On the morning of November 14th, students gathered in the Rackham Amphitheatre for the Communication Studies department’s 9th Annual Entertainment Media Career Forum. Like years past, this event offered the unique opportunity for students to hear from alumni currently working in the industry, meet other students interested in similar career pathways, as well as network and engage with a diverse panel.
To kick off the day, department Chair Susan Douglas began by acknowledging that the Michigan Alumni network is truly one of a kind. “We have the most dedicated and passionate alums in the world,” she said.
Before introducing the first speaker, Professor Amanda Lotz spoke to the importance of networking opportunities of this kind, in which alumni can offer applicable and relevant advice to students aspiring to work in the industry. Lotz said that this forum is always exciting, offering a beneficial supplement to the Communication Studies education.
The panel kicked off with Rachel Sparr, ’09, who currently serves as the Executive Assistant to the Senior Vice President of Comedy Development at ABC Studios. As a recent graduate, Sparr attended this very same event not too long ago. Her biggest piece of advice for students was to take advantage of all that the alumni network has to offer.
“You never know where your next job will come from,” she said. “Reaching out to people is so important, especially Michigan Alumni.” Throughout her various jobs, and leading up to her current role, Sparr learned to roll with the punches and become flexible. The entertainment industry can be hard to predict, and she added that, “No job is too small for your first job.”
Moving along, Dana Narens, ’13, of Mosaic Media Group explained how every experience can be conveyed as relevant when looking for a job. “Your experience is only as valuable as you sell it,” she said. An active member of MACS during school, she also encouraged students to take leadership roles in college because it’s something that employers look for and value in a potential candidate.
Next, Erwin Burns, ’07, spoke about his journey from working for small production companies to the Big Ten Network, to finally landing his position as Associate Producer at Harpo Studios. Through his various anecdotes, he emphasized that in order to succeed, you might have to try new things and step out of your comfort zone.
“Failure, for me, has actually been empowering,” Burns said. “Struggle leads to humility, and humility leads to learning.” For any career, he said that finding your passion is key. “Love what you do, don’t fake it,” he concluded.
During his undergraduate career, David Freedland, ’00, learned the importance of taking classes that meet your interests, instead of worrying about letter grades. According to Freedland, it’s about learning, not so much the evaluation. As a manager of standards and practices at Disney Channels Worldwide, he works closely with Disney XD to evaluate original and acquired programming. Much like other panelists, he highlighted networking as a crucial step in the job search process. “You never know where your e-mail will go,” he said. “You should always think about next steps.”
The afternoon panel continued with Jacquelyn Ryan, ’08, a production coordinator and assistant to the Co-Executive Producer of Pretty Little Liars. To show a quick glimpse inside her world, Ryan presented behind-the-scenes footage at the show’s studios and a typical run down of her day. She explained how working in the industry involves uncertainty, freelance work, and long hours… but it pays off. “Never turn a job down, even if it’s not where you want to be,” she said. According to Ryan, everything is a learning opportunity.
Tony Pachella, ’11, studied Screen Arts & Cultures as an undergrad and currently works as an Executive Assistant to the President of Production at Vertigo Entertainment. Throughout his presentation, he highlighted the importance of staying on top of industry material, which involves a lot of script reading. He encouraged students to take advantage of the Donald Hall Collection, which is a Screen Arts library on campus which houses screenplays, DVDs, etc. When it comes to networking, he values quality over quantity.
Jon Hein, ’89, of The Howard Stern Show—Sirius XM Radio, wrapped up the panel with a series of comedic anecdotes, mixed with professional career advice. He said it’s important to get your foot in the door, but also to be able to walk through it. Students should be prepared to make connections, not feel hesitant about bugging someone, and be able to defend their qualifications. Preparedness is crucial, according to Hein. “This is all about following your passion,” he said. “…if you believe in what you do, your ability, you’ll get there.”
After a busy afternoon of speaker sessions, students were able to attend a networking luncheon with the panelists in order to better learn from the industry insiders. The day closed with a Q&A session, which provided attendees the opportunity to further engage with the speakers. The 9th annual Entertainment Media Forum was a success, and we look forward to what is to come in the upcoming years!
Written by: Katie Szymanski- LSA Senior, Communications Major, Digital Studies Minor, MACS Marketing Committee.