How an engineering student from Ohio became a filmmaker fluent in Swahili
Turner Adornetto’s Ohio State journey started simply enough. He picked a major, engineering, and started down that path. But before long, he wanted to branch out.
So he did. Over and over again.
By graduation, not only had he completed his course work in electrical and computer engineering, but he also minored in science and technology studies, was fluent in Swahili, studied abroad twice and created two documentaries chosen for film festivals.
“I became a different person here at Ohio State,” said Adornetto, who graduated in the spring of 2019. “It was a transformation.”
It all began with two years of engineering courses. Following a 2015 science and engineering research internship in Germany through anexchange program — the result of a scholarship for STEM students — Adornetto used 2016 to explore other disciplines at Ohio State, taking elective courses in comparative studies and filmmaking.
The discussion-style classes were a breath of fresh air and revealed fascinating forms of expression.
In the theater department, Adornetto took an honors course called Moving Image Art, where he re-discovered a childhood passion for making films and videos and gained a valuable mentor in Vera Brunner-Sung, an assistant professor.
“Vera was the first person to show me there’s a whole world outside of engineering at Ohio State and I could be a part of it,” Adornetto said.
He also began taking comparative studies courses, beginning with a class called Modernity vs. Post-Modernity, during which Professor Phillip Armstrong showed “Darwin’s Nightmare,” a documentary about how European aid to the people of Tanzania has damaged the region.
The film inspired Adornetto to begin thinking of making similar documentary-style films. It also pushed him to apply for the Boren Scholarship, which helps students learn new languages through immersion study abroad. Through the scholarship, Adornetto studied Swahili before traveling to Arusha, a city at the foot of Mount Meru in Tanzania.
From August 2017 to June 2018, he studied in Tanzania, where he became fluent in Swahili, completed two internships and researched how residents imagined their futures alongside solar energy technologies. His work became the basis of his Denman Undergraduate Research Forum project, “Sociotechnical Imaginaries of Solar Energy in Tanzania,” which compared and contrasted the ways Tanzanians viewed solar energy technology, illustrating a complex web of political goals and ideas.
The research also became his senior thesis. Adornetto is making a film about the experience.
“It really took Ohio State as a giant, expansive institution for all of this to be possible,” said Adornetto, who wants to be a science and technology studies scholar. “Each place I went, I found someone who was welcoming. Those conversations pushed me in the right direction.”