Recent W&J alumna Rosa Messersmith premiers first films with a projector in a classroom.

Recent alumna turns pre-pandemic plans into post-production projects; premiers first films at W&J

Created: June 6, 2022  |  Last Updated: June 22, 2022  |  Category:   |  Tagged: , , , , , ,

WASHINGTON, PA (June 6, 2022)—Recent W&J alumna Rosa Messersmith ’22 is not throwing away her shot. Or rather, her many shots, clips, and reels.

A former communication arts major with a focus on film, she turned years of undergraduate footage into two original documentaries: “No Justice, No Peace: Black Lives Matter,” and, “The First in My Family: Exploring the College Experience,” which both premiered in front of faculty, staff, family, and friends at the Howard J. Burnett Center last semester.

The first of the films, “No Justice, No Peace: Black Lives Matter,” was made in the spring of 2021 from footage of Black Lives Matter protests and subsequent student interviews. Examining frustration and dissatisfaction with an unacceptable status quo, it shares thematic threads with, “The First in My Family: Exploring the College Experience,” which reveals the disadvantages first-generation students must overcome.

Both films are personal to Messersmith, a social activist and first-generation student who created them as sort-of self-portraits.

“I tried to put myself in them in a way,” Messersmith said. “I attended the Black Lives Matter protest in Washington D.C. in 2020…and I’m a first-gen student. I think not many people understand the challenges that first-generation students and others face…, and I think documentary film making is the best way to share those types of stories.”

But learning the craft wasn’t easy.

Studying film in a broad communications program with limitations on international study posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Messersmith had to work with her advisor, Assistant Professor of Communication Arts Stevie Berberick, Ph.D, to create a specialized curriculum inspired by Messersmith’s 2019 Magellan Project.

“I went to Italy to study art and architecture,” Messersmith said of the pre-pandemic project. “One of the pieces I saw in an art show was a short film, and I just kept thinking, ‘I want to create something like that.’ So, we kind of created my own section on film where I learned how to edit videos and how to take videos and how to do interviews and put them all together.”

It was a challenging process that blended independent study with video editing internships, which made Messersmith’s W&J experience unique.

“I think I’m better for it,” Messersmith said. “Now, I can go to interviews and say, ‘If I don’t know a program, I know I can learn it because I’ve done it before.’”

Proud as she is of her accomplishments, Messersmith admits she didn’t achieve them entirely on her own.

“Having Dr. B has really helped me learn and grow,” she said. “I have to thank them so much for it because, without them, I have no idea what I would be doing.”

Sure of her path, Messersmith is already on to her next project—a second Magellan, this time in Arizona, where she is creating a new documentary on immigration.

“I’m really glad that I have the chance to do this,” Messersmith said. “I think with a pandemic and all of these other outside challenges, it’s kind of been really crazy and really hectic, but I’m really happy with how things turned out and I’m really excited to see what else is ahead.”

About Washington & Jefferson College

Washington & Jefferson College, proudly located in Washington, Pa., is a historic liberal arts college founded in 1781 that values ethical leadership, professional readiness, and inclusive communities. Our highly customized and intellectually engaging student experience develops professionals of uncommon integrity to lead in an ever-changing world. For more information about W&J, visit or call 888-W-AND-J.