It’s summer in Cecilia Lenk’s garden.
“I am a long-time organic gardener. I have a huge vegetable garden and lots of flowers everywhere,” she says.
When she’s not gardening, she’s playing games, walking their family dog, or attending a community meeting as a Town Councilor. Cecilia works as a creative strategist at FableVision – that means she writes almost all of the project proposals. It’s likely if you’ve received a proposal from us, you’ve either directly or indirectly met Cecilia.
As a creative strategist, Cecilia gets to see a project go from proposal to concept to completion, and every step in between.
“I like people and I enjoy working out with them to figure out how to bring their vision to reality,” Cecilia says. “I always feel good about the proposals [we send out]. We do our best to think through all aspects of the project, from creative to budget and schedule. And our clients agree. We have great projects and great work.”
You hold degrees in geography, environmental engineering, and biology. Considering these interests, how did you first get involved in designing and developing digital media?
Even as I was finishing my Ph.D. in biology, I knew I wanted to have a career that involved computing and the emerging Internet. And I was even luckier to get a job at TERC in Cambridge heading an educational technology project linking classrooms around the world to share data from science experiments. We had to go through incredible hurdles to do something that would be so easy now, but it was an amazing experience and started me designing and developing digital media for both education and business. I joined Tom Snyder Productions, where I first worked with Peter Reynolds, then started my own company, and eventually joined the corporate world as Vice President of Technology and Digital Design at Decision Resources.
Can you share any career highlights?
I’ve had a truly great career. Highlights –
- Working with some of the pioneers of educational technology – Bob Tinker at TERC and Tom Synder, Rick Abrams, and David Dockterman at Tom Synder Productions; and of course Peter and Paul Reynolds
- Starting my own company
- Working with clients around the world at Decision Resources
- Joining FableVision
- Being elected a Town Councilor in Watertown
What’s the process for writing a proposal?
First, writing a proposal is truly a team effort. Usually a client provides a written request for a proposal (RFP) and we follow up with email and phone calls to better understand the goals of the project and the client’s vision. For example, National Geographic Society and Michigan State University had a fascinating lab-based curriculum, Carbon TIME, which they wanted to supplement with a video series.
After we get an RFP, I first talk with my incredible team of Andrea Calvin and Sarah Ditkoff to figure out will be needed for the proposal and the schedule for putting it together. Leigh Hallisey, our Creative Director, and I work closely on the creative approach.
For the Carbon TIME videos we needed to think through how to creatively embed science content ranging from combustion to digestion and photosynthesis. Can we weave in a story? Characters? Humor? What will appeal to both teens and teachers? How will we use live action and/or animation? The creative brainstorming can get a little wild with lots of drawing on the white board, coffee, and laughing. Leigh and I will often come to work with some new ideas we want to bounce off each other.
We then take our solid ideas to Karen Bresnahan, FableVision’s Executive Producer, who brings her incredible experience and helps us tweak the concepts and puts together the right production team, budget, and schedule. We’ll also bring in some of our artists to help create sketches that envision what the video (or game or app) might look like.
Then it is time to actually write the proposal. Andrea, Sarah, and I not only work well together, but we really work well together under pressure – which is all of the time. Once we have conceptualized, budgeted, scheduled, illustrated, written, designed, proofed, tweaked, nuanced, and polished – off goes the proposal. And we cross our fingers!
And then the actual project begins. For Carbon TIME, it was very hands-on. The Studio became a science lab. Everyone here loves science so the team went all in. We grew lettuce and mold, and fed mealworms. We then redid the labs in front of the cameras. With the help of the developers from Michigan State and the National Geographic team, we filmed the experiments. The Carbon TIME videos are now being tested in actual classrooms and will be available on the National Geographic website in 2015.
More about Cecilia:
What is the hardest part of your job at FableVision?
Days when the words and sentences just won’t come, and a client proposal is due are the worst.
We’ve heard rumors that you have a pretty creative family – your husband is a musician and one of your daughters recently released a game – what else do they do?
I have an amazing family. My husband is a paleontologist and a musician. He and his band just returned from a short tour with Bonnie Raitt. We have traveled all over the world together. Sometimes I join him on his fieldwork — in the Grand Canyon, northern Scotland, Australia, France, or wherever. I’m really quite good at measuring geologic sections. And, on our trips we always manage to spend time eating fabulous food (I will eat absolutely anything), tracking down Paul Klee paintings, and hanging out with friends.
We are both immensely proud of our children. Our older daughter and our new son-in-law graduated from Tulane and are now working in Boston — she’s an accountant, he is a computer scientist. Working nights and weekends, they and three friends just released their first mobile game, Farmageddon, and are working on another game. Can I give a shout out to NerdPile Games? Our younger daughter is at UMass Amherst — double majoring in microbiology and history. She has her EMT certification and is also the most incredible baker. Her scones are the best ever.
And you’re also a Town Councilor in Watertown, MA. What does that consist of?
I’m in my third term on the Council, which is the legislative part of the government of Watertown. We debate and pass ordinances, vote on the town and school budgets, and establish the policies that the Town Administration puts into place. I head the Public Works Committee of the Council which works on everything from street and sidewalk repair, water and sewer maintenance, walking and bike paths, parks, to energy conservation, storm water issues, and trash and recycling. I am also on the Budget and Fiscal Oversight and the Personnel Committees. As a Councilor, I’ve been very involved in expanding the Town’s use of technology, improving our park and recreation facilities, including new dog parks and a Riverfront trail, implementing new trash and recycling policies, and helping the town and residents create both an Economic Development and a Comprehensive Plan for Watertown.
Any summer vacation plans?
Italy!!! (Editorial note: please take us with you.)