LONG-DISTANCE LENS : SCCC Photography II student documents a quiet New York


where learning works badge with nameQaiyoom Olanlege came to Seward County Community College to play basketball with the nationally-ranked Saints. Along the way, he grew as an artist — and Remote Emergency Instruction worked in his favor.


When Qaiyoom Olanlege first set foot in Southwest Kansas, he wondered what people did for fun in the vast, empty space. The six-foot-seven-inch forward from Brooklyn, N.Y., missed the crowded neighborhoods and vibrant culture of home. He couldn’t believe it was a one-hour drive to the nearest Popeye’s Chicken and Starbucks. He missed his mom. But “Q,” as he was known to his friends, was in Kansas to hoop. 

Over two years as a Saint, Olanlege boosted his personal stats and experienced team success as the Saints earned regional and conference championships. All in all, though, he “was not particularly fond of” Southwest Kansas, he told the student media outlet Crusader News. “But it was a good place to lock in on for me personally because I could get into my own zoom artistically.”

College athletes are also college students, as coaches and instructors frequently remind them via scheduled study hall sessions and advising check-ins. Olanlege stacked his class schedule with courses that would help him develop as a clothing designer and artist. He enrolled in photography classes taught by Sue Sprenkle, digital design with Deedee Flax, and continued a brisk pace in output of custom clothing with his personal, vintage sewing machine. Olanlege was featured in a Crusader News story about his original T-shirt designs, hats, clothing, and Instagram promotion of what he hopes will eventually become a well-known bespoke brand. 

Basketball season wrapped up right before the coronavirus pandemic shut down normal life, including athletic competitions, practices, and recruiting trips. Like all students on campus, the college sophomore was promptly pushed into the world of remote emergency education. 

Returning to New York when the SCCC campus closed after spring break, Olanlege worked via e-mail, Zoom videoconferencing, and phone messages to complete his final semester at SCCC. The experience was surreal. 

“As his Photography 2 advanced project, he photographed the ‘empty spaces’ in his hometown,” noted photography instructor Sue Sprenkle in an online gallery narrative. “The New York native chose monochromatic as his genre for the project. Olanlege said the one color photos really added a ‘lonely’ feeling to places that were normally packed with people and full of life.”

Sprenkle said Olanlege’s work showcases unusual artistic talent — and it also serves as a powerful illustration of remote education methods. 

“For most of my professional life before I came to Seward, that’s how I worked,” said the Southwest Kansas native-turned international journalist and photographer. “It’s what I’m used to, so changing from classroom to digital methods felt normal.” While some of her students struggled to adjust, Olanlege made the most of the method, Sprenkle said. 

“My advanced Photography II students were already used to the process of completing assignments on their own, and uploading the images for grading and to share with class members,” she said. “For Q, going home gave him access to great subject matter.” 

In his photo captions, Onlanlege documented a “normally overpopulated Times Square extremely empty due to the pandemic,” empty streets, empty outdoor cafe spaces, and basketball goals stripped of their nets and rims, “as a method to promote social distancing.  

The impressive final projects submitted by her Photo II students provided Sprenkle with a shot of adrenaline at the end of a tough semester. While she’s comfortable with the remote online methods the SCCC instructors adopted to complete the year, the modality requires a different kind of attention. 

“People think online is easier for instructors, but it’s actually more work,” she said. “You’re always grading, and it takes longer because you comment more to make sure there’s some kind of interaction.” 

With semester grades recorded and summer in full swing, one aspect of the strangest semester imaginable stands out for Olanlege. Whether he worked in Kansas or Brooklyn, “I could get support from the professors in the artistic field with no problem, and for that I’m appreciative.”


To view Olanlege’s project, go to this virtual gallery. It’s best viewed on a computer, use Chrome as your browser. https://www.artsteps.com/emb…/5eaca64ff9d6356feee0c9e1/…/315

Olanlege also put together a video. View it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=esxb3RmmEaI&feature=youtu.be

To read Calen Moore’s profile of Olanlege, visit https://crusadernews.com/14755/lifestyles/sc-life/olanege-does-more-than-just-basketball/


Categories: Academic Affairs, COVID-19 Response, Humanities Division

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