BEST TEACHER: Katie Cavanagh


“Lecturing. All of the lecturing, all of the time.” – Katie Cavanagh on what she does at Flinders University.KATIE_WEB

Katie Cavanagh is the course coordinator for the Bachelor of Media and the coordinator for the Bachelor of Creative Arts (Digital Media) here at Flinders University. She moved from California to South Australia in the late 80s with a drive to become a Medievalist. With no employment opportunities in Medievalism, she studied a Bachelor of Arts at Flinders University. She majored in English Literature while living in the old University Hall, rowing for Flinders and financially supporting herself through a part time job at Pizza Hut.

When asked what uni life was like for her at Flinders, Katie says there was a heavy load of study for her English Lit classes: “we had to read so many books during the week.” Differing from the structure of classes today, Katie reflects on her tutorials being held in the lecturer’s office with occasional drinks of champagne, playing the recorder and writing poetry. Having relocated from overseas, she says there were initially a “couple of lonely years” where she worked out the distinctions between Australians and Americans in terms of how they make friends. She recalls, “it was just different…I would send out signals, which were ignored or not received, and they would send out signals ignored or not received.”

Katie also majored in bronze casting for three years at the North Adelaide School of Art (now combined with the Centre of Performing Arts as ‘The Adelaide College of the Arts’), which she describes as “crazy and wonderful.” Following this, she took on a job working in multimedia production wearing lots of suits, flying around and managing a team for five years then went back to do her Honours in English Literature.

Katie currently lectures and coordinates the Digital Media course which, at the beginning of 2014, saw talented students partner with Adelaide’s School of Visual Effects and Entertainment Design: CDW Studios and its director Simon Scales. What this means for Flinders, is that upper level Digital Media students can do a CDW topic wrapped up in a Flinders topic for eight weeks, where they can learn industry specific skills. This is particularly beneficial to Honours students as they can expand their portfolios and can meet with industry people right before they go out into the working world. Katie elaborates that this creates opportunities for students to work with professionals like the rigger, Jared Embley, from Rising Sun Pictures or the production designer, Deane Taylor, from the Nightmare Before Christmas.

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Katie’s office is bursting with film and game memorabilia, quirky posters and a Team Fortress 2 Dr. Grordbort’s Righteous Bison Ray Gun replica.

In asking Katie how she can, as one of her students put it, “have you walking to class with a spring in your step”, she responds with the pertinently rhetorical question “how could you not have someone with a spring in their step when they’re doing what they love?” Katie explains that she understands that life as an artist can be very hard, and so she tries to make her students’ learning environment a place where they can be imaginative, supported and “can do what [they] want to do.”

While the “endless admin” of her role is a drawback, Katie says the best part of her job is being around student artists and “spending all day with creative people, doing amazing things.” Under Katie’s wing, Digital Media students can work on video games for AVCon, digital sets for props and plays, 2D animations, matte paintings, visual art, blue screen and graphic novels. Naturally, Katie  gets tired and sometimes feels grumpy.. So, it is unsurprising that when asked “what do you wish students knew about you?” she responds that, on occasions, students should know she can be short with people. She explains: “I wish they knew how much a small question that I’ve asked a thousand times can be enough to push me…it’s not a personal thing but sometimes I snap.”

Outside of teaching and working hands on with students, Katie has maintained her passion of rowing from her uni days, and gets up at 4:50am most mornings to “row all year” on the River Torrens. “Rowing, kids and work… and Facebook” takes up most of her time, along with racing surfboats on the weekends. In the brief moments where Katie is bored on a weekend and has answered the “1500 emails” she gets a day, she will visit websites such as The Cool Hunter (thecoolhunter.com.au), a design and culture website. Also on her top hit list are Wired (wired.com), an emerging technology blog which she describes as having links leading to “Aladdin’s Cave” as well as the highly recommended TED Talks (ted.com/talks). As a Digital Media disclaimer however, Katie says, “digital media is everything. It’s just so omnipresent…be aware that you’re consuming junk food with the good food in terms of what you’re looking at.” That said, she confirms that casting a wide net is the best way of knowing what’s going on.

Words By: Jess Nicole