School of Film & Media Arts

Faculty and Staff

School of Film & Media Arts at Playhouse Square

Meet the award-winning, accomplished faculty and staff.

The School of Film & Media Arts has attracted a range of diverse faculty members and support staff who share a track record of industry accomplishments and significant teaching experience.

Administration and Staff

Cigdem Slankard, Director and Associate Professor  - oversees operations, strategy, and academic development for the School of Film & Media Arts.

Born and raised in Turkey, Slankard came to the United States to study film and video after earning a Bachelor of Arts in Translation and Interpreting from Turkey’s Bogazici University. She earned a Master of Fine Arts in filmmaking from Ohio University and has written and directed several short film and video projects including Fresh Start (2017), Cultivation (2016) and Comfortable (2013). Her work has been featured in several exhibitions and film festivals including Istanbul International Short Film Festival in Turkey; Ohio Short Film and Video Showcase; INVIDEO, an annual international video art festival in Milan, Italy; and Exhibition 280, a national juried exhibition hosted in the Huntington Museum of Art in West Virginia.

Krista Riggs, Administrative Coordinator – or

Krista Riggs handles administrative functions for the School of Film & Media Arts. She assists the director with main operations of the school and is the point of contact for departmental inquiries. Krista has over twenty years experiences in higher education. She is the “go to person” for University related questions and experienced in many different avenues of the University. If you have a question, whether it is related to the School of Film & Media Arts or not, if she cannot answer it, she will find someone that can. Krista is always happy to assist and serve.

Rick Pitchford, Broadcast Engineer – - repairs and maintains production and editing equipment, administers media server and software-as-a-service systems, schedules space usage and manages access and security within the building.

Rick Pitchford is a licensed and certified senior broadcast engineer with over 40 years of radio and TV production experience. He has worked as the chief engineer for a public educational radio station, contract engineer for several commercial radio stations, video production engineer for educational television facilities and technical consultant for corporate and commercial production companies in Wisconsin and Ohio.

Katie Martin, Equipment Cage Coordinator –

Ellen Rooney, Odyssey & Student Success Program Coordinator and an acting professor at FMA -

Ellen has taught theater, acting, dance, and public speaking at Baldwin Wallace University, Conservatory of Music, Bowling Green State University, University of Akron, Cuyahoga Community College, Wooster College, and through many art organizations such as Beck Center for the Arts, Center for Arts Inspired Learning, and others. Dr. Rooney holds a PhD in Theater from Bowling Green State University where she served as the Department Fellow. From Tisch School of the Arts, NYU she earned a MFA in Dance and MA in Performance Studies. As an undergraduate she  was a Vail Arts Scholar at Denison University. She developed Memory Acting: Memory Technique for Actors, based on her doctoral research in the neuroscience of memory; given workshops at International schools in South Korea, locally and online; and has presented her research at academic conferences in the UK and domestically. She is a company member of Women In History where she writes and performs solo biographical dramas of historical women including: Phyllis Diller, Joan Rivers, and Dorothy Fuldheim. Serving as a Grant Writer, WIH was awarded grants from Ohio Arts Council and Cuyahoga Arts and Culture. As an actress she worked in many commercials, films, and stages—from Greg, The Bunny’s Mom for 20th Century Fox Television to Oedipus The King, in the first English speaking performance in the ancient theater of Epidaurus in Greece.

Aaron Connor, Production Coordinator –

Originally from Buffalo NY, Aaron is an independent film producer now settled in Cleveland OH. A background in theatre tech and carpentry eventually led him to a career in film production. While primarily a producer, he often works locally as a production designer and a camera assistant. His most recent films Falling Up (2022) and Long Dark Road (2023) have screened to audiences in Los Angeles, and in many other festivals across the country. Aaron is a graduate from the CSU School of Film & Media Arts with a BFA in Screenwriting & Producing.

Full-time Faculty

Tiffany Alexander has a BA from Hampton University, and a recent MFA in Narrative Media Writing from the University of Georgia.  She has worked as a Copy Editor at the Orlando Sentinel, Reporter and Assistant Metropolitan Editor for the Plain Dealer, Adjunct Professor at Metro State University in Denver, Assistant City Editor at the Denver Post, as an Editor at CNN Digital, and as an Adjunct Professor at Kent State. Outside of her journalistic past she has written children’s books and TV Pilots.

Anita Gabrosek, Assistant Professor in Post-Production, graduated from Ohio University with dual MFA’s in Film Production and Playwriting. She worked as a professional editor in New York for over a decade on narratives, documentaries and short-form television; some of her credits include the feature documentaries Cropsey and Borderline, and the television shows Impractical Jokers and MTV’s Made. In addition, she also worked at New Dramatists, one of the country’s leading playwriting centers. She has taught editing, documentary and writing courses at The Edit Center, The New School for Social Research, New York University, and most recently at Penn State where she received the Dean’s Excellence in Teaching award. Her own work includes the short film This May Pose A Continuing Threat (2019) and the full-length play Disengaged.

Assistant Professor of Practice Maria Gigante earned her Master of Fine Arts in Film from Columbia College Chicago. Her award-winning films have screened at more than 60 festivals around the world, including Berlinale, Tribeca, Chicago International and Montreal World. For more than a decade, Gigante has taught film courses at the college level while writing, directing and producing narrative and documentaries shorts, music videos and digital content. She’s especially proud of the surreal short comedy M I L K, a collaboration with FMA students and faculty, which premiered at the 2023 Cleveland International Film Festival. 

James B. Joyce Mastered the Fine Arts at Northwestern University’s Radio/TV/Film program with his film, First and Last. He would later emphasize teaching film production for almost two decades, though he would continue to work professionally. His private projects have screened nationally, and in particular he is proud of his time co-directing the National High School Institute’s Film & Video program. He now serves as an Assistant Professor, teaching film Production & Post-Production.

Evan Lieberman has a Master of Fine Arts in Screenwriting from the American Film Institute’s Center for Advanced Film and Television Studies and a PhD from Emory University’s Institute for the Liberal Arts in Film Studies/Cultural Studies. He has written, produced, directed, and/or served as director of photography on four feature films and dozens of shorts, commercials, music videos, and promotional videos. His publications span topics ranging from Mexican wrestling films to the conceptual dynamics of internet surfing with an emphasis on the history and theory of cinematography.

Nick Morr is a filmmaker and interdisciplinary artist working principally in video, sculpture, and installation. Aside from his art practice, Morr has 17 years of experience working as a cinematographer and director on documentaries, narrative fiction, music videos, and commercials. Prior to joining the faculty at Cleveland State, he taught multimedia production and digital storytelling that the University of Southern California.

In addition to over 15 years of teaching experience, Mark Schimmel has been directing and producing commercials, narrative films and episodic shows for the past 25+ years.  He’s worked with the likes of Woody Harrelson, George Strait, Jon Bernthal, Russell Wilson, and other notable celebrities.  Mark’s collective works has been recognized my film festivals, publications and studios around the globe. Mark also serves as a judge for the EMMYS and other film festivals.  As an educator, many students under his guidance have become studio executives, directors, producers and editors throughout the industry. Mark loves animals, vintage cars, fitness and when not teaching continues to work as a producer, director and editor in the commercial and narrative filmmaking industry.

Adjunct Faculty

John Ban brings 40+ years of professional TV, broadcasting and cable experience to the classroom, where he teaches media production and post production. Ban’s work has been recognized for local Emmy, Addy, Telly, Nacaa, Itva, Oiff and W.E.B awards of excellence. He earned a Bachelor of Science in Telecommunications from Kent State University and a Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction from Cleveland State University.

Allan Byrne has 25 years of experience in acting, directing, and teaching. Allan’s recent roles include Lucky in Waiting for Godot at the Beck Center, Ames in Ages Of The Moon at Ensemble Theatre, and Max in Dobama’s production of Superior Donuts. He performed for two seasons in CPT/Playhouse Square’s The Santaland Diaries as Crumpet. He was one of early members of Charenton Theatre where he appeared in True West, Glengarry Glen Ross, The Caretaker, and Oleanna. Other local productions include: The Exonerated and The Laramie Project for Dobama, Broken Glass and Awake and Sing for the Halle Theatre, Teddy in Pinter’s The Homecoming for Ensemble, and Much Ado About Nothing, Twelfth Night Henry IV and The Foreigner for Porthouse Theatre. He has performed with The Cleveland Playhouse (resident company for three seasons), Great Lakes Theatre Festival, Stage West (where he did Suzuki training and was Polonius in Hamlet), Yale Repertory Theatre and Pittsburgh Public Theatre. Film work includes General Wolfe in the PBS film The War That Made America. He has been honored with a Community Partnership for Arts and Culture Fellowship for his work as a director with productions of Richard III, The Trojan Women, Twelfth Night, and The Birthday Party. He is a certified Meisner Acting teacher and teaches this method at Cleveland State University where he also teaches Eastern Movement/Voice Training, Film, and Directing. CSU directing credits include Marat/Sade, The Oresteia, The Tempest (four American College Theatre Festival certificates), Equus, and Lysistrata.

Buddy Candela is a Telly Award-winning director/editor/producer/castingdirector/talent who was drawn to the art of filmmaking from a young age. An Ohio native, he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and Mass Communication with a focus on Digital Media production, and Master's of Liberal Studies focusing on Film and Television Production both from Kent State University. During his time at Kent, he participated in the shooting of several short films, music videos, web-series and 2 full-length feature films, “Hell at Heathridge'' and “Unlucky.” For the latter film, Buddy served as the Director, Producer, and one of the Lead Editors as well as having a small cameo in the film. In the Cleveland area, he has worked on such films as “The Fate of Furious,” “My Friend Dahmer,” “Them That Follow,” and “White Boy Rick.” On the television side, he spent time working for NBC News in Cleveland as a Production Runner, and as Broadcast Engineer for NBC-WCMH News in Columbus.

Salvatore Cardoni earned his first screenplay credit for 2008's Gnomes and Trolls: The Forest Trials, a children's animated feature that was sold to more than 80 countries and played at a dozen film festivals worldwide. He also co-wrote the 2015 award-winning documentary, Traficant: The Congressman from Crimetown. As a professional story analyst, Cardoni has "covered" more than 7,500 screenplays since 2003 for companies like ICM, United Artists and Participant Media. He holds a Master of Fine Arts in Screenwriting from Loyola Marymount University.

James Denny has been teaching film history and analysis courses at Cleveland State University since 2006. He earned his Master of Arts in Applied Communication Theory and Methodology from CSU, writing on the difference between black-and-white and color film footage in terms of the effects on audience emotion. James has co-authored various papers on film and television including those exploring character movement in film, the effects of the laugh track in sitcoms, the parallel history of film and video games, and the effects of modern 3-D movies on the audience.

Kate Donnelly

Michael Ferrari

A native of Akron, Ohio, Joe Fortunato, began his entertainment career as a research assistant on NBC’s TODAY show in the summer of 1988. After graduating from Yale University the following year, he came to Los Angeles and worked at ABC in Children’s & Family Programs where he oversaw the highly rated Bugs Bunny and Tweety Show. Joe then spent the next five years developing movies for television, starting at NBC and then as head of development at Steve Krantz Productions. From there, Joe joined the Creative Affairs team at Shukovsky English Entertainment (SEE) to help develop primetime series for the company. At SEE, he was involved with such comedies as The Louie Show, Ink, Murphy Brown and the CBS pilot Lawyers. While working closely with seasoned comedy writers, Joe became interested in pursuing a writing career of his own. He partnered with writer James Koonce, and together they spent a season as Staff Writers for the FOX comedy Living in Captivity under the tutelage of Murphy Brown creator Diane English. From there, the pair wrote several TV pilots and a feature film, Nowhere Man, which was being developed at Disney. Joe then transitioned away from the daily Hollywood grind and pursued another passion – teaching. Taking his hard-won knowledge and expertise from the entertainment industry, he has developed film, media & screenwriting classes for secondary school students in Los Angeles and Arizona and has been a full time Principal Lecturer with the Sidney Poitier New American Film School at Arizona State University for over 12 years. In addition to being on the faculty, Joe is currently pursuing a PhD in Journalism and Mass Communication at ASU. He is also the creator of "Fortunato Film School" a popular program where he hosts screenings of classic films with live commentary for cinema enthusiasts all around the country.

Dagna Griffin

Jay B. Johnson has a BFA in Film and Art from Ohio University with over 25 years in the business as a Director of Photography, Camera Operator, Gaffer and Editor for documentaries, commercials, corporate and promotional pieces. His work has appeared on network tv, streaming services and in major film festivals. He also wrote and directed several short films, music videos and an independent feature film that won Best Feature at the Los Angeles DV Film Festival in 2006. Presently he teaches Cinematography part-time at CSU, Cuyahoga Community College and Oberlin College and Conservatory. 

Chris Mack has been an active member of Northeast Ohio's film and music community for over a decade, bringing a unique set of skills and experiences to the productions and projects he is involved with. His formal training includes a degree in Recording Arts & Technology from Cuyahoga Community College as well as a Bachelor's degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Akron. He has provided audio support for numerous short and feature length films,commercials,  musical recordings, and live events which have been showcased on Netflix, Amazon and around the world at festivals including South by Southwest and Slamdance.  He works as the On-Field Audio Coordinator during Cleveland Browns games at FirstEnergy Stadium.  He is also an avid musician, playing a wide variety of instruments. Chris also has experience working as an Electronics Design Engineer, performing research and development for various area companies and continues to explore and better understand the technology used to make sound an impactful part of the multimedia industry. He deeply enjoys anything related to science and technology, and loves the opportunity to share his knowledge and experience with others.  In addition to freelance work, he teaches as Adjunct Faculty in the Recording Arts and Technology program at Cuyahoga Community College and the School of Film and Media Arts at Cleveland State University

Christian Merrill

Matt Rager

Eric Siler has produced and directed numerous television programs in New York, Philadelphia and Cleveland. He has taught film and video production, editing, studio directing, and African film at John Carroll University, Rowan College and the famed Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts. Siler earned a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from Elizabethtown College, a Master of Fine Arts in Television Production from Brooklyn College and his Master of Education in English/Communication from Cabrini College.

Cleveland native Michael Suglio is the creator and director of the “Short. Sweet. Film Fest.” Suglio earned a Master of Business Administration from Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead School of Management. He has produced and directed a feature film and several short films and music videos, and he serves on the Board of Directors of Independent Pictures, which hosts the Ohio Independent Film Festival.

With more than 25 years of experience in the entertainment industry, John Vourlis holds a Master of Fine Arts in Film Production from the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. Vourlis was nominated for best director for his short film Rocket from the Grave at the 2013 Ohio Independent Film Festival. He most recently produced and directed Breaking Balls, a documentary about the game of bocce, which was an Official Selection of the 2017 Cleveland International Film Festival and the 2017 Chagrin Documentary Film Festival.

Rachel Wilkins Patel

Andrew Worm is an actor, producer, and director in film, television, and theatre. He is a partner in g2h films, a Cleveland-based film production company. Three of his films – On a Technicality, Technically Marvin, and Benchwarmers, have screened in festivals in Los Angeles, New York, Kansas City, and at Cleveland International Film Festival. Andrew has worked crew and been an actor in features such as In Lieu of Flowers, My Friend Dahmer, and The Bye Bye Man and was a guest star on the ABC sitcom Downward Dog. On stage, Andrew has most notably performed as Zazu in the National Tour of Disney’s The Lion King.