News Stories

Civilian of Quarter inspires students to be better storytellers

By Alexandra Siemiatkowski | Defense Information School | February 22, 2016

FORT MEADE, Md. --

Robert W. Stenberg’s  journey to becoming the Civilian of the Quarter at the Defense Information School on Fort Meade started with a change in occupational specialty.

When Stenberg joined the Air Force in 1985 on an open contract, he was hoping to become a graphics technician. However, he ended up as a security police officer.

Before entering the Air Force, he had taken a computer animation course, so when he was given the chance to cross-train at the end of his first enlistment, he did some research and chose television production.

That led him to Lowry Air Force Base in Colorado, where he discovered that most of the other students were new to the military. Stenberg helped with their studies and gave them career advice.

“I mentored them a lot and figured out that I actually enjoyed that aspect of it,” he said.

Following  a 21-year career in the Air Force and eight years as a civilian audiovisual technician, Stenberg took a job as a videography instructor at DINFOS.

He has devoted himself to helping students become better storytellers for the past four years and was named the DINFOS Civilian of the Quarter on Feb. 8 in recognition of his efforts.

Stenberg said he was shocked by his selection.

“I was completely floored and surprised,” he said. “I am a behind-the-camera, behind-the-scenes kind of guy.”

But Marine Cpl. Rebecca Whitworth, a student in the Intermediate Videography Course, for which Stenberg is the only instructor, said his selection made perfect sense.

She praised his creativity and his dedication to ensuring his students get the best training possible, no matter the circumstances.

“Mr. Stenberg has taught me so much, not only about video shooting itself and the editing process, but how to be a more creative person and how to take whatever I see in my head and make that into a production that I like,” she said.

He also helped her understand how to use Adobe After Effects software, which was new to her before she began the five-week course.

“I felt as though I was behind the power curve compared to the other students,” Whitworth said. “Mr. Stenberg helped me through all the hiccups I was having with learning the program and encouraged me to be creative with my products.”

In the Intermediate Videography Course, the students are at different skill levels, Stenberg said. His objective is to sharpen and refine those skills.

“What I really enjoy is giving them new tools for their toolbox as they are doing their projects, seeing them actually use those tools,” he said. “They all can tell a stronger story by the time they graduate.”

Besides being an illustrator, animator, graphic artist and videographer, Stenberg is also a photographer. He said he started concentrating on photography several years ago after realizing it was one of his weaknesses.

“It is really easy to do one thing that you are good at,” but harder and even more important to work on other things to become stronger overall, he tells his students.

When Stenberg first started teaching the Intermediate Videography Course, it was three weeks long and offered four times a year. Stenberg did some research and made a case that the course needed to be longer; now, it is five weeks long and taught eight times a year.

There is nothing Stenberg wouldn’t do for his students, said Gary Sejour, the academic director of the visual communications department at DINFOS.

“Mr. Stenberg is the kind of person who is always going to come in early, stay late and do whatever it takes to make sure that the course is taught and taught to standard,” Sejour said.

In November, Stenberg bruised a lung and developed  pneumonia. At 40 percent lung capacity, he would have been hospitalized. He was at 45 percent, though, and kept teaching.

For two weeks, he would meet with his students in the mornings to ensure they had the information they needed to complete their assignments. Then, he would go home to take care of himself.

In a sense, this is Stenberg’s second time teaching at DINFOS.

In the early 1990s, he was thinking about leaving the Air Force when the first opportunity arose.

He was an instructor at the Defense Visual Information School at Lowry for a year and a half before the school moved to Fort Meade in 1994. It eventually combined with other schools to create what is now DINFOS.

For eight years, Stenberg taught a variety of courses, including video production, electronic imaging and graphics. He loved teaching, but the Air Force sent him elsewhere toward the end of his career, and he held nonteaching jobs, including an audiovisual position with the robotics division of the U.S. Army Research Laboratory in Aberdeen after his retirement.

When he returned to DINFOS as a civilian, he noticed that some of his former students who had become instructors were using ideas he had taught them.

“I would see them teach, and I would see them use examples that I used to teach or do something in a way that I would do it,” he said. “That really struck me, that here it was 15 years later, that I had impacted them in that way.”