Doug Beckwith

BA, 1973

Literary and Cultural Studies
Film Studies

Dr. Douglas C. Beckwith was a lawyer, comedy writer, cinephile, and pioneer of online learning. Dr. Beckwith grew up in Albion, NE and attended the University of Nebraska, where he received his B.A. in English in 1973. His passion for film blossomed at UNL, and he was especially influenced by English professor emerita June Perry Levine, who taught the university’s first film studies course in 1970 and founded of the Film Studies program.

After earning his J.D. from UNL in 1975 and passing the Nebraska and California bar exams, Dr. Beckwith practiced law for a short period of time in San Francisco and Los Angeles. He loved creative work, though, and when he met comedian Lily Tomlin through friends in L.A., he was hired to write comedy for her. (Time Magazine named a one-liner he penned for Tomlin—“If love is the answer, could you please rephrase the question?”—one of the best comedy lines of the year.) He also wrote two network television variety specials: Christmas at Disney World starring Shields & Yarnell, Phyllis Diller, and others; and Dorothy Hamill’s Corner of the Sky, in which the Olympian figure skater visits her old training grounds in Lake Placid, NY.

Dr. Beckwith was a gifted educator and lifelong learner. He earned an M.A. in Applied Linguistics from UCLA with a specialty in teaching English as a Second Language. Over the years, he served as a publicist for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; taught English in China and Japan; worked as an intercultural consultant and public relations executive for multiple international companies; and eventually returned to academia to study and teach. His love of film and visual media stuck with him; in 2007, he received his Ph.D. in Human Sciences from Saybrook University in San Francisco, where he studied the nature of creativity, particularly in films. That same year, Dr. Beckwith was appointed Dean and Executive Director of Axia College, the primarily-online Associates degree program at the University of Phoenix, and later became a professor at Arizona State University. He also served as a board member for Arizona State’s Center for Film, Media, and Popular Culture. Each year, he attended the Sundance Film Festival and Telluride Film Festival with friends—including UNL classmate Joan Ronnenkamp—and he was frequently interviewed by the Arizona Republic for film reviews and analyses.

Dr. Beckwith devoted the latter half of his career to improving online teaching and learning—first as a professor, then as Lead Solutions Architect at Toolwire, a digital learning company that creates game-based educational tools called GameScapes. There, he channeled his nearly 30 years of teaching composition to address a significant gap in the online learning landscape—game-based simulations for English Language Arts. He helped launch a Writing Games Series for high school and college students, which leveraged live-action video and role-play learning to immerse students in a news broadcast setting. “Gaming can be a critical tool for helping [college students] develop the essential writing and English Language Arts skills needed to complete their degree,” he told Education World in a 2014 interview. They leveraged film and video “to capture the immediacy, the facial expressions, and the human emotions [of real-world workplaces]… producing authentic, emotionally charged experiences that are believable, relevant, and engaging for students…Seeing that impact is incredibly motivating.”

Dr. Beckwith passed away on August 21, 2019. In 2022, the Douglas C. Beckwith Film Studies Excellence Award was established in his honor by friends and fellow UNL alums Joan Ronnenkamp and Elaine Anderson. The University of Nebraska Foundation fund supports a $500 “Best Essay” prize presented each spring to a UNL Film Studies major or minor—the first Film Studies-specific prize in the Department of English’s annual writing contests.

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