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Virtual Experiences Help Emerson LA Students, Alumni During Challenging Semester

woman on zoom screen
Tina Densmore Bell ’08 leads a production assistant workshop.

By Daryl Paranada

On March 13, the day that President Lee Pelton announced that Emerson students in Boston and Los Angeles needed to safely leave their respective campuses, a professional development opportunity was scheduled to take place in the evening at Emerson LA.

The second event in the three-part Career Advisory Network (CAN) program, a unique opportunity for students to build personal connections within the alumni network, was ready for launch. But the news that students would have to vacate LA left staff on the CAN committee scrambling to figure out what to do. They asked alumni advisors in the program if they’d be willing to meet with students in a virtual format instead of in person.

All 14 advisors agreed to participate remotely and nearly 70 students signed into Zoom to ask questions and seek their advice.

“Understand that this is affecting every one of us in different ways, and we will just have to adapt,” said Miguel Sagaz ’05, one of the CAN advisors. “Search for opportunities, delve into what you like, take time, explore, be patient with yourself, and connect also.”

Many of the questions that night, and during the third event, which also occurred remotely, centered around what students should do in this unprecedented and uncertain time.

“This period of time you are in [about to graduate] is stressful no matter what, and everyone else is also stressed,” Pearl Wible ’05 told students. “There’s some comfort in all of us being stressed together.”

Margaret O’Neil ’20 participated in the Spring 2020 CAN program. Like many of her peers, she has been challenged with online learning. 

“Part of the reason I went to Emerson is because of the hands-on approach, so the transition has been far from easy,” said O’Neil. “The lack of separation between class/internship/work/homework/home just kind of leaves me in a constant state of stress.”

To help alleviate the stress that some students have about working after graduation, several other professional development opportunities have been offered online. One of the virtual opportunities O’Neil participated in was a Production Assistant workshop led by Tina Densmore Bell ’08.

Bell shared her experience with students about graduating during the 2007–2008 writer’s strike and how it was the most stressful time of her life. She reassured students that even though times are tough right now, things would eventually be okay.

“The world is in self-quarantine and they are watching more things than ever,” said Bell. “There’s going to be this need for content, and production is going jump right back in. You guys are coming in at a good time because you’re going to be starting at the forefront at this new time in the world, in the entertainment industry.”

Facilitating the workshop, which covered all the bases on how to succeed as a PA on set, even helped Bell herself. She said providing help to students and young alumni gave her a much-needed distraction.

Other Emerson LA workshops and experiences that moved online included a Careers in Entertainment webinar and Resume Review featuring faculty member Kent Rees; a Self-Producing for the Empowered Artist workshop led by Greg Crafts ’03; an exclusive virtual visit to United Talent Agency featuring a UTA recruiter and agent Rachel Arlook ’08 and agent trainee Samantha Jokela ’19; and a Breaking into the Writers Room panel with writers Liz Alper ’08; Alicia Caroll ’15; Jesse Harris, MFA ’12; and Jen Troy ’08; which was attended by more than 130 Emersonians. An LA Apartment Hunting workshop is scheduled after the Emerson LA semester wraps.

During his workshop, Crafts spoke about how the pandemic has affected his businesses and offered solace to students.

“I have a tough time being creative right now and that’s okay,” said Crafts. “One of the things I’d do if I were you right now is take advantage of opportunities to reach out to people who are starving for contact. Start putting together a tribe or collaborate with folks who can make your vision come true.”

In addition to the professional development opportunities offered to students, a number of alumni spoke in classes virtually, including Steve Basilone ’03; Alicia Carroll ’15; Steve Eddy ’01; Caroline Glenn ’19; Michael Kiaunis ’18; Stefanie Mandel ’17; Aaron McLane ’06; Dan Perrault ’09; Amanda Richards ’10; and Tony Yacenda ’09. Emerson Trustee Vin Di Bona ’66 shared advice in faculty member and Advisor John Wentworth’s (’81) Entertainment Marketing class, while Trustee Doug Herzog ’81 spoke with students during small-group meetings. 

For Luis Paz ’20, hearing from alumni about how to make the best of the time in quarantine has been invaluable. Paz moved home to Rhode Island from LA for the rest of the semester, a jarring transition initially.

“It was tough keeping my motivation up for online classes. I appreciate all of my professors who tried to make our transition as smooth as possible,” said Paz. “Some days I feel sad that I won’t be able to share my final moments at Emerson with the people I love. I am thankful that I was able to spend some of that time at Emerson LA, even though it was cut short.”

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