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Emerson LA CAN Program Builds Success Through Alumni Connections

Martha Dietsch kneeling in front of CAN advisees with arms outstretched
Martha Dietsche ’12, kneeling, poses with her CAN students during the Fall 2018 semester. Her advisee Julia Linger ’19 is standing on the far left. Photo/Daryl Paranada

Since its inception in Fall 2017, the Emerson College Los Angeles Career Advisory Network (CAN) has seen 84 alumni advise more than 750 students, helping countless Emersonians build connections. But perhaps one of its greatest examples of success: the opportunities it has provided for young graduates.

“CAN was one of the best experiences at Emerson I had. It combined all the things I wanted out of Emerson, which was education, alumni connections, and just real-life practical tools,” said Julia Linger ’19, an executive assistant to the executive vice president of casting for HBO Max. “I learned a lot about networking, the nitty gritty about what to expect after graduating, and next steps to take.”

Her participation in CAN also led to a job. Linger’s CAN advisor during her Emerson LA semester was Martha Dietsche ’12, an associate casting director. After completing the CAN program and graduating, Linger kept in touch with Dietsche, who let Linger know about a job opening at the Gersh Agency, put her in contact with one of her friends who works there, offered a recommendation, and voila: Linger landed her first job out of college.

“It’s really cool to meet some of the younger generation of Emersonians who are coming to Hollywood and getting their start,” said Dietsche, who tells her advisees that she’s an open resource for them and has kept in touch with her CAN students over coffee or Zoom. “They also remind me of why I wanted to get into this line of work in the first place. To hear their excitement about the goals they have and what they want to do…it gives me inspiration. It’s like a new energy renewal source.”

The CAN program is a unique opportunity for currently enrolled Emerson LA students to build personal connections within the LA alumni network to better prepare them for careers. Students are assigned an alumni advisor based on their career interests and meet with them in small groups three times throughout the semester. Panels accompany two of the sessions, while a speed networking opportunity is offered in between, allowing students to meet with all the advisors.

Ally Weinberg speaks at round table
Ally Weinberg ’03 shares advice with her CAN advisees during the Spring 2019 semester. Photo/Daryl Paranada

Ally Weinberg ’03, vice president of development at Pie Town Productions, built connections with students through both her small group and the speed networking.

“I was so impressed with the students. They were very engaged and really happy to get advice and receive constructive criticism,” said Weinberg, who had her advisees bring in their resumes during the program for immediate feedback. “It goes beyond just career stuff, too. We also talked about what is the life you want to build out here; what part of town do you want to live in; what should you look out for; what should you think about as you try to manage work/life balance.”

One of Weinberg’s advisees was Jillian Anderson ’19, assistant production coordinator at ITV America. Weinberg said Anderson was very “enterprising” and went out of her way to carve out a connection. She passed along Anderson’s contact information to people at Pie Town, which led to an interview and placement on a production assistant (PA) list. When an opportunity arose for a PA gig for the Pie Town show House Hunters Renovation, Anderson landed it.

“It was really good to be able to talk with Ally and figure out the pathways we can take and have the mentoring connection, because all these advisors understand where we’re coming from,” said Anderson. “They sat in our shoes in some way or another, and to hear how they went from being a student to jumping into the industry and working their way up…it’s valuable to see what different paths look like.”

Gemma Guerrazzi ’19 connected with Weinberg during the speed networking session. At the time, Guerrazzi was interning at Discovery, where she now works as the reception coordinator. Weinberg was able to offer Guerrazzi advice on the world of unscripted television since Pie Town works with Discovery. They’ve met up a handful of times since then.

“It is always great to talk to Ally about my career goals and just life in LA after graduation,” said Guerrazzi. “I connected with her when I was thinking about moving up in my career and changing titles. She gave me good advice on the field I was interested in and offered to connect me with some people she knew doing that line of work.”

Building those connections is one of the reasons the CAN program was founded in the first place. The program is run by Emerson LA staff and was spearheaded by LA-area Alumni Board members: Trustee Traci Blackwell, MA ’14; Stephen Christy ’07; Tisa Jackson ’95; Jen O’Connell ’94; and Paul J. Morra ’95, because they wished they had a program like CAN when they were students.

“It’s a very personal way to give back and I know that it’s meaningful,” said O’Connell, executive vice president of nonfiction and live action family at HBO Max. “I know it makes a difference. I had Emerson mentors through my internship who helped me, gave me guidance, and continue to. Being a living example of benefiting from an Emerson mentor, I thought that this experience for students could also be helpful and valuable. I am paying it forward.”

O’Connell, along with Blackwell, executive vice president and head of scripted programming at BET Networks, and Morra, founder and executive director at Swift River Productions, participated in a bonus CAN session for the classes of 2020 and 2021. Moderated by Jackie Sosa ’14, vice president of development at Chelsea Handler Productions, the three CAN founders shared career advice as well as took questions from the audience. It was an opportunity especially provided for students who have graduated during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We are here to support your dreams. I am excited for all of you,” Blackwell told the students.

“The world is yours. Remember that and live those dreams,” Morra added. “I wish you all the best.”

Dicky Eagan, at table, gesticulates to student
Dicky Eagan ’95 speaks with students during the first-ever semester of the CAN program in Fall 2017. Photo/Daryl Paranada

For Dicky Eagan ’95, who’s currently writing on the Jay Leno ’73 reboot of the comedy quiz series You Bet Your Life, the Emerson connection has benefitted him throughout his career. That’s one of the reasons why he has returned to be an advisor during three different semesters, the most of any alumni. He has kept in touch with many of his CAN advisees.

“I love it. Just being able to do what people did for me is nice,” said Eagan. “CAN is sometimes students’ first real networking experience. Having access to alumni who have spent years in the business, who probably know hundreds of other people, is a great way for students to start building connections.”

Maddie Gallup ’17, a post-production assistant for Good Girls at NBCUniversal Media, participated in the first-ever semester of the CAN program. Eagan served as her advisor and even provided a special opportunity for Gallup and her classmates, inviting them onto set at his job at the time, The Late Late Show with James Corden. The two kept in touch after Gallup graduated. She built up her PA experience by working on music videos, commercials, and other short-term gigs. Eagan introduced Gallup to his friend Demetri Pappas ’95, then supervising producer at Steve Harvey Productions, who was looking for a PA. That led to Gallup’s first long-term job after graduating, working on the Steve Harvey daytime talk show.

“Dicky was the type of mentor who was easy to talk to. He told us he was just a friendly face out there for us and someone we can turn to. That made us all feel immediately less intimidated,” said Gallup.

For many of the CAN students who have gone on to graduate and launch their own careers, the program’s long-lasting connections and the networking it provides have been invaluable.

“It’s so great to meet alumni who are dedicating time to help you,” said Linger. “The program is such a solid introduction to networking. I would recommend it to anyone.”

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