Michigan High School Students Win Prizes in C-SPAN Documentary Competition

Students from Troy and Royal Oak were awarded cash prizes in C-SPAN’s national StudentCam competition.
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Katie Schmidt and Breanna Johnson took home second prize in the C-SPAN StudentCam competition for their documentary, "Loved to Death."// Photograph courtesy of C-SPAN

Each year, C-SPAN launches their annual StudentCam documentary competition. This competition encourages students across the country to explore topics that are currently in the national spotlight, and engage in critical thinking on issues that impact American communities.

In 2023, four students from two local high schools took home the second and third-place prizes for documentaries that answered this year’s question: If you were a newly elected member of Congress, which issue would be your first priority and why?

With thousands of submissions, C-SPAN awarded cash prizes to the top 150 student documentaries.

The grand prize was awarded to Parim Shah and Nimay Sharma –– 8th graders from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, Middle School in Germantown, Maryland for their piece, “Where’s My Data? Data Privacy and its Real World Impact.”

Other winners included Dakota Hendren and Hannah Johnson –– seniors at Royal Oak High School — who were awarded a third-place prize for their documentary, “Banned Books: The Effect of Censorship.”

In this documentary, Hendren and Johnson talked to staff and students from their school, and others in the community, about their feelings on the book bans and other forms of censorship that have been happening around the country, and how it impacts students.

Meanwhile, Brianna Johnson and Katie Schmidt from Troy Athens High School were awarded $1,500 as second prize winners for their documentary, “Loved to Death” –– a piece that covers the impact of overcrowding at National Parks.

“Basically, the whole video is going into how overcrowding affects the National Parks and then we interviewed four different places,” Schmidt said. “We interviewed Pictured Rocks, Isle Royale National Park and Sleeping bear Sand Dunes. So, we just kind of got all of the real things that are happening and how the parks are being affected by all these people coming in.”

Johnson and Schmidt found a common problem in the parks –– tourists are known to deviate from the trails, which ultimately hurts the surrounding environment.

“[Park representatives] all said that there’s more people that are coming in they’re creating like these social trails,” Schmidt said.  “Basically, that’s just like people just going their own route and that destroys the natural wildlife, and it hurts the ecosystems.”

Their solution to this issue? Funding. Johnson and Schmidt believe the increase in popularity during COVID and on social media is driving more visitation and the parks simply cannot cope with the extreme influx.

“Our proposed solution was just to give the parks more funding and like they’re starting to come up with more action plans now,” Johnson said. “Just give them more funding so that they can come up with the best solution for each individual park because no park is going to be the exact same so just let them address that by giving them more money that they need.”

The attention “Loved to Death” has received has been gratifying for Johnson and Schmidt. Aside from the recognition, they are thrilled that their message is reaching so many people.

“The fact that it’s reaching so many people –– it’s great because this is such a huge issue,” Johnson said. “People love the parks so much, but they don’t even realize like how detrimental everyone just overcrowding [can be]. The more people that this can reach is great. [The fact] that this is being seen on a national level because this is such a big issue and the more people that can see it and understand it is going to help the parks out so much.”

The most rewarding part of this experience is that Johnson and Schmidt get to spread awareness on a cause they are so passionate about.

“[To] get the opportunity to share our video and to feel proud of something that we created and that’s helping spread awareness –– it just kind of a bonus that we got this money along with it,” Johnson said.

Johnson and Schmidt highly recommend that students across the country take part in the StudentCam competition.

“Anyone can do it and everyone who does it is going to learn so much from the experience and in the process,” Johnson said. “I would never tell anyone not to do it and no matter what, even if your video wins or not, you’re still gonna learn from it [and] have so much fun from it. It’s just like an overall great experience.”

To view the full list of C-SPAN’s StudentCam award recipients and their documentaries, visit studetcam.org/winners — and read even more community news at HourDetroit.com