LATROBE, Pennsylvania – On May 3, Saint Vincent College senior Ian Herzing debuted his documentary “Being Our B.E.S.T.” in front of a standing room only crowd that filled a Prep Hall classroom.
A communication major from St. Marys, Herzing dedicated his entire final semester at Saint Vincent to creating the documentary as an independent study project under David Safin, assistant professor of communication. The video offers an in-depth look at the Bearcat B.E.S.T. (Building Excellence through Skills Training) program at Saint Vincent College, which aims to develop independent living for young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
The video includes interviews conducted with Bearcat B.E.S.T. students, their parents and instructors, as well as candid footage of the students on campus, in the classroom and in on-the-job training.
Last fall, Safin approached Fr. Philip Kanfush, O.S.B., Ph.D., associate professor of education and executive director of Bearcat B.E.S.T., with an idea for developing a video to showcase and promote the program. With Fr. Philip on board, Safin already had Herzing in mind as the student best suited for carrying out the project.
“I knew it was a perfect fit for Ian,” said Safin. “First, he had worked with the B.E.S.T. students previously, and secondly, because I knew he had the dedication, motivation and professionalism to take on a project of this scope and importance.”
Upon receiving approval for the project, Herzing met with Safin to devise a blueprint, before meeting with Fr. Philip and Amy Hildebrand, director of Bearcat B.E.S.T., to gather their suggestions and overall vision for the project. He then gathered footage and interviews over the months of January and February and began editing in March. Throughout the process, Herzing kept in constant contact with Fr. Philip, Hildebrand, Safin and Saint Vincent assistant director of digital media Alex Byers in order to keep them updated on his progress.
“This project was truly based on a need for more exposure and a true-to-life representation of what the B.E.S.T. program was all about,” explained Herzing. “I really wanted the power of documentary to reveal the authenticity of the program, as documentary has a habit of bringing truthfulness to the forefront.”
Herzing captured the B.E.S.T. students in a number of different settings, including the classroom, eating in the cafeteria, training and working at their various jobs and even working out in the fitness center. Through it all, he was struck by the students’ cooperation and their ease in front of the camera.
“The students were unbelievably easy to work with,” Herzing recounted. “It was like I was just one of their friends who picked up a camera and decided to make a little movie about them, and that’s how it really felt.”
Herzing was also impressed with the thoughtfulness and eloquence of the students in their interviews, saying “Their responses to the questions were just top-notch. They handled being interviewed with impeccable professionalism.”
Having compiled dozens of hours of footage, Herzing stated that two moments stood out the most to him. First was the reaction of the crowd, particularly Hildebrand, at the spring 2017 Saint Vincent commencement when the Bearcat B.E.S.T. graduates were announced. Secondly was a simple interaction that one of the students shared with Herzing upon seeing that he was filmed.
“Moments like Mrs. Hildebrand crying during the graduation ceremony really show the audience how important and life-changing this program is, not only for the B.E.S.T. students but also their parents, teachers and all Saint Vincent students involved.
“Some of my favorite moments also were when I would be filming the students and they would notice and point and smile at me,” he continued. “These moments really brought out whom the kids are as human beings, and how aware they are of the moment they are living in and how appreciative they are of the little things. One of the best is when Justin, a B.E.S.T. student, pointed and gave me a thumbs-up and a big smile on his way out to his bus to go home. He was just so happy to see me filming that he couldn’t help but give me a thumbs-up. That tiny moment will remain truly special to me forever.”
In the process of educating the public and raising awareness of all of the special work done by the Bearcat B.E.S.T. program, Herzing learned a great deal about the breadth of its impact, as well.
“I learned that Saint Vincent has something really special here,” he said. “I don’t think any other college in America has a program that is as integrated into college life and backed by our Benedictine values as the B.E.S.T. program here. The success the B.E.S.T. graduates are having speaks for itself.”
Herzing also quickly realized that his fellow Saint Vincent students benefit from the program almost as much as the B.E.S.T. students have.
“This program is really touching the lives of Saint Vincent College students. I interviewed several who said that once they got involved with the B.E.S.T. program, they wanted to pursue a career in special education. That’s really special,” he said.
The culmination of Herzing’s work was the film’s May 3 debut in front of a Prep Hall classroom filled with Bearcat B.E.S.T. students, parents and staff, as well as Herzing’s classmates and a myriad faculty and other Saint Vincent employees. The audience was enthralled with the film, and upon its completion, treated Herzing to a standing ovation that lasted several minutes.
“To see a group of that size in Prep Hall appreciate Ian’s work to that extent was extremely gratifying,” said Safin. “But even as he was being applauded, he turned the attention back to the B.E.S.T. students. I was very pleased that on that day, so many got to see how special a young man he really is. He is leaving behind a great product that those in the B.E.S.T. program can use to further their work. It was a perfect storm of project and student and couldn’t have gone better in my estimation.”
Herzing was quick to deflect credit for his work to those who gave him guidance throughout the process.
“I cannot thank Fr. Philip, Mrs. Hildebrand, Mrs. Leann Downs, Ms. Alaina D’Aloiso and Mr. Philip Pisone for letting me intrude on their classes to get footage,” he said. “Alex Byers’ technical direction helped this project become a truly professional product. But this project really came to be what it is because of the special creative direction from Mr. Safin. He is a master of impactful storytelling and has really helped shaped me into the student I am today.”
To learn more about the Bearcat B.E.S.T. program, visit https://www.stvincent.edu/community-events/outreach-programs/bearcat-best-program
PHOTO 1: Ian Herzing introduces his film to a packed Prep Hall classroom
PHOTO 2: "Being our B.E.S.T." title screen
PHOTO 2: Ian Herzing discusses his film
YouTube: Saint Vincent College