Bryant University student James Tiner in his band uniform
At Bryant University, Digital Communications major James Tiner '24 found a close-knit welcoming community and an education that helped him to harness his creativity.
James Tiner ’24 plays from the heart
May 09, 2024, by Stephen Kostrzewa
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There’s a sort of Zen to drumming, notes James Tiner ’24, who has been banging the skins and playing in bands since fifth grade. “You’re part of the backbone of the band,” he says. “You’re not always featured, but you’re always there keeping the beat. 

“And sometimes,” he smiles, “you get to add your own little flair.”

In just a few short years, Tiner has become part of the backbone for Bryant University’s creative scene, and for the greater community as well. From leading the charge as a member of the Athletic Band to cheering at national competitions to carrying the university's message around the world, he’s been an integral part of Bryant and found opportunities to make his own mark, as well.

It’s almost hard to believe he hasn’t been here the whole time. Tiner started his college career as a teaching student at another school, where he was doing well, but something didn’t feel quite right. The fit wasn’t perfect, and he had a nagging feeling he wanted to try something else, something a little more creative. 

The answer turned out to be in something he loved: music. Tiner had a few friends in the Bryant University Athletics Band — proudly known as The Sound of Smithfield — and would regularly go see them play. When the band needed a percussionist, they convinced Tiner, who is always quick with an easy smile and helping hand, to sit in.

As soon as he joined, he was instantly welcomed into the fold and even traveled with the band to Dayton, Ohio, when the Bryant Men’s Basketball Team competed in the NCAA Tournament. “It's always been almost like a family; we get to know each other super well,” Tiner notes, crediting the director, Dr. Matthew Visconti, with smoothing the transition. “They’ve become some of my best friends, and it's a lot of fun. You create your own connection through the music and that still exists when it stops.”

Playing with the band helped him to make other connections as well. “I got to know the campus a little better as a member of the band and, when I did, I fell in love with the community,” Tiner says. “I came from a small town and the sense of closeness — the sense that everyone knows each other here — really appealed to me.”

The rest, as they say, is history. Tiner chose to transfer to Bryant and the university’s Admission staff helped him navigate the process and make sure he could fit into his new home. “It was a big risk switching schools in my junior year,” he notes. “But I’m so glad I did.”

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Now the commuter student is a fixture at Bryant. “If I’m not sleeping, I’m probably on campus,” he jokes. “Bryant’s not a big school — there’s less than 4,000 students — but there are so many opportunities, so many ways to get involved, and there’s always a place for you.”

James Tiner at Bryant University's Transfer Orientation
This past summer, James Tiner '24 helped transfer students acclimate to their new home as an Orientation Leader.

For Tiner, there have been many places throughout Bryant’s creative community. “I call it a small/big community because, while it's definitely a smaller part of the campus, it's a great part of the campus because everybody knows each other,” he says.

Playing with the Athletic Band, for instance, led to performing with the Bryant Singers. “I’m not the best singer,” he acknowledges modestly. “But I try.”

That's another thing that sets Bryant’s creative scene apart, says Tiner. “Most of us aren’t going on to do music after college, so we’re part of these groups because we love what they’re doing and because we’re passionate about it.”

It also helps that Tiner is known for lending a hand. When WJMF, Bryant’s student-run radio station, needed assistance with its website, Tiner jumped in, which led to a position on their executive board.

His willingness to assist led to the spotlight as well. In his senior year, Tiner joined the Bryant cheer team, which recently took second place in the Game Day 1 Division at the National Cheerleaders Association and National Dance Association competition in Daytona, Florida. “I never thought I would be a cheerleader,” he chuckles. “But they needed somebody to help with the stunts and I was there. So, there I was, competing on a national stage in front of thousands of people and having a lot of fun.”

Tiner found a perfect fit for his creative pursuits in his new Digital Communication major, where students learn to design, produce, and manage digital content for a variety of contexts and careers. “I've never thought of myself as an artistic person: I was terrible at drawing, terrible at painting, whatever. I was always coloring outside of the lines,” he says. “But with digital communication I found my art, and I found out how to make it into a career.”

It’s not dissimilar from playing music, he notes. “Every musician plays a little differently,” says Tiner. “We play the same song, but we each play it our way and put our own spin to it. With Digital Communications, you learn how to be part of a brand, but still be yourself.”

Within his major, Tiner has taken courses ranging from video production to communication theory to personal branding. “It’s such a big spectrum,” he points out, likening it to the many instruments that make up a band. “You need all the tools you can possibly have, and you need to know how they all work together.

“I walk around on campus and there’s my work on a giant screen and I know people from all over are watching it. That’s an amazing feeling.”

“Almost every day I learn something new and realize, ‘Oh, this relates to a class I just took,’” he explains. “Or that I'm doing a very similar thing in this other class, and maybe now I can take it in a different direction.”

Outside of the classroom, Tiner works as a Bulldog Producer, where he helps to shape the university’s social media presence by creating student-focused content for Instagram and TikTok. It's given him a chance to hone his digital communications skills in front of a live, institutional audience with a global reach and he's especially proud of a series of video tours of campus he led, a project he helped to develop from inception to posting.

“It’s really amazing to have a purpose and actually see it through,” says Tiner, who is also marketing director for the Athletic Band. “I walk around on campus and there’s my work on a giant screen and I know people from all over are watching it. That’s an amazing feeling.”

Paige Zuber, Bryant’s assistant director of social media marketing, has taken him under her wing, Tiner says, and helped him with everything from career advice to learning about digital analytics. “She’s showing me how all of this really works, what it means to be a social media manager and what it takes to have a career in this field.

“She’s also given me the chance to grow,” he says.

Looking back, Tiner says, his time at Bryant has helped him to grow a great deal, and that growth has happened over the course of a very short period. “I've only been here for about two years. I think I’m most proud of all of the work I've put in in that short time and all the connections I've made in the community.”

Tiner, in turn, has helped that community to grow by welcoming new members. This past year, Tiner volunteered as an orientation leader, where he assisted new transfer students with acclimating to their new home. “I’ve had such a positive Bryant experience, even though I've only been here a year,” says Tiner. “I want to make sure that other students have that same experience.”

Making the transition can be a challenge, he counsels, but it comes more naturally if you open yourself up to it. “I tell students my story and I tell them, don't be afraid to try new things and don’t be afraid to change,” says Tiner. “You’ve gotta put yourself out there.”

He tells them to play from the heart. 

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