Alumni get another shot at capturing life at K-State

By Bryan Richardson

A family reunion occurred this past week at K-State’s Kedzie Hall. Room 215 in the building served as the headquarters for “We Are K-State,” a project documenting a week at the university.

It is inspired by a similar project 25 years earlier, “A Week at K-State: Photographs of College Life,” which showcased photographs taken by professional alumni and student photographers over the course of seven days. Those photos were published in a book in 1987.

Two 1992 K-State graduates — Maggie Clarkin Spano, senior director of operations for Universal Uclick; and Christopher Assaf, multimedia editor/video of the Baltimore Sun — serve as co-editor for the project. They both are former photographers for the Kansas State Collegian newspaper and the Royal Purple yearbook.

Each of them expressed that affection for “A Week at K-State” was the reason they agreed to join the project.

Spano said the book inspired her as a young photographer. Her dad bought the book for her when she was in high school, when she was a photographer for the school paper.

“He came home with that book and he said, ‘You’re looking at colleges. Why not K-State? Look at what they’re doing there,’” she said. “That book was one of the reasons I decided to come to K-State.”

Assaf described working on the project as surreal. “I walked by that library downstairs in Kedzie, and that was the first time I ever had any of my photographs critiqued,” he said.

It wasn’t exactly a positive moment at that time, Assaf said.

“The first person who ever looked at my photographs was so brutal it was unbelievable,” he remembered with a laugh.

Spano said she didn’t think she would ever be in this position. “I never thought being here at school I would be able to work with the same photographers who did (the first project),” she said. “It’s very special. It’s very unique.”

Karen Mikols Bonar, a 2002 K-State graduate participating in the event, described “A Week at K-State” as a book that set the bar for other students. “I remember the first book from when I was here as a student,” she said. “It was just something we had always looked up to.”

Bonar said being involved with the project also gives her the opportunity to work with some of the people who influenced her — like Assaf.

When she was in high school, Bonar said Assaf gave her advice about being a photographer during the Flint Hills Publications Workshop at K-State. “He was one of the reasons I went into journalism,” she said.

Assaf said he hasn’t been in Manhattan since the summer of 1999 when he taught at that workshop. “Driving through Kansas City and coming down here and seeing all the Powercat stuff and all the purple and white is great,” he said.

Both Assaf and Spano described the gathering of photographers as seeing family for the first time in a long time.

“We have people from the old book, brand-new students and people like me and Maggie from the between generation,” Assaf said.

Spano said she went to the K-State volleyball game Wednesday and saw two students shadowing alumni photographers.

“It was really neat to sit there and see the alumni giving the students pointers and helping them understand the tricks of the trade,” she said. “That’s been special — the mentoring.”

Assaf said people have mostly been receptive of their pictures being taken for the project. “I call it Heartland attitude,” he said.

Spano attributed the accessibility to alumni and current students being the ones taking photographs.

“I think the thing is, we are K-Staters wanting to photograph other K-Staters,” she said. “We’re not outsiders. We’re all a part of that family.”

Assaf said the time spent editing photos is a reminder of his college days. At any given time of the day, he said 10 to 20 photographers worked on the project.

“The amount of time I’ve been here reminds me of the amount I’ve spent as a student in Kedzie,” he said.

Spano said each photographer brings back a different snapshot of K-State. “I don’t think it’s one person or one story that stands out,” she said. “It’s more like a quilt.”

Assaf said they’re looking to create images that representing a moment in time that can’t be replicated. “If you make an image that has impact and power and emotion and intimacy, it’ll last,” he said. “And that’s what we’re trying to do.”

The goal is for “We Are K-State to be ready before Christmas and in time for K-State’s 150th anniversary celebration beginning in 2013. Spano said the plan is to utilize an interactive website with images and video, as well as a book and a mobile phone application to showcase the photos.

Progress of the project can be followed at, where the final product will be posted.

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