As a 2019 Inspire Founders Award and Woman of the Year nominee, Megan Elliott has had the ability to create a new, innovative school at the University of Nebraska that is receiving international interest and support from businesses and organizations throughout the world. Launched in the fall of 2019, the Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts focuses on helping students create virtual production experiences by blending art, technology and commerce. The center will help students explore new boundaries and stay on the forefront of media and technology.

Elliott is extremely proud of the work both her staff and students have been able to accomplish in the first year. Even though the second semester didn’t end how they anticipated, Elliott was proud of the way her team was able to be present with each other and support one another and their students. Even tackling technical difficulties, she was impressed with how they might become frustrated by the challenges but eventually find creative solutions and adapt.

Elliott specifically noted how the end of each semester of this first year was different. After the first semester ended, students invited the public to come and experience their work at an open studio exhibition at the Johnny Carson Center. At the end of the second semester, all of that work was translated to an online exhibition. Utilizing a virtual world, they were able to showcase their work, feature local DJ Spencer Munson and create an online experience in which the entire global community was able to participate.

As the leader of her team, Elliott has relied on trust more than ever during the social distance restrictions that have been put in place. She reminds herself that she put this team together for a reason. She tries to reduce miscommunication through developing a routine with daily check-ins and messaging services like Slack and Discord. Being available for quick access and checking in frequently with her team mimics the leaning over the desk behavior in the pre-COVID setting. She relies on that trust and knows that her team operates with the mission of the center at heart.

Elliott sees the adaptation of technology as being a key element for our “new normal.” She envisions seeing improved plug-ins for Zoom, Google Meets or other new platforms to continually create an intuitive and immersive experience. She talks about the dissonance that constant Zoom meetings can have on our state of mind and stresses the need for us to find more ways to unwind in order to be at our best. Meditation, walks, gardening or playing with our pets are just as important for us to be productive as our never finished to-do lists.

One of the things that really excites Elliott about our future is that what we are learning now in our pandemic world will help us create our new futures. We get to design what our new habits are going to be. She references her time as the director of the Australian Writers Guild. The American television writers strike led to the birth of reality television. When the writers came back, reality TV stayed. Elliott is interested in how we adapt in the post-vaccine world and how the ways we create, learn, work and entertain will change. She’s particularly excited that we as a community will be the genesis of change and not the corporate world or some higher organization.

“Society is experiencing grief because of how things were,” Elliott says. “We need to remember that we won’t return to normal. There will be a different future. It will contain what we value from the past and what we need to keep us safe. It will give us tools for the future.”