Lauren Schiefelbein

This small town West Virginia native finds Hollywood through art and hard work.

Written by JAKE STUMP


Photographs by SCOTT LITUCHY

Ask anyone about their dream job and most of the time, you'll get an "I don't know" or a generic response.

But not if you ask Lauren Schiefelbein.

"I want to work on '30 for 30' films for ESPN," said the West Virginia University graphic design student. "I love how they're edited. I've thought about it for years. How do I get in?"

Bill Simmons, are you paying attention?

Don’t be fooled by Schiefelbein's major. Yes, she is walking away from WVU with a master of fine arts in graphic design from the College of Creative Arts.

But her body of work transcends typography and page layouts.

The Philippi native is a two-time Campus MovieFest award winner, having produced and directed short films "Headed for Home" and "Au Milieu."

In a twist of life imitating art, her movie titles accurately reflect Schiefelbein as she prepares to graduate. 


She will be "headed for home" to Barbour County, a place where she first found inspiration and appreciation for her field through her mom, a middle school art teacher.

You could also say she's in a state of being "au milieu," which is French for "in between" or "in the middle."

While she could easily have a job lined up, Schiefelbein is meticulous about what lies ahead. She'll be producing her life's next scene.

"I see it more as me interviewing them (potential employers) instead of them interviewing me," she said. "I need the right fit."

If her adaptation to college life from a town of fewer than 3,000 people is any indication, she'll find her way.

When she first arrived at WVU in 2008 to pursue her bachelor's degree in graphic design, Schiefelbein was a shy, small-town girl. Eventually, faculty mentors and opportunities to travel out of state played a role in breaking her out of her shell.

"What I accomplished at WVU goes beyond any award," she said. "I gained self-confidence."

After wrapping up her undergraduate studies, Schiefelbein dipped her toe into the job market. She soon realized that, perhaps, graduate school was her No. 1 option.

"I thought I was done with school forever," she said. "But Eve Faulkes encouraged me to look into grad school. That decision changed my path. She saw my potential and didn't want me to settle."

Faulkes, professor of art and coordinator of graphic design, worked closely with Schiefelbein on undergraduate research projects.

"Lauren is a tremendous worker, very smart and has a great loyalty to her state and where she was planted," Faulkes said. "She's also a very talented filmmaker and I could see documentaries in her future.

"However, she had not had much exposure, so even with a degree in design from my department, I didn't want to see her immediately settling for a design job in a small town without leadership skills to author some awesome projects. I convinced her to come back and do an MFA where graduate courses could give her a process for innovation design, ethnographic skills to bring to her work in communities and some social impact design opportunities."

After donning her cap and gown, Schiefelbein will set her sights on Hollywood … again. Traveling to the 15th annual Campus MovieFest Hollywood Film Summit in July will mark her fourth trip to California as a WVU student.


There she'll have the opportunity, as one of 20 student directors from around the country, to win the Fans' Choice Award and $10,000 for "Au Millieu." Her idea behind "Au Millieu" was to create a film within a film, to capture a story between life and death. But, of course, all works of art are open to interpretation, Schiefelbein said.

Schiefelbein will also get to network with filmmakers and actors on the red carpet in Hollywood.

Heading to Campus MovieFest for the second year in a row would have seemed highly unlikely for the old Schiefelbein.

"I always expected to stay close to home in West Virginia," she said. "But my experience at WVU has broadened my horizons and helped me get out of my comfort zone. When I first came here, it was intimidating."

Various research projects throughout West Virginia communities nudged her out of that comfort zone.

Her first grad school project involved the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in Weston. The asylum is the former Weston State Hospital, a psychiatric facility that operated from 1864 to 1994. It was purchased in 2007 and transformed into the asylum, which offers ghost hunts and ghost tours.

With a rift widening between the Weston community and the asylum over its controversial name and transformation, a team of WVU students, including Schiefelbein, stepped in to present a more compassionate view.

"I was project lead, and our approach was to use this as an opportunity to tell the community story of what it was like to live compassionately with the mentally ill as neighbors, employees, caregivers and residents during its 150-year history," she said.

The team's exhibit presents stories and quotations in personal forms, such as handmade books and patients' letters.

"We determined to help mend the rift between the museum owners and the town in the process," Faulkes said. "We fabricated the whole thing ourselves with silkscreening on fabric, handmade books and some panels made for us commercially. She and I won the faculty mentorship award from our college for that project."

Another project, which turned into her thesis, took her back to her hometown. Earlier this year, Schiefelbein presented this research in a public exhibit titled "Rural America: Facilitating Dialogue through Design to Create Positive Social Change."

The exhibition’s centerpiece was a case study project with a local organization called the Friends of George Byrer Field. Located in Barbour County, the group is a grass-roots organization of citizens who are seeking financial solutions to address the poor condition of the lone outdoor athletic complex in the county.

In these cases, Schiefelbein hopes her work is making a real difference.

"People see graphic design as decorative and visual," she said. "The reality is that it can be used as a tool for critical problem solving." 

Director's Chair

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