Gathered outside behind the Howard Administration Building, about two dozen students wearing Jacksonville University shirts and big smiles awaited cues from film director Bob Jury.
He waves his hands animatedly and calls out, “We’re rolling, big enthusiasm, here we go.” It marked day eight of filming for the school’s feature in “The College Tour,” an Amazon Prime series that spotlights colleges and universities around the country.
For the show’s host and executive producer Alex Boylan, this episode marked a special homecoming. Boylan is a JU dolphin himself, graduating in 1999.
“Coming back to film my alma mater, words cannot describe it,” he said. “JU has made me who I am to this day. Some of my best friends are students I went to college with. It’s been so meaningful.”
Boylan created “The College Tour,” which is now filming its fifth season, out of necessity after struggling to tour college campuses with his niece during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The mission is to tell the story of college education,” Boylan told the Times-Union. “How do you do that with 2,500 campuses across the country? We try to be as diverse as possible [with a range of campus sizes and student populations].”
Other Florida schools featured on ‘The College Tour’
Jacksonville University is a private, liberal arts university with a population of about 4,000 students. Other Florida schools featured on “The College Tour” include Florida Atlantic University, Florida International University, the University of Central Florida and Florida Tech.
Boylan describes the episode’s production as a collaborative effort between the school and his team.
“This is a six-month process to make one episode,” he said. “There’s two months of pre-production with teams meeting weekly, then on-location for almost two weeks and then post-production for two months. Then marketing and distribution — it’s a journey … we’re just finding great stories and bringing them to you.”
What to expect from The Jacksonville University episode
The Jacksonville University episode will feature a range of mini-profiles on current students, school leaders and alumni, all in the hopes of portraying a school’s vibe through viewers’ screens.
Students to be featured on this episode of “The College Tour” include a star lacrosse player, a sailing student with Olympic potential, a violinist, shark researcher and student organizers.
Sommer Kinsler, 19, is a freshman at JU who is being featured in the episode. She singlehandedly organized a Black History Month celebration this year on campus that has been lauded by school leaders.
“She wanted to do all the things and here she is. She hit the ground running at JU,” said school spokeswoman Laura Phelps.
Kinsler, who is from a small town in Georgia, said she was excited to share her experience with viewers of the show.
“The support system we have on campus, they want you to be a leader and to feel like you can achieve those things,” she said.
Boylan said stories like Kinsler’s are what sets the show apart.
“Each story is really the student. It’s not scripted, it’s not marketing,” he said. “It’s telling their story and what their life is like. What we want is peers documenting peers. Everyone knows what it’s like to be in college — we’re just getting them to open up and tell their stories.”
As the group works on filming the episode’s intro and outro segments, Boylan chats with students. Show producers remark how he’s needed to do fewer takes than usual. He says it’s because this episode is personal and that he practiced the script 10 times more than he usually would.
“I’m usually on location two-to-three hours and out. This week, it’s been eight days,” he said. “It’s fun seeing the students and seeing them get nervous about being on TV. I just tell them ‘you’ve got this. It’s going to be weird, a bunch of people staring at you. But it’ll be great.'”
He adds, “that’s the key to television — big smiles and be happy.”
The one-hour episode is expected to air this summer.
Emily Bloch is an education reporter for The Florida Times-Union. Follow her on Twitter or email her. Sign up for her newsletter.