(photo by Don Rogers) 'Benificence' is a bronze statue on the campus of Ball State University. It is referred to by students as "Benny."

This is a longer version of an article from The Contact Sheet, the UPAA annual magazine. It is the first of a new occasional series of member profiles, where we learn a little more about the staff and campuses of our member institutions.

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Some may know Ball State University as the Alma Mater of David Letterman. The central Indiana school is not new to UPAA, but you might say they've been on hiatus for a while. They've recently rejoined UPAA and have been making themselves known in the Monthly Image Competition standings. So, what's it like at Ball State?


I have been at Ball State University for 26 years.  I hired in as a black-and-white printer but filled in when they needed help with assignments.  I attended Ball State and graduated with a Journalism teaching degree and an emphasis on Photojournalism. I have always thought it was awesome that I was a student photographer in the office I eventually returned to.  During my time away from Ball State I was a corporate journalist, a camera store/studio manager, a wedding/portrait photographer, and a commercial shooter.

I was lucky enough to work with some great UPAA names, Ron Partain, Ed Self, and John Huffer.  Some of you may remember John dominating the sports category and winning several photographers of the year awards.  Our group strayed away from the organization with budget cuts and a new director who didn’t see the value.  I was eager to get Ball State back into the group when the opportunity arose. 

Many of us who have done this for a long time will tell you we miss our Nikon Fs and the Tri-X pan we ran through them.  On the practical side who could have imagined the leaps that digital imagery has given us as shooters and viewers?  No doubt, I love what I do.

Our group today is pretty diverse with two 27- year- old adding their energy and enthusiasm to the mix.  I love our dynamics and ability to work together to create imagery.  I think the youth input helps keep us out of a rut.  We are quicker to explore new areas, since they don’t know how we have done things for years.   I think encouraging each other is how we have gained so much momentum since the youth movement began almost four years ago. 


(photo by BSU student photographer Madeline Grosh) The BSU crew: Samantha Strahan, Don Rogers, and Bobby Ellis

I love our involvement with UPAA, and I laugh at the Facebook page where we see ourselves and our problems so many times.  Nobody can understand our passion, challenges and enthusiasm like someone who lives this life.

Ed and John always joked about writing a book:  their attempt at explaining what we do.  The title “Don’t be Institutionalized by Institutional Photography”.    UPAA helps us all keep our balance and so many members are eager and willing to help.  Our members face similar challenges and share the many joys of what we do.

Some days I miss the sheet film and the view camera.   I think what we really miss of the craft, is the skill and ritual of film.  Agitating the film cans or cleaning the 4x5 holders are forever in our skill sets. Right now, I am eager to embrace a new mirrorless system and see what images await me.


We photographers are part of the Marketing and Communications Department here at Ball State. We are a client services department, and those services are offered up for free to any department within the University. Marketing and Communications work with all the different colleges here at the university as well as with the office of the President and the athletic department. So, the photographers get spread around quite a bit; doing everything from covering athletic events, to helping create the marketing billboards and banners, to shooting events meant for tweets from the president's office. 


(photo by Bobby Ellis) The BSU photo studio was built in 2014 when the West Quad building was renovated for Marketing and Communications.

I was a student here at Ball State, graduating back in 2013 with a bachelor's degree in photojournalism, so it's very neat for me to be back on campus seeing how things are changing. It's also kind of strange because I have professors who tell students about me who then seek me out to talk to about photo advice and the like. It's odd. I and my colleagues were asked to come to speak to one of the photojournalism classes and were introduced as "successful professionals" which is something that I have never really seen myself as. Sam, Don, and I do a lot together. We usually have a weekly lunch together at some point and we work together a lot to come up with different and challenging projects to put together for shoots. 

I think one thing that makes us work well as a team is that all three of us tend to move towards different interests outside of Ball State when it comes to our photography. Don is very much a lighting and portraiture guy. He does a lot of senior portraits and worked commercial photography with a lot of studio set up when he was younger. Sam is very active with wedding and engagement photos. And I freelance for Getty shooting sporting events and I shoot concert events. 

Coming together, we mesh those different interests well and each of us is able to give our expertise to the other. 

In terms of interesting anecdotes about working at the University, I don't know if I have a lot. I've been here for a little less than a year at this point. I really only have one moment that's really stuck in my mind.

Before coming to work at Ball State, I was working as a freelancer down in Kentucky for Getty and the Kentucky Department of Education. I was on the Kentucky NPPA board and where I would help with the annual contest and the amount of talent and skill that I saw coming from students at Western Kentucky and the University of Kentucky was just staggering. Working for Getty, I was rubbing shoulders with photographers from the AP, the New York Times, Sports Illustrated, and other Getty shooters who had covered everything from presidential campaigns to wars, to the super bowl. All of this is to say that I knew that in terms of skills and achievements, I'm very low on the totem pole. I was, and still, am, a small fish in a vast ocean. 

After I had accepted the position here but before my start date, I shot some Ball State football for Getty. The athletics staff found this out. So, after I started here, I'd show up to a game only to have the SID look at me and tell me how excited they were that I was there. "Oh, the big sports guy is here!" 

It was nerve-racking. On the outside, I think I can project a pretty calm demeanor, but inside I'm like Tweek from South Park: nervous and constantly thinking "Man, this is way too much pressure!"

 But again, credit to Sam and Don. They really helped me get over those nerves while at the same time not letting that go to my head. It really helps working with photographers that you can bounce ideas off of and will show you how you can do better. It challenges you. 


(photo by Bobby Ellis) This concert image was a 1st place in the Monthly Image Competition Personal Vision category.

As for interesting things about me, I'm not really sure. 

I've gotten into shooting metal concerts more as a way to just get to see shows for free and I guess I'm just lucky that the website I work with likes my stuff. Roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons is my biggest hobby outside of work. I write fantasy stories for the games that I play and to do that I have to read a ton of fantasy or listen to my audiobooks while I'm out riding my bike all the time. I'm a bit of a nerd. 

Honestly, I'm just excited to be here. There are people out there with way more interesting stories than me who shoot much better photos than I do. So, yeah. 


Don knows more about the history of UPAA, but I will add I think I may have jump started Ball State getting into it again. I kept reading about and hearing about how many awards Don and Domenic (our former photog turned videographer) had won over the years and it made me anxious to try my hand and get my work out there- see how it compared. (I’ve always been incredibly critical of my own work and never really pursued contests or even well-known internships as a student.)  I dove into searching for different competitions to enter, most of which were for college students exclusively. That’s when I found UPAA and asked Don if he had heard of it.

I received degrees in journalism, specializing in photography, and English studies from Ball State University in 2015.


(photo by Bobby Ellis) The BSU teachers college, a 10-story building which is the second-tallest in Delaware County.

My  interest in photography began when I was little. My family would go on adventures, disposable cameras in hand, and create a “beauty book” we have continually been working on through the years as we take more vacations. As I grew older, my passion for photography flourished, leading me to be hired into Ball State University's Marketing and Communications department in 2016 as the first female full-time staff photographer, as well as the youngest to hold the position. (I was 24!)

A fun story while on the job at Ball State was using baby powder in an attempt to come up with cool promo photos for our softball team. We had a small glove full of powder with a few punctures and tried to see how that would work. It worked well for certain shots, but not for the batter swinging to hit it. We came up with one idea to fill a small bag (usually used for popcorn at events). We weren’t sure what to expect, especially with clean up. With a quick toss to the batter, she swung, the powder exploded everywhere. I ended up getting the shot. As for our studio, well… we’re still finding powder a year later.

Fun stuff about me:

I use my spare time to explore new and old places. Along with that, I love being outdoors, spending time with family, reading, writing, and making thousands of photographs. I share my home with my husband, Jeramey, and our furry family: Loki, Arthas and Ben. I’m also looking forward to getting back into training at Combative MMA Academy where we learn jiu jitsu, jeet kune do and muay thai. I started training in 2015, but had to take last year off as we had a lot going on with Ball State’s centennial celebrations.


“I can’t believe I got fired from the calendar factory. All I did was take a day off!” Contact editor Matt Cashore, with story submissions, suggestions, or critiques. Follow UPAA on Instagram, too!