One of many Spartan Saga banners hanging around campus. (Photo credit: Justine McGuire)

Every day Spartans spread the green. Spartan Green that is; locally, nationally, and internationally. MSU students come from all over the world. According to MSU’s Student Profile Report, there are students from 43 different countries and all 50 states in just the entering class of  2010 (freshman and transfer students), many of whom will be returning home after their respective graduation dates.

Chapter President of PRSSA and senior advertizing major, Julia Wendzinski said, “On the [Spartan Sagas] site, the accounts from Spartans are coming in from around the world in every field of study, which shows the diversity of MSU.”

Every Spartan has made a difference in some way and has a story to tell. Spartan Sagas is a new tool for students, staff, faculty and alumni to tell their unique narratives.

“Spartans do great work, but they’re often not willing to toot their own horn. We’re trying to help facilitate that,” said Kurt Stepnitz, university photographer with University Relations.

The inspiration for Spartan Sagas came through MSU’s new branding operation.

“The concept that ‘Spartans Will’ do things that make a difference in the world every day was the inspirational kernel that lead to telling the stories of notable and hard working Spartan graduates, students and staff. It’s an easy connection to make, being around so many amazing people and seeing what they do day in and day out, trying to solve local, regional and worldwide problems as Spartans,” said Stepnitz.

Executive Producer of academic programming for the Big Ten Network for MSU and Director of Photography/Videography with University Relations, Jim Peck added, “[Spartans Will] is kind of the tagline, the notion that we want to leave people with. It’s a powerful thing; it speaks to what people are doing or what they will do. I think people can’t help but fill in that blank.”

Work on the Spartan Sagas project began in the late spring of 2010 and the first sagas were posted to the website that July.

Stepnitz is one of several staff members at University Relations who helps document featured Spartan Sagas. Stepnitz, lead still photographer, has been all over the U.S. and even to the U.K. to catch up with exceptional Spartans.

“I travel, generally with our executive producer and one of our videographer/producers to put together multimedia pieces that tell the stories of our subjects,” said Stepnitz.

Sending several people all over the world to document Spartans costs one pretty penny, $189,086.34 to be exact. According to some, this is money well spent.

“I do think that it is important for MSU to be conducting the Spartan Sagas campaign. I remember seeing commercials and billboards in the past for other universities and wondering why I never saw anything like that for MSU. It’s important for MSU to communicate the value of a Michigan State education,” said Wendzinski.

“Possible Spartans to be profiled have been (and continue to be) nominated by the collective Spartan family. Featured Spartans are considered for the Sagas, by simply doing extraordinary things, locally, nationally or even internationally. Making a difference somewhere in the world,” said Stepnitz.

“Some [sagas] are big stories with people that you would know about and others you would have never heard off. What connects them all is Michigan State,” said Peck.

“By showcasing the impressive talents currently at MSU and that have graduated from our college I think MSU will become an even more respected in the realm of top-performing universities,” said Wendzinski.

Unfortunately, the Sagas team cannot produce all the stories that are submitted to them, “They’re all wonderful, it’s a question of which ones stand out and which ones are visual. It’s not that we throw any out, we can just get to so many at a time; we usually do about 3 a month,” said Peck.

As a result, some of the Spartan Sagas website is devoted to what has come to be known as community sagas.

“A large part of the Saga website is dedicated to encourage others to post their own stories, or those of another Spartan they know. The pieces that we produce professionally are designed to help encourage Spartan students, faculty, staff and alumni to contribute their own sagas to the project,” said Stepnitz.

All Featured Spartan Sagas are shown on the MSU Today Show which airs on both PBS and the Big Ten Network. There is even a possibility of eventually putting community sagas on the show.

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The Spartan Sagas project is part of MSU’s new branding campaign.

“The goal is to raise the profile and reputation of the university. We want to let people know about the good work that’s going on here,” said Peck.

University Relations, MSU’s public relations (PR) department is in charge of everything sagas; nevertheless, Peck does not see Spartan Sagas as a PR move.

“I don’t think it’s a PR move in the sense we’re trying to sell something; whether they’re alum, staff or students, these are people that call themselves Spartans and are making a difference in the world,” said Peck. “These are people speaking from their hearts; we don’t script it or set anything up.”

But according to Wendzinski, that laid-back style is part of the campaign’s power.

“I definitely don’t think that it’s less of a PR campaign because the sagas are unscripted, that’s actually something that I think makes Spartan Sagas much more of a PR campaign than an advertizing campaign. I think Spartan Sagas is working to sell the idea of what it means to be a Spartan through the words of Spartans themselves,” said Wendzinski.

Peck admitted that Spartan Sagas is trying to sell something: an education at MSU. “We want people to want to go here, or to want to send their kids here,” said Peck.

“A lot of people think that PR means ‘spinning’ a story in favor of an organization and strictly monitoring what’s being communicated. Really, PR is about communicating openly with a public and telling an organization’s story,” said Wendzinski.

Those who have seen or been part of the sagas campaign have found it inspiring to see everything the diversity of things that Spartans are doing around the world to spread Spartan Green.

“[Spartan Sagas] has definitely impressed me so far. I can see the potential in the campaign because as a Spartan, seeing the commercials and Sagas instills a sense of pride in me,” said Wendzinski.

“None of these people have much in common, except that they are all Spartans,” said Peck.

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