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Endowment to support film students

Michael Petro (BA 1974) loved his studies in communications at the University of Windsor and he showed it Thursday, announcing a commitment of $500,000 toward the creation of an endowment to support undergraduate and graduate student film production.

In a virtual event attended by faculty and students from the Department of Communication, Media and Film and the School of Creative Arts, Petro discussed his experiences at UWindsor in the 1970s and during graduate studies in film at the University of Southern California.

“I loved photography and writing in high school,” Petro said. “My dad wanted me to become an engineer, but I hated engineering and math, so I signed up for psychology. But then I found out the university had a communication studies program, so I signed up for the first-year course.

“I loved it. I said to myself: this is it; this is me.”

Petro especially enjoyed production courses with professor Hugh Edmunds. After graduating from USC, Petro landed a job with a Detroit-based company producing and directing training and educational programs for Chevrolet and other major industrial clients.

By 1980, he had created his own company, MJP Communications, producing industrial and educational training films, developing virtual reality programming, and producing over 500  English-French bilingual video programs for clients that included General Motors, Toyota, Chrysler, Sony, Pioneer, Park-Davis, and the National Film Board.

“Where do I go from here? That’s perhaps the most difficult decision anyone has to make,” said Petro. “Before being an art or craft, it’s a business. The bottom line is we are storytellers.

“So you have to continually ask yourself ‘Who am I? What am I passionate about? What story can I tell?’

“If you work at something that you like, you get paid twice. I always said when I was in business that I never worked a day in my life.”

Petro said he hopes the Michael J. Petro Endowment for Film Innovation will be a lasting aid to those who are truly passionate.

“This can help you along on your own path,” he said. “I wish the next generation of filmmakers great success.”

Marcello Guarini, dean of the Faculty of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences noted that Petro has a legacy of contributing to UWindsor film programs.

“More than a couple of decades ago, Mike started donating film production equipment to Communications, Media and Film,” he said. “If you add up the value of all that equipment, the market value is in the six-figure range. So this gift today is really the latest gift in a very, very long history of generosity on Mike’s part.”

Johanna Frank, head of the Department of Communication, Media and Film said the scholarship endowment will enhance learning opportunities for students and raise the program’s profile.

“A degree in film is about developing visual, technical, critical thinking, and storytelling skills,” she said. “It’s also about maintaining a strong work ethic, an understanding of professional workplace expectations, and a commitment to a culture invested in ethics and equality.

“So, thank you, Mike, for this endowment that will help our students grow and prepare them to pursue rewarding careers in the film industry.”

—Susan McKee