Jason Yue BSSED 2017: Engineer and Filmmaker

Emily Scott

A few years ago, SED student Jason Yue spent a summer commuting back and forth between Champaign and Minnesota. He took 11 eight-hour bus rides, but instead of plugging in his headphones for the trip, he would talk to the people around him.

Each conversation he had, on each bus ride, would last the entirety of the trip. He connected with strangers, learning something from each person along the way.

“I realized I love having conversations with people, but I wanted to do more,” Yue, now a senior, says. “I wanted to create memories for people that they’d remember.”

These experiences fueled his interest in becoming a documentary filmmaker, which may seem like an unconventional career path for an engineering student, but to Yue, it’s all about people. It’s about what he can learn from them, whether it’s a stranger on a bus, a professor, or a friend.

“We are who we are because of our interactions with people and the memories we hold,” he says.

Interacting with faculty in the ISE department has been a meaningful part of Yue’s college experience and in the development of new projects.

“Everyone that I’ve had the opportunity to interact with is incredibly approachable,” he says. “If you put in the effort to really try to understand your professors, everyone is more than willing to sit down and hear your ideas.”

While taking ISE professor Ray Price’s emotional intelligence course, he would meet Price after class each week. They would talk and journal about side projects Yue was pursuing.

“That was very critical in me falling in love with the ISE department, particularly because here’s a professor who is taking the time out of his schedule to show you that he cares, that he is willing to go the extra mile to help you succeed,” Yue says.

Building side projects related to his interest in documentary film has been a pivotal part of Yue’s college career. Inspired by the popular Facebook page “Humans of New York,” Yue started his own page, “Humans of Champaign-Urbana,” after being inspired by his interactions with strangers.

He then started a project called Jason’s List.

“I wrote down a list of 100 things I wanted to do before I died, and for everything I did off my bucket list, I’d help somebody along the way,” he says.

His first video was for his friend Eric, whose dream was to fly in a plane. He surprised him one day and took him flying, and the video he made of the experience has over 500,000 views on YouTube.

A new opportunity then arose when Yue attended a screening of a documentary by filmmaker Ian Cheney. His professor introduced him to Cheney, and they started talking about documentary film.

“I just had a really good conversation with him about being at a pivoting point in my life,” Yue says. “I basically asked to work for him. While Ian was busy in the summer, he plugged me into his network of peers.”

Yue ended up getting the opportunity to work in New York City for a summer on an upcoming TV show, “Soundtracks.”

'This is a photo from my final day at the office with the 2016 Soundtracks team,' Jason said. 'Some of the greatest people I've ever had the opportunity to work with.  Miss you guys!'
'This is a photo from my final day at the office with the 2016 Soundtracks team,' Jason said. 'Some of the greatest people I've ever had the opportunity to work with. Miss you guys!'

He began this opportunity with a limited knowledge of documentary film, but he credits his engineering education with the problem-solving that helped him tackle this experience.

“I went in confident enough that I was like, you know what? Whatever they throw at me, I am confident in my abilities to extrapolate, to figure it out, and to do good work. That’s a really powerful mindset,” he says. “I think most of what you do, as long as you do it confidently, and admit when you don’t know something, gets you very far. I think that’s what my ISE degree has helped me do.”  

His time in New York ended up being a pivotal stepping stone in shaping his career path.

“It was the first time in my life where I was just sitting in this office, I’m looking around, and I’m like, ‘I can’t believe people get paid to do this,’” he says. “It was just so mind-boggling to me.”

Though he describes himself as an intern, production assistant, and glorified coffee runner, he fell in love with being in New York and working on documentary film.

“If you’re gonna ask me to get coffee, I’m gonna be the fastest coffee grabber in New York,” he says with a laugh.

He plans to return to New York City this summer, but in the meantime, he’s working on a new video project that involves filming his journey in mastering skills he’s always wanted to learn — he’s currently learning how to beatbox — and he is also continuing his Jason’s List project.

Yue says the interactions he has had with people through his side projects wouldn’t have been possible without the help of the ISE department and faculty and staff, such as professor Richard Sowers and his advisor Heidi Craddock.

“U of I has been really great to me,” Yue says. “I really enjoyed and loved it here, and I wouldn’t trade it for any other experience.”

He sees his college experience as a series of learning opportunities, each one leading to the next. And he hopes that’s what a future in documentary film has in store.

“I just want to be constantly learning.”  


Check out one of Jason's most popular videos, as a part of his project "Jason's List." 

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