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Inside DELTA: 5 Questions with John Gordon

A man in a grassy field just about to launch a frisbee

You could say that John Gordon lost his marbles when he came to work at DELTA. 

That is, he lost his employee badge at Marbles Kids Museum, where he produced interactive digital exhibits and multimedia IMAX presentations (and at its predecessor Exploris, hailed as the world’s first global interactive museum and hands-on learning center for children and adults alike) for more than 12 years. 

Before the museums, John taught high school media classes. 

With so many years of experience working at the intersection of media creation and education, joining the DELTA Digital Learning team nearly 16 years ago was an easy choice. 

“Creating instructional media at a major university like NC State seemed like a natural move,” John said. “DELTA is a perfect fit for my interests.” 

What is your role with DELTA?

John is the Associate Director of Instructional Media Production for Digital Learning at DELTA, where he manages a five-person team of producers and cinematographers who design, develop and produce instructional media in their state-of-the-art studio for online classes at NC State. 

A good chunk of John’s time involves administrative functions for his team: HR tasks, managing budgets, overseeing facilities and meeting with his team and other stakeholders. 

But he continues to lead media projects, as he says, “just to keep my hand in the work.” And what he really enjoys about the work is “looking over the horizon” — consulting with clients and researching industry trends — to continue meeting the needs of the university community.  

“I’ve learned over the years to not just wait for the work to come to me,” he said. “I like to look out over the horizon and anticipate places where DELTA can assist.”

What is your background?

Though he grew up in Massachusetts and went to college at Syracuse University, John has called Raleigh home for 32 years. Shortly after getting married, he and his wife, Mary-Benton, moved to North Carolina for her to pursue her MS in Business Administration at NC State — and have been here ever since. 

“I was ready for a change of scenery,” John said. 

At Syracuse, John studied television and radio production, earning his BA from the Newhouse School of Public Communication and a minor in political science. He earned a teaching certificate at Westfield State College (MA) and various certifications, over the years, in management, media producing, directing, scriptwriting, cinematography and photography.

What is your favorite experience at DELTA?

Lugging camera equipment to a lonely highway at 2 a.m. for ten seconds of footage of a truck driving might not sound like the makings for a great work day for some — but for John and his team, it was the only way to do the job right.

“Hopefully, the shot draws the student into the story of food safety,” he explained.

Working on a project that came to be known as the Howling Cow Case Study for students in an online Food Safety Managers Certificate program, John and his team created a series of 15 videos at and about NC State’s own Howling Cow ice cream production facility. 

The goal was to offer real-world exposure to a food plant, including an interactive 360-degree facility tour (designed by Mike Cuales’ team), through which students would gain invaluable insight into the basics of food safety, quality control and operations management. 

Three men in a kitchen setting preparing to shoot a video
John prepares for a take at the Howling Cow ice cream production facility.

Creating media that authentically represented the experience of working at the plant was paramount to John and the team — even if that authenticity meant shooting at 2 a.m., when dairy operations begin, to get the ‘hook’ shot of a milk truck’s headlights in the darkness

The project was a ‘howling’ success, winning an award for its innovative pedagogy in 2015. And to John’s delight, it helped launch a stronger emphasis on documentary-style instructional video production at DELTA.

“We worked really hard on the Howling Cow,” John said. “After that project, people started knocking.”

What do you enjoy about your job?

Coming up on his 16th year with DELTA, John still deeply enjoys his work — especially the big picture moments. “I love the challenge of a new project when the ideas are allowed to flow and the realities of time and money have yet to be considered,” he said. 

John also loves the opportunity to take the work to where the students are. “Our creative media teams spread out across the Triangle and the state with cameras and mics, going to the places faculty want their students to see and experience,” he explained. “It’s one of the joys of the job.”

Perhaps the best part of his work, and what keeps him energized, is the people: “Meeting new people and learning about what they do at the university and how we can help them,” he said, “never gets old.”

What do you do in your spare time?

John has so many hobbies and interests that it’s hard to imagine when he has time to sleep. 

Introduced to swimming by their son Tom, who swam for Emory University on a team that earned four national championships, John and Mary-Benton fitness swim together nearly every morning. Early. Like five a.m. early.  

John and Mary-Benton hiking Canyonlands National Park in Utah.

They are also devoted hikers, taking frequent advantage of local spots including Umstead, Falls Lake, Harrison Lake and Eno River State Parks. Over the last few years, they have traveled to several national parks for bigger hikes: Zion, Arches, Canyonlands and Capital Reef did not disappoint. 

John is an avid disc golf player, self-described personal finance nerd, documentary filmmaker and afficionado, the family cook and an enthusiastic reader of both fiction and historical nonfiction (he’s currently reading Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation, a Pulitzer-prizewinning history of the lives of America’s founders, so feel free to ask him about dead presidents). 

And finally, John and Mary-Benton love to travel. They take any opportunity to visit their kids: Tom in Boulder, Colorado and daughter Catherine in New York City. On deck this summer are a weeklong trip to the Adirondacks and a hiking trip through western Colorado. 

Four white adults posed in cold weather gear and smiling at the camera
The Gordon family: daughter Catherine, wife Mary-Benton, John and son Tom.

While hiking Zion last year, John and Mary-Benton met Dutch friends who subsequently invited them as guests to the Netherlands, where they visited last fall. This year, they are returning the hospitality and look forward to exploring the Raleigh area through the eyes of their Dutch guests — in keeping with John’s love of meeting new people. 

“I don’t collect objects, because I hate to dust,” he said. “I collect and nurture friendships.”