Programs and activities: Founder & Producer, UT Filmanthropy; Volunteer Producer, Hot Science PBS TV Series; Documentary Researcher & Media Archivist, Blizco Productions
Honors and Awards: The Eric M. Suhl Scholarship, The Richard S. “Cactus” Pryor Scholarship, The Wiethorn Family Endowed Presidential Scholarship, The Will Rogers Memorial Scholarship, The Longhorn Creators Foundation’s Excellence in Producing Prize
Dave Bishea, a Radio-Television-Film senior, is a recipient of the newly established Eric M. Suhl Scholarship, which awards a minimum of $1,000 to qualified students with disabilities for an academic year. Read on to learn more about his experiences on campus—and how he is promoting disability awareness, diversity and inclusion through filmmaking.
Congrats on earning this scholarship! How will this funding help you during your time on campus?
This generous scholarship allows me to focus more on my education and volunteer projects and less on financial concerns. I am so grateful to the Suhl family, and I will do my best to pay their kindness forward. I also appreciate SSD [Services for Students with Disabilities] for sharing this scholarship opportunity in their newsletter. Through those newsletters alone, so many students have been connected with fantastic job and scholarship opportunities.
Could you tell us about your “Filmanthropy” work—and do you have any exciting events in the works?
Last Spring, while taking Professor Scott Rice and Professor Matthew McConaughey’s wonderful advanced producing class, Script to Screen, I entered a pitch competition held by the Longhorn Creators Foundation. My pitch was to produce a variety of philanthropic film projects – assisting local nonprofits through free video production – by creating a student volunteer initiative I called UT Filmanthropy. I was fortunate enough to win the Excellence in Producing Prize, and the award funds helped me turn the idea into a reality.
Right now we’re producing an online watch party called “Bad Films for Good,” scheduled for Friday the 13th of November. The event is meant to help bring students together and make new friends while contributing to a good cause. We’ll be streaming a mystery “grade-Z” horror movie while chatting over Discord, and there will be an intermission segment showing how to join the life-saving bone marrow donor registry, Be the Match. There will also be an opportunity to help advocate for students with disabilities by signing a petition aimed at improving UT’s online accommodations.
Why are you passionate about spreading awareness about people with disabilities through your creative works?
Living with disabilities can be incredibly hard at times, but I’ve also seen how that struggle plays a role in shaping the insightful and compassionate perspectives of so many incredible people. I feel that creative pursuits such as filmmaking can help convey those kinds of unique perspectives that the world needs to hear. Creative works can also spark productive conversations around topics that many people are hesitant to broach. My experience has been that engaging in an open dialogue about living with disabilities can help to alleviate some of the damaging misconceptions that persist.
What is it like navigating college with non-visible disabilities?
Non-visible disabilities can sometimes mean having to face fewer stigmas, as people don’t treat you differently or define you by your disabilities upon first meeting. Conversely, the challenges and hardships you experience are not as apparent to your professors and peers, so you really have to take the initiative and be your own advocate at times. However, the faculty at UT tend to be very supportive, and SSD’s accommodations can be extremely useful as well.
How do academic accommodations provide you with equal access?
Disability accommodations have been a true lifeline for me, as they provide additional resources and flexibility, allowing me to better face academic challenges while also dealing with health challenges. I wish more students were aware of SSD’s accommodations options, as so many people struggle with their physical and mental health alongside trying to succeed in college.
What advice would you give to students who are considering accommodations?
I would just encourage them to reach out to the SSD staff and learn about the different resources they offer. I think many students would be surprised by how beneficial various accommodations can be. I’d also add that it’s never too late to initiate the process. Once registered, you are under no obligation to use the accommodations or disclose your disability to others. Having said that, professors here are very understanding and helpful when reached out to regarding disability accommodations. Beyond discussing the accommodations themselves, those conversations can more generally foster support and meaningful connections between students and faculty.
What’s next for you?
Soon I’ll be applying to UT’s MFA program in Film & Media Production. I’d love the opportunity to pursue graduate studies under the amazing RTF faculty. In the meantime, I just want to make the most out of my remaining months as an undergrad. To that end, I’m in the process of producing a fun video series this month, under the banner of UT Filmathropy. I’m volunteering with an alumnus from UT, who is a speech and language pathologist, to create a video series of children’s book read-alongs. The videos serve as free learning reinforcement activities for young children struggling with communication disabilities.
Quite soon, I’ll also be applying to the Moody Media Scholars for Social Change program, which launches in late November. The program involves creating media that cultivates dialogue around positive social change, with a focus on supporting underrepresented students. It sounds like a great opportunity to collaborate with other students on content advocating for greater awareness and equity on campus. Any interested juniors and seniors within Moody College should check it out!
More about the Eric M. Suhl Scholarship:
Established in 2019, the scholarship honors the memory of Eric M. Suhl, who passed away at age 28 in 2016. It supports UT students who live with colitis, Crohn’s, IBS or any chronic medical issue. For more information, visit the Eric M Suhl Foundation website.