The Syracuse University School of Information Studies (iSchool) sent five students to the 2011 South by Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin, TX, March 10 through March 15.

“Only at an event like South by Southwest do the creators, builders and users of social media converge in a single location to learn from each other,” said iSchool student David Rosen ‘11. “I was able to meet and learn from the key players in the social space.”

Rosen joined four other students, Eric Cleckner G’12, David Chenelle G’12, David Rosen ‘11, Alyssa Henry G’12, and Megan Dornbrock G’12, in an alternative spring break trip sending them to one of the largest media and technology conferences in the United States. They were selected from a contest in which they were required to write a blog post describing why they should go to the annual conference in Austin. The blog posts that generated the most comments and social media attention were chosen as the winners.

“Attending South by Southwest with the iSchool was an incredible learning experience,” said Henry. “Attending panels with companies and individuals that are leaders in their fields and being able to talk and network with other attendees was a great opportunity. The interview with Foursquare co-founder Dennis Crowley was especially interesting, since he’s an SU alum who’s achieved incredible success.”

Henry said her one of her favorite panels was the keynote interview with Felicia Day who writes, produces, and stars in her own online show “The Guild.”

“She had a really interesting career as a woman with an interest in technology, social media, and as an actress and ‘gamer,’” Henry said. “I also attended ‘Using Twitter to Improve College Student Engagement,’ which provided lots of information from studies about college students using Twitter in the classroom and in their daily lives to increase their engagement in classes and their university communities.”

The students also attended panels on “Viral Marketing with the Oatmeal” and “The Thank You Economy” with Gary Vaynerchuk and met up with Foursquare founder and SU Alum Dennis Crowley at the “Foursquare Court,” a parking lot transformed by Foursquare and Pepsi where attendees could play foursquare (the childhood game, not the location-based social network), drink free Pepsi and take a photo in the photo booth.

In addition to meeting the people behind some growing technology and social startups, two of the students Clecker and Chenell launched their own startup graFighters at the Orange Influencers Party, hosted by the University. GraFighters, an online game where users upload character sketches to have them spar with other characters.

“Launching graFighters at SXSW was an awesome experience,” said Cleckner. “Literally minutes before SU’s party at the Klout house began, our developers back in Syracuse were able to pull the last strings to get the game live. The best part of the launch was having a house full of the people who have supported us from the beginning, and watching as they drew characters and battled against each other.”

The students returned to Syracuse full of ideas and experiences to share with the community, as well as get a leg up in their upcoming job searches.

“I will not only use the lessons learned to better serve the SU and iSchool social communities,” Rosen said, “but the experience will better help me when looking for a full time position working with social media.”