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Emerson LA Celebrates Five Years of Alumni Mentorship

alumni gather around firepit on ELA terrace
CAN alumni advisees hang out by the fire pit on ELA’s fifth floor terrace. Photo/Pierre Davis for Joan Fuller Photography

It’s a CANiversary! On August 26, 2022, more than 150 alumni gathered at Emerson Los Angeles (ELA) to celebrate the five-year anniversary of the Career Advisory Network (CAN) program.

“It’s really special. Tonight is about celebrating a lot of hard work, and it’s also about celebrating our community,” said Paul J. Morra ’95, one of CAN’s founding LA-area Alumni Board members and an advisor during the program’s first semester. “I keep in touch with quite a few of my advisees and several of them have been on my sets. We’ve involved them in some of our projects. It’s really special to see a lot of my students grow and become strong alums as well.”

CAN is a unique opportunity for currently enrolled ELA students to build personal connections within the LA alumni network to better prepare them for careers beyond Emerson. Since its inception in Fall 2017, more than 1,000 students have participated in the program, and 86 alumni have served as advisors. The program shifted to an online format after the COVID-19 pandemic, but the Fall 2022 semester marks the first time the program will meet in person again since Spring 2020.

Man and two women pose together and smile
CAN alumni founders Paul J. Morra ’95, Jen O’Connell ’94, and Traci Blackwell, MA ’14. Photo/Pierre Davis for Joan Fuller Photography

Along with Morra, the program was spearheaded by Alumni Board members Traci Blackwell, MA ’14; Stephen Christy ’07; Tisa Jackson ’95; and Jen O’Connell ’94. Alumni said that part of the reason they wanted to launch CAN was to establish a program that they wished they’d had as students—one that would allow them to connect to future Emerson grads.

“I think it’s what all Emersonians love…really digging in and meeting the next generation and helping them,” said O’Connell, who served as an advisor in Fall 2017. “We felt this program would be just the thing to really bring the alumni back into the school and connected to the school, knowing that the one thing that always brings us back is the students.”

During the celebration, O’Connell was able to reconnect with a couple of her advisees and said she plans to get together with them soon to catch up even further. O’Connell, along with Morra and Blackwell, addressed attendees during the event, offering heartfelt thanks to the student participants (now alumni) who made the program a success, as well as the alumni advisors and ELA staff who keep the program running. 

Man and woman hold beverages and smile
CAN alumni advisees Kermel Yohannes ’18 and Sam Solomon ’18. Photo/Pierre Davis for Joan Fuller Photography

“Mentorship has been really critical for me, both when I was a student at Emerson…but it’s also been incredibly critical in my career,” said Keto Shimizu ’07, an advisor during Fall 2020. “Being a part of CAN has been incredibly rewarding, because I get to combine both…mentorship as someone who’s now got a lot of experience in the industry, [and] really getting to coach students who are entering the industry at this critical time in their pathway.”

Danny Mullen ’21 attended the event hoping to build more connections, even bringing along copies of his resume. An advisee during the Fall 2021 semester, Mullen’s advisor Alex Lehmann ’04 helped him land a job after graduating.

 “Throughout this program, I learned so much about the industry and how to network and how to get your foot in the door,” said Mullen. “After graduating now, it’s been almost a year, I am back with all these amazing people. The CAN program has just been such an amazing experience, so I’m super grateful to be a part of it.”

two women laugh and hug
CAN alumni advisor Tina Densmore Bell ’09 and her advisee Katelyn Torlincasi ’21 share a hug. Photo/TinDragon Media

Advisee Afsara Alvee ’19 was able to catch up with her Spring 2019 advisor, David Harari ’00, and with a fellow editor, Alfonso Carrion ’13, who served as an advisor in Fall 2019. As a student, Alvee said, Harari took her and others to a production he was working on and gave them a tour of the cutting room. Since the CAN program, they’ve kept in touch.

“[Dave] helped me out a lot,” said Alvee, who credits CAN with helping boost her confidence. “As soon as I graduated, I passed my resume to him. He passed my resume to so many post-production producers. I got so many calls.”

Multiple-semester advisor Tina Densmore Bell ’09 and advisee Katelyn Torlincasi ’21 were also able to catch up and share a hug. Bell recalled how she helped Torlincasi land an internship for the recently premiered Hulu series This Fool. Torlincasi did such a great job as an intern that she was eventually hired full-time on the production. 

“Emerson is such a special place, but one of the biggest things that Emerson gives to you is the people you meet,” said Densmore Bell. “[CAN] is this incredible program where you get a direct connection; you get to sit down with these advisors; you get to ask every question you can. It’s in this non-stressful environment in the most stressful time of your life.”

Photo of advisors and students projected onto steel wall at ELA
A slideshow during the CANiversary event shows a photo from the first-ever CAN semester. Photo/Pierre Davis for Joan Fuller Photography

Founding alumni member Blackwell said she hopes the program continues to be a success and that one day, students who participated in the program might consider becoming alumni advisors themselves. As someone who truly values mentorship, Blackwell encourages students participating in the ELA program to sign up for CAN and build connections with alumni.

“It gives you the opportunity to connect with successful alumni to help you navigate what your life is going to be like while you’re in LA during your time in the LA program; but also, most of the students who do CAN are coming here as they’re getting ready to graduate,” said Blackwell. “Trying to figure out what your next steps are can sometimes be really daunting, sometimes scary, and sometimes complicated. Being able to have a touchstone in Los Angeles, someone you can ask questions, someone you can call…it’s just a really great opportunity.”

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