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June 23, 2014 | Tom Ballard

“Medal of Honor Project” teaching students about entrepreneurship

Medal of Honor ProjectBy Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.

What do Medal of Honors recipients and technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship – the focus of – have in common? A great deal, according to Nick Geidner.

“It’s taking a really old story and adding a new media spin to it,” the Assistant Professor of Journalism at the University of Tennessee’s (UT) Knoxville campus explains.

“We are creating a brand,” Geidner adds, drawing a comparison with any entrepreneurial start-up. “Students are gaining an understanding of what you need to do to create a media brand.” In the case of the project that he leads, the effort incorporates “entrepreneurial journalism,” product development and packaging, and the utilization of state-of-the-art video technology.

The brand is the “Medal of Honor Project,” named for the nation’s highest military honor that is awarded for personal acts of valor above and beyond the call of duty. Since it was established by Congress in 1861, nearly 3,500 Medals have been awarded, but only 78 recipients are still alive.

Many of these living heroes will be in Knoxville September 10-13 for their national convention, and Geidner’s students in the College of Communication and Information (CCI) will be there as well with a three-pronged effort.

“We will cover the event like it has never been covered before,” he says. A documentary on the convention will be produced later this year. No doubt a portion of it will include a town hall event that UT is hosting during the convention in the Alumni Memorial Building.

“We’re going to talk to (and videotape) as many Medal of Honor winners as possible,” Geidner explained. That effort includes some trips ahead of the convention for interviews. Thus far, his team of 45 students has interviewed nine recipients from World War II through Afghanistan.

The team is also producing a documentary on the history of the Medal of Honor in Tennessee.

“Tennessee has a rich history,” Geidner says, noting 32 recipients from the Volunteer State.

One of the ultimate goals is to have the “oral histories” available for years to come and accessed by historians, writers, and anyone interested in the Medal and the military. Another is to enhance the educational experience of CCI students.

“I want to see our undergrads get excited about journalism,” Geidner explains.

It was our first time to talk with the Ohio native who arrived in Knoxville about three years ago as a newly minted doctoral graduate of The Ohio State University. Less than two years later, Geidner had launched the “Medal of Honor Project.”

The initiative is part of a much broader vision that he has for the college, filling a niche that is not being served. In his view, the void is complete, accurate coverage of the military.

“There’s unquestionably a need,” Geidner says, citing everything from the way we treat veterans when they come home to coverage of military conflicts and public policy.

“Very few programs even have it (military reporting) as an emphasis,” he explains.

The “Medal of Honor Project” is not Geidner’s first entrepreneurial undertaking. During his years as an undergraduate student at Youngstown State University, he helped create a homework help show that ran twice-a-week for seven seasons on television stations in Northeast Ohio. Like other entrepreneurs, Geidner helped raise $200,000 for the project.

Later, he created an online entertainment guide for bars and bands.

“I knew I wanted to bring that type of entrepreneurial spirit to my faculty job,” Geidner said.

In the true spirit of an entrepreneur, he is still raising money, $25,000 to be exact. The investment will be used to purchase two state-of-the-art Ultra HD video camera packages and fund additional student travel. Those interested in making an investment in the project and the students’ education should contact Geidner at ngeidner@utk.eduor visit

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