The OSIX Experience -- Telling the Story

Amantha Cole '03

National Security . . . Open source . . . Blogs . . . Threat assessment . . . Twitter . . . Fusion Center . . . Facebook . . . Briefings . . . Intelligence analysis . . . Chatrooms . . . The Open Source Intelligence Exchange . . . OSIX.

These are the words and phrases now an everyday part of our institutional lexicon since the establishment of the Open Source Intelligence Exchange (OSIX) at Fairmont State University in 2009.

OSIX is unique, pioneering and successful, and Fairmont State and the College of Liberal Arts have enthusiastically promoted this academic program and the opportunities for applied, experiential learning. Then, when OSIX was selected to receive a $100,000 matching grant from the West Virginia Research Trust Fund, the FSU Office of Institutional Advancement and the Fairmont State Foundation, Inc., joined in to promote OSIX—and this special giving opportunity—to alumni, donors and potential partners.

OSIX has become a common phrase on campus and even in the community, yet many questions remain about what goes on in the lab. What exactly is OSIX? And, what do these student-analysts really do?

Earlier this year, a small group of Institutional Advancement staff, Foundation staff and board members, and OSIX director, David Abruzzino, sat around a conference table discussing new ways to showcase the program—and to answer these questions.

“We have something really special on campus, and we knew we needed to find a way to more fully tell the OSIX story. We wanted to convey in the most powerful way the significance of the work these student-analysts are doing,” said Dr. Fred Fidura, Interim Vice President of Institutional Advancement.

The team enlisted the help of professional filmmaker and Fairmont State College alumnus Robert (Bob) Tinnell ’83. Bob and his brother Jeffrey (Jeff) Tinnell are co-founders of Allegheny Image Factory, a full service production company. Bob is an experienced and award-winning writer, director and producer. Jeff, who also attended Fairmont State College prior completing his degree at the College of William & Mary, has more than twenty years of experience as an award-winning television and motion picture producer.

“The OSIX program offers students a unique opportunity to experience the ‘real-world’ drama that can be encountered in Intelligence gathering, so we felt Bob’s success in the film and promotional video industries would be a natural fit to capture this excitement for everyone to see and appreciate,” said Cannon Wadsworth, member of the Fairmont State Foundation, Inc., Board of Directors.

When approached with the idea of creating a short promotional film to aid in fundraising and recruitment efforts for the OSIX program, Bob quickly saw an opportunity for much more. After meeting with Professor Abruzzino and the student-analysts in the OSIX lab, Bob and Jeff took the team’s basic idea for a three-minute infomercial about OSIX and created a short film that captures the essence of the OSIX experience.

Holding true to their  motto of “we build stories,” the Allegheny Image Factory crew came to campus and worked with Professor Abruzzino and the OSIX student-analysts to recreate the story of the OSIX team’s efforts in providing real-time intelligence support to the West Virginia Fusion Center during President Obama’s 2010 visit to Beckley. Rather than simply telling an audience in a generic infomercial style that OSIX students assess security threats through open sources and provide intelligence support to agencies, Bob’s well-crafted script shows in an engaging nine-minute short film, titled The OSIX Experience, how the OSIX student-analysts do what they do.   

“We were excited as a company for the opportunity to show folks in the region just what we are capable of as narrative storytellers,” Bob said. “We firmly believe there are tremendous opportunities for institutions and businesses to convey their messages through dynamic short form films – and we’ve done that in the past but not with the sensibility of movies or television shows.  The OSIX Experience was the perfect vehicle for us to showcase our Hollywood-style abilities because it was such a compelling story to begin with.  We shot it and cut it like an action movie because the story deserved that treatment.”

"As a cutting edge production company, we have to be looking at new ways to get a client’s message out," Jeff said.  "In addition to promoting an interesting aspect of Fairmont State University, this production for us was a great way to establish a proof of concept for this manner of storytelling."

While the fundraising efforts to raise the match for the Research Trust Fund grant continue successfully, additional donations are needed to secure the entire grant funds available by the March 2013 deadline. Institutional Advancement and the Foundation are hopeful that this film will encourage more alumni and donors to lend their support to the OSIX program and help the University receive the remaining grant funds.

“We could not have told the OSIX story in such a meaningful way without Bob and Jeff’s expertise, and we greatly appreciate the fact that they went above and beyond our expectations to make this film truly special,” said Dr. Fidura. “Quite frankly, we are blessed to have this level of support from our talented alumni.”

“What was surprising to us was that before we were even finished shooting we were already sold on the viability of OSIX, the students, and especially David Abruzzino,” Bob said.  “Fairmont State clearly has something special going on.  To me, what’s most exciting looking from the outside-in is that OSIX graduates are actually in high demand.  They’ve picked up meaningful skillsets that will serve them well. We’re just grateful we could participate in getting such a powerful success story out to the public.”

The OSIX Experience premiered with a special showing and a celebration party on the evening of December 13. The red-carpet themed event was well attended by nearly 100 members of the community. Various industries, government offices, and professional colleagues attended to show their support of OSIX.

“As scholar analysts, we always feel like what we do is important,” remarked a student in the OSIX program. “Unfortunately, so many of those things are sensitive and cannot be broadcast publicly. The beauty of what Bob and Jeff have done is not only allowing us to talk about the big breakout moment for our organization, but also to tell the story in a way that is visually stimulating and exciting. The OSIX Experience shows this wonderful past success for our organization while also speaking to our capabilities for the future.”

Interim Vice President of Institutional Advancement, Dr. Fred Fidura
President Maria Rose presents a token of appreciation to Bob Tinnell '83 and Jeff Tinnell.
OSIX Director, David Abruzzino
President Maria Rose gives welcoming remarks.
Nearly 100 students, alumni, faculty, staff and community members attended the premiere party.
Allegheny Image Factory co-founders Jeff and Bob Tinnell