Carnegie Mellon University

Sankalp Bhatnagar

Sankalp Bhatnagar (CMU 2013)

Math and communication design student, filmmaker


Student’s Love Letter to Pittsburgh Goes Viral

Sankalp Bhatnagar (CMU’13) stood in McConomy Auditorium, taking in the scene before him—hundreds of first-year students watching a film he created. It almost seemed unreal to him that he was sitting in one of those seats just four years earlier, about to begin a journey that would take him in unexpected directions.

A math whiz in high school, Bhatnagar was on track to complete CMU’s Math Honors Program, having finished almost all of his required undergraduate math classes in two years. He was enjoying the quantitative rigor and the intellectual stimulation that math offered, but something niggled at the back of his mind—he wanted to explore his creative side. An elective class in Communication Design Fundamentals fueled his growing passion for design, so he looked into his options for adding a minor or an additional major. He chose the most challenging route—an interdisciplinary Bachelor of Science and Arts degree that combines the strengths of the College of Fine Arts and the Mellon College of Science. He is the first student to pursue a BSA degree in math and communication design.

Fast-forward to his senior capstone project—“Marketing Inspiration: A Viral Call to Action.” To weave together the elements of his two fields of study, Bhatnagar made a short, artistic film to inspire students to make the most of their college years, and he developed a quantitative plan to make his first attempt at filmmaking go viral. He collected footage, wrote the script, recruited a faculty member to do a voice-over, researched trends in viral videos and carried out an in-depth statistical analysis of the online usage trends of his target market. His analysis led him to create a multi-tiered distribution system, which included students, faculty and staff on campus, that would help make his video go viral within the undergraduate community. He also released the video during finals week to expedite rapid sharing. He succeeded—within the first one-and-a-half hours after posting the video to YouTube, more than 300 people watched it. Within 24 hours, 7,400 people had seen it.

Months later he got a call from CMU’s Office of Admissions, asking if they could use his film during Orientation. Bhatnagar watched the incoming students’ reactions to his film and received a lot of positive feedback. “It’s been really satisfying knowing that I’ve been able to help inspire students fresh to the CMU scene and ignite their passion to pursue similar creative ventures during their time here,” Bhatnagar said.

Watch the video here: