Before beginning her Fall 2017 semester at Emerson College Los Angeles, Elisha Dumont ’17 had only been to Southern California once. She spent a month in Venice while participating in a theater company program but wasn’t sure whether she liked LA. Just a few weeks into her final semester, Dumont made a choice about her future thanks in part to the Emerson LA Career Advisory Network (ELA CAN).
“I wanted to join the Career Advisory Network to get an inside scoop on life post-Emerson,” said Dumont, an actress living in LA. “Luckily, I was blessed with Traci.”
The “Traci” that Dumont speaks of is Traci Blackwell, MA ’14, a senior vice president at The CW Network. Blackwell was one of ten alumni advisors who participated in Emerson LA’s Career Advisory Network, a program that launched in Fall 2017 providing a unique opportunity for currently enrolled students to build personal connections within the alumni network to better prepare them for careers after college. In Spring 2018, seven new alumni advisors participated in the program, helping a total of 120 students over two semesters figure out their next steps after studying at Emerson LA.
“Connecting with students, giving them career and life advice, and helping them feel less anxiety about the future has been incredibly rewarding,” said Blackwell. “I told my students I’m here for the duration. I will continue to be their mentor even after they graduate and leave the gates of Emerson.”
Alumni advisors who participated in the pilot program for Emerson LA's Career Advisory Network. Clockwise from top left: Blackwell, Stephanie Bloch Chambers ’89, Jen O’Connell ’94, Paul J. Morra ’95, Luther Mace '92, Gia Galligani ’98, Dicky Eagan ’95, Pam Abdy '95, Traci Blackwell MA ’14, and Jessie Surovell ’07. Photo/Allison Knight
The CAN program was spearheaded by LA-area Alumni Board members Blackwell, Stephen Christy ’07, Tisa Jackson ’95, Jen O’Connell ’94, and Paul J. Morra ’95.
“We wanted to create this program because it was something we wished we had when we were students,” said Morra, executive producer and partner of the TV, film, and digital media company Swift River Productions. “We want the students to know that they aren’t alone when they come out to LA. The Emerson community is here for them.”
Morra and the other board members worked with a committee of staff at Emerson LA to design a special program for students.
“The connectivity is something that we talked a lot about,” said Jackson, an advisor on diversity and inclusion, who used her previous mentorship experience to help iron out details for CAN. “This program was an opportunity for students to build connections with each other and with alumni who have made the mistakes and who have had the successes.”
Alumni advisor Paul J. Morra listens to his student group during a roundtable discussion at the Emerson LA Career Advisory Network. Photo/Allison Knight
The CAN program helps students gain professional insight, meet alumni from various career fields, and receive individualized advice through small group meetings.
“Our committee of alumni staff members Turi Daoust ’11, Rob Eckard ’10, Kerri McManus, MA ’98, and Justin Allen ’13, along with Laura Daroca, Annie Kelly, Daryl Paranada, and Shaneice Warfield, worked tirelessly to help bring the vision of the Alumni Board to life,” said Allison Sampson, Emerson LA’s vice president and executive director. “Students and alumni both have expressed appreciation for this incredible program.”
Through CAN, students meet three times each semester with their alumni advisor. Panels precede two of the meetings while the remaining session offers a speed-networking opportunity.
“I was very nervous about coming out to LA,” said Spencer Mathesen ’17, a cinematographer from Texas who had never been West of the Rocky Mountains before his semester at Emerson LA.
Fall 2017 Emerson LA Career Advisory Network students and advisors. Photo/Allison Knight
Over the course of the CAN program, Mathesen’s advisor, Gia Galligani ’98, gave him a list of contacts for production assistant gigs, advice on interviewing and how to word emails to potential employers, and special access to a job fair.
“Gia helped me a great deal by letting me know what I needed to do and taking some of the fear out of the unknown,” said Mathesen. “I’m so appreciative for everything she’s done.”
Building a connection with alumni was one of the most valuable aspects of the program for students like Mathesen.
“When we first got together, we were all like, ‘Wow, Traci’s done so much,’” said Dumont, who took on her own leadership role at Emerson when she was elected vice president of the EBONI Alumni Association in 2018. “Being able to talk to Traci and hearing her stories and getting that special time with her was invaluable.”
Spring 2018 Emerson LA Career Advisory Network advisors and Alumni Board members. Clockwise from top left: Dan Gamache ’11, Naketha Mattocks ’94, Luther Mace ’92, Greg Crafts ’03, Jim Flynn ’94, Paul J. Morra ’95, Jen O'Connell '94, Angela Kim, MA '06, Jessie Surovell ’07, Kim Woolf ’09, and Tina Densmore ’09. Photo/Daryl Paranada
Alumni advisors who participated in the pilot program included Pam Abdy ’95, Blackwell, Stephanie Bloch Chambers ’89, Dicky Eagan ’95, Galligani, Emily Hessel ’07, Luther Mace ’92, O’Connell, Morra, and Jessie Surovell ’07. For the spring semester, advisors included Greg Crafts ’03, Tina Densmore ’09, Jim Flynn ’94, Dan Gamache ’11, Angela Kim, MA ’06, Naketha Mattocks ’94, and Kim Woolf ’09. Mace and Surovell served as advisors for both semesters. Together, the advisors represent a range of industries to complement the interests of students attending Emerson LA each semester.
“I got the opportunity to meet other students as well as go behind the scenes of a project that my advisor was working on, which was amazing,” said Achinoam Ari Morell ’18, an aspiring sound designer whose advisor was Morra. “Paul wasn’t looking at us as just students. He saw potential and helped us develop.”
Dan Gamache talks with students during a roundtable discussion at an Emerson LA Career Advisory Network event. Photo/Daryl Paranada
For O’Connell, helping to create the program and serving as an advisor was a natural step. Emerson alumni helped her land her first job and now she wants to give back in the same way.
“I remember that feeling of being excited but also panicked as I was desperate to move to LA and land a job,” said O’Connell, executive vice president of alternative programming at Lionsgate. “I was lucky enough to have Emerson alumna Kristin Torgen ’90 help me find my first position in the entertainment industry and at this point in my career, I feel it’s my duty to pay it forward and help these students as they begin their journeys.”
Spring 2018 Emerson LA Career Advisory Network students and advisors. Photo/Daryl Paranada
Participating in the program wasn’t just an opportunity for students. Advisors had a chance to share their knowledge and connect with the future generation of Emersonians.
“It gave me an opportunity to see the bright talent that’s out there,” said Kim, an audience development manager at Yahoo who provided feedback on resumes, offered restaurant suggestions, and met students for coffee during her time as an advisor. “To see the genuine enthusiasm these students have as they’re entering the industry is invigorating.”
With the success of the program, there is talk of adapting it for the Boston campus. Advisors hope one day these students will pay it forward.
“They’re going to be us sitting on a panel giving back to the next generation,” said Blackwell. “It’ll be exciting to watch as their careers develop.”