Educating through entertainment: Breck Film Fest, Keystone Science School partner for industry workshops, screening

Entering its fifth year, the Keystone Science School’s Girls in STEM program has partnered again with the Breck Film Fest. The program gives girls the opportunity to learn from industry professionals along with making and showing their own short films.
Courtesy Joe Kusumoto / Keystone Science School

BRECKENRIDGE — Entering its fifth year, the Keystone Science School’s Girls in STEM program has partnered again with the Breck Film Fest to deliver a weekend of enriching young girl’s impressionable minds. The girls will be spending nights at the KSS campus and days at the computer labs at Colorado Mountain College in Breckenridge, working collaboratively in mentored groups to make shorts that may eventually help them break into the male-dominated film industry.

If You Go

What: Keystone Science School Girls in STEM showcase

When: 12:30 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 22

Where: Breckenridge Theater, 121 S. Ridge St., Breckenridge

Cost: Free

The idea of addressing the gender gap in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math first occurred in 2009 when the residential education facility hosted a female engineer from Never Summer Industries to teach girls how to build sleds. After going on hiatus for a time, Girls in STEM eventually returned to educate children on coding, web development, architecture, landscape design and more. 

Other camps slated for this year cover veterinary science and civil engineering with day programs focusing on the physics of flight along with yoga and nutrition.

Keystone Science School may be better known for its outdoor education programs, but in 2017 the school stepped into the world of animation with Breck Film Fest and Laika, the studio behind “Coraline,” “The Boxtrolls” and “Kubo and the Two Strings.” However, this year is the first time the camp is happening during the same weekend as the film festival.

A key component to Girls in STEM is getting the girls interested in science young — as early as third grade — and having older female mentors guide them along. “When we originally started the program, we found that a lot of girls will lose interest in STEM as early as kindergarten,” said David Miller, director of marketing and strategic partnerships at Keystone Science School. The school also found in their research that girls would be less likely to enter a field if they didn’t see someone like them.

“So that’s why we recruit our STEM mentors to help facilitate the program,” he said. “They are there to not just help facilitate but to serve as role models and be somebody our female students can look up to.”

Coming up this weekend to give career and life advice are actress and producer Nancy Degnan, producer and director Paprika Leaverton and actress and stuntwoman Nikki Tomlinson.

In addition to the high school mentors that are regularly present during KSS programming, new this year are animation students coming from the University of Colorado Denver’s College of Arts & Media’s Digital Animation Center to mentor the young girls in the creation of animated films. 

“Living in an area with a limited STEM industry, it’s such a unique opportunity to have so many filmmakers in our small community,” said Miller.

Disney magic

Another one of those industry professionals lending a hand during the weekend is Summit Cove native Elise Scanlan. A production coordinator with The Walt Disney Co., Scanlan double majored in animation and Spanish at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California, after graduating from Summit High School. She got her start with Nickelodeon, but has been with Disney now for seven years working on the “Frozen” series and “Big Hero 6.”

Though she didn’t study or practice animation in high school, a childhood of animated features lured her to the industry.

“I grew up watching Disney and Pixar movies and I think I just fell in love with them,” Scanlan said. “I love film also, but there’s just something about the movies being just so universal and family friendly that’s amazing. They have so much emotion, especially like a movie like ‘Frozen’ — that has amazing songs.”

Elise Scanlan, a production coordinator with Walt Disney Co. and Summit Cove native, is participating as a mentor in the Keystone Science School’s Girls in STEM program. Scanlan attended and worked at the school herself when she was younger.
Courtesy Keystone Science School

Her career is coming full circle in more ways than one. Scanlan both worked at and attended the Keystone Science School. At one point she was the head of day camps while her middle sister Catherine worked her way up to assistant director. The school’s interesting and diverse curriculum is what kept her coming back as a student and employee.

“They’re so great. Their three tenants are science, adventure and fun, and I think they have a really good balance of all three of those. They definitely bring a science element.”

Scanlan is glad the film industry is being included under the STEM umbrella because it can often get overlooked in favor of more traditional math and science careers.

“I think it is so cool that they’re doing film with it because there is so much of science there,” said Scanlan. “Especially on the artistic side, you can get into coding, like all the programs that we use here at Disney to make all of this magic. You can get really technical with that, but even filmmaking itself, I think that’s so cool that they’re including that.”

Visiting her biological family is one thing, but Scanlan is also excited to return to her Keystone Science School family, wax nostalgic about the campus and inspire young girls to follow their dreams.

“You get to pass on everything you were coming up as a kid and learning, you get to then pass that on to the next generation, which is so cool.”

On Sunday, at the end of the mentorship, the third through fifth grade girls will present their own stop motion animation films and the sixth through eighth grade will show their live action shorts.

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