Peter Ackerman is halfway through his UVM academic journey as a Film and Television Studies major. If there is one lesson he's taken to heart it's "never be afraid to make a mistake."

"I think that comes from the faculty here," Ackerman said. "Deb Ellis (Associate Professor in the program) is always encouraging me to be experimental. The best way to learn—whether it's screenwriting or shooting film—is just to go out and do it. You learn best from your own experience."

Growing up in Augusta, Maine, Ackerman was always attracted to film. Perhaps it was because he has several relatives in film and related industries. His cousin joined National Geographic after college and worked his way up to Director of Photography.

"No one really pushed me into it. I just always gravitated to using film as a medium to tell stories," Ackerman said. He has developed an impressive YouTube channel of original work, including short fiction films and documentaries.

Peter's most recent documentary: From Away
Peter's YouTube Channel: Slackerman Films

At UVM, the curriculum in the major focuses on film theory, as well as some production and editing, and Ackerman loves finding ways to test new knowledge and ideas in the field. "The department is very collaborative—if we can make a case for a piece of equipment we need for a project, they'll help us get it."

Last summer, Ackerman tackled a personal project in Augusta thanks to UVM's Simon Family Public Research Fellowship. The scholarship provides $5000 to five students each year to pursue community-based research. Ackerman used the funding to produce a documentary, titled From Away, about the immigrant experience in small-town Maine. "My sister Anna and the Mayor of Augusta, Dave Rollins, are trying to build support for a community market to foster inclusion and integration through food. My role is to develop stories about people moving to Augusta to show how important immigration is, and has always been, to the area."

With two more years left at UVM, Ackerman has a lot of other ideas he'd like to explore. He'd like to connect his passion of film to his long-standing interest in wildlife through a self-designed minor in traditional ecological knowledge. "There are lots of classes I'm interested in. I have recently taken dendrology (identification of trees and shrubs) as well as wildlife tracking with Michael Kessler, which I believe should be a required class at UVM. I'm also interested in ethnobotany—how different cultures use plants that surround them to their advantage."

He also wants to build on screenwriting skills, taking an acting class to learn what's like being on the other end of a camera.

By Kevin Coburn