salem State University faculty cutting a ribbon. Image credit: Larry Brown / WSSU.

Leaders from Winston-Salem State University (WSSU) and Adobe recently gathered with elected officials and community members to celebrate a longstanding collaboration between the university, Adobe Foundation, and Adobe at the opening of WSSU’s new, state-of-the-art Media Production Lab. WSSU, ranked as the #1 historically Black college and university (HBCU) in the nation for enrolling and graduating large proportions of economically disadvantaged students, will utilize the lab to help fulfill Adobe’s commitment to equipping the next generation with the skills necessary to succeed in today’s digital-first world. The space is packed with workstations powered by Adobe software, and includes a dedicated podcasting room outfitted with microphones, cameras, a TV, and a video production room with a green screen, high-tech white board, and other tools for creating videos and recording lectures. Adobe employees will also engage regularly with those who utilize the lab through ongoing product trainings, beta testing with students, guest lectures, and partnership on employee podcast and projects.

The new lab at WSSU was designed to give students, faculty, and community members access to tools and skills to express their creativity, create the future, and prepare to engage in the digital-first workforce of the future. Adobe, a leader in digital experiences, collaborated closely with WSSU to develop the space and forge a more inclusive future in the tech and creative industries. The lab was funded through grants from Adobe and the Adobe Foundation.

“The digital divide tends to be greater at HBCUs because we have so many first-generation college students and students from rural communities, so we’re bridging that divide,” explains Kimberly Harrington, director of Communications and Media Relations for WSSU. “We’re giving our students exposure to these widely-used products so they can be creative and innovative and share their thoughts and ideas with the world. It’s a game-changer for our students, faculty, and community.”

Image of Winston-Salem State University student working on a computer. Image credit: Larry Brown / WSSU.

A collaboration six years in the making

The Media Production Lab is the biggest milestone so far in the six-year collaboration. In 2018, Adobe made access to Creative Cloud, online services, and storage available to all students and faculty members, making WSSU the first HBCU to become an Adobe Creative Campus.

From there, WSSU faculty and staff dedicated themselves to the campus’ digital transformation, attending trainings to deepen their digital fluency in the classroom and shape their courses with digital expression in mind.

Professors quickly noticed that students were energized by the new creative tools. “I’ve had faculty tell me, ‘Mo, students turn their homework in early now,’” says Mo Ramos, Adobe senior program manager. “It’s a testament to their eagerness and their excitement. They’ve moved beyond an essay framework and toward podcasts or videos, portfolios, and Express pages. Students are so excited to communicate and express themselves in creative ways.”

Image of Winston-Salem State University students. Image credit: Larry Brown / WSSU.

The Adobe-WSSU relationship took another big step forward in 2020 when Adobe, in response to extreme racial injustices, launched the Taking Action Initiative. The program aims to help address racial inequities and improve access to digital literacy and creativity in the Black community.

“When we began the Taking Action Initiative, we knew right away that we wanted to work with HBCUs to make an impact that could last generations,” says Erica Warren, vice president of Corporate Communications and Employee Brand at Adobe. “We didn’t just want to donate funds. We wanted to build partnerships where we could do wonderful things together.”

In our initiatives to provide long-term support and impact for Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs), the Adobe Foundation has created grant frameworks based in shared purpose, trust, and multi-year funding that empower institutions to create programs for their students that will maximize impact. WSSU leaders recognized the need for a media lab for their students and leaned into collaboration.

“Winston-Salem welcomed us with open arms and asked, ‘What access do you need? Let’s figure out what we can do together.’ This was exactly the kind of relationship we were looking for,” remembers Ramos. “Chancellor Robinson had an open, honest conversation with us, helping us understand that if we looked at students, faculty, facility, and curriculum, we could build a phenomenal program.”

Image of Winston-Salem State University faculty and students. Image credit: Larry Brown / WSSU.

So far, WSSU has received $3 million in grants from the Adobe Foundation and Adobe, and the work WSSU and Adobe have done together has helped create a framework for similar Adobe partnerships and grants with San José State University and Bowie State University, both MSIs. Last fall, the Adobe Foundation announced another round of funding for HBCUs, as well as other MSIs, including $1 million for Winston-Salem State University.

“We wanted to bring the best of Adobe to WSSU and other MSIs,” says Warren. “Because stories change the world. They broaden our perspectives and humanize us in a polarized time. We’re giving access to software and hardware for telling those stories , and there will be films, podcasts, and lucrative projects birthed from this. It’s powerful to see what access can do.”

Image of Winston-Salem State University faculty.

Image credit: Larry Brown / WSSU.

Looking ahead

On the day of the lab’s grand opening, students showed off creative projects beyond anything the team imagined when they began their collaboration six years ago. A student who produces music videos shared the portfolio he built using Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop, and Adobe Express. Another student had written a children’s story and illustrated it with Adobe Firefly’s generative AI. A master’s student in occupational therapy explained how she’d used creative tools to develop a presentation she has given at more than ten events across the country.

“WSSU has created an ecosystem to make sure every educator has access to creative resources they can use in their classrooms,” says Keith Spencer, the Adobe senior customer success manager who’s worked with WSSU since the partnership began. “It’s all about giving students more ways to express themselves and tell their stories. It’s providing creativity for all, which is what Adobe is all about.”

Looking to the future, Ramos imagines that digital creativity at WSSU will spread even further. “I hope to see more spaces on campus like the media lab, so that technology is integrated into the places students naturally and organically occupy. The big dream is that this is the seed. And from here, it runs wild across campus.”