A Pioneer for Digital Storytelling
Facing deadlines for her digital storytelling classes, investing time in developing her own start-up company, and being involved in an immersive learning project at Ball State are reasons Deborah Hoe shouldn’t have time for globe-trotting.

And yet, during her final semester as a master’s student in spring 2011, Hoe did plenty of that, speaking about digital storytelling on an international level at conferences in India, Norway, and Honolulu. A nontraditional student from Malaysia, Hoe says it was important she take advantage of the opportunities discovered as a Ball State student.

"I'm a believer in being in the right place, at the right time, and always being prepared for what can be possible," she says.

One of Hoe's telecommunications professors, Dom Caristi, describes Hoe as the "consummate graduate student." "She has intelligence, of course, but plenty of graduate students have that," says Caristi. "What sets Deborah apart is her commitment and focus on her goals, and those traits are what I believe are largely responsible for her successes."

Discovering Ball State

How Hoe came to Ball State is testimony alone to her drive. After earning an undergraduate degree in mathematics at the University of Iowa, she returned to Malaysia to work as a research analyst. During her years in this career field, she began training employees, a transition that introduced her to human resources videos incorporating the concept of digital storytelling. She attended a digital storytelling workshop in Australia soon after, deciding this was the field she felt called to study more about.

"I got on the computer and started doing research on where I could earn a master's degree in digital storytelling. Ball State was one of only two schools that turned up in my search, and so I decided this was where I needed to come," she explains.

Hoe enrolled at Ball State in fall 2009. In her short two years here, she's built up quite a resume of academic and entrepreneurial achievements. As a participant in a Virginia B. Ball Center for Creative Inquiry seminar, Hoe was lead writer on a documentary film project that garnered her a regional Emmy nomination. In addition to her international speaking engagements, she's had a graduate assistantships, an internship at the Center for Digital Storytelling in Berkeley, California, and course work outside her major in such topics as design thinking. She also won second place in an entrepreneurship contest sponsored by Ball State and the Innovation Connector; her business plan focused on creating a company catering to pet owners who might want digital stories about their pets captured before and after the animals’ passing.

New Direction for Digital Storytelling

The catalyst behind Hoe's international speaking engagements was her desire to speak out about the future of digital storytelling as a profession. "You see digital storytelling primarily used right now by nonprofits or for educational causes that are trying to raise money," Hoe says. "I want to see more storytelling used in marketing and advertising of small businesses and Fortune 500 companies."

As an example, Hoe references Mercedes-Benz's Impact campaign, in which customers share personal stories about how they survived accidents while driving the luxury vehicle. "When you look at a campaign like that, you realize how it humanizes the company. I think it's building this kind of emotional connection that's going to create word-of-mouth marketing for a product or service."

The direction Hoe takes her career is still in the decision-making stage. She has considered earning her doctorate, so she can teach about a subject she has become so passionate about. She's also pondering job opportunities that would let her use her digital storytelling skills in the for-profit sector. Then, there are her ambitions to return to Malaysia and apply for grants that would allow her to produce digital stories that may promote social change in her home country.

"Wherever I go, I know that everything I've experienced here at Ball State has lent a hand in what I am going to do next," says Hoe, who was one of two graduate students named as Graduate Student of the Year in 2011 by the Department of Telecommunications.

Adds Caristi, "With Deborah, I'm confident she could do any one of a dozen things and do them all incredibly well."
More in Making an Impact
"Wherever I go, I know that everything I've experienced here at Ball State has lent a hand in what I am going to do next."

—Deborah Hoe, MA '11