The case for taking advantage of the University's career forums

Monday, November 16, 2015 - 10:21pm

U-M Dept. of Communications' Entertainment and Media Career forum on Nov. 13

U-M Dept. of Communications' Entertainment and Media Career forum on Nov. 13 Buy this photo
Grant Hardy/Daily

 

Some people enter college knowing the exact path they want to follow. Some of these students — the cream of the crop — make it into the University’s School of Theatre, Music & Dance — it’s simply a stepping stone before they make it to the big leagues on Broadway. Others are those pacing the business-oriented halls of Ross, destined for Wall Street.

But what about those of us who choose a less traditional path — those of us whose passions lie in somewhat of a gray area — hidden away in the overlap of arts and business? What about those of us interested in entertainment? This is where things start to get complicated.

It would seem that the University offers many opportunities for networking and career-oriented exploration to the likes of engineers and students in the Ross School of Business, but the case can even be made for LSA students looking to go down more common career paths.

But what about us artsy folk? The ones who geek out over 1970s jazz, or have an obsession with the character Ari Gold from “Entourage”? For students who want to enter the fields of entertainment, media or even the careers in their overlap, there are not many resources or opportunities on campus to network or explore. We acknowledge that the path is long, competitive and unconventional, but the opportunity to have a chance to explore should still be there for all students who want to avail it.

Each year, the Communication Studies Department hosts an Entertainment and Media Career forum, which I had the opportunity to attend on Nov. 13. Featuring six alumni from various sectors in the entertainment and media industries, all at different points in their careers, students had the opportunity to hear from each one of them in presentations and round-table discussions.  

While the event is primarily targeted toward upperclassman looking to network for internships and potential job opportunities, it was refreshing to speak with students from all ages and from various schools within the University, who were there to learn more about this specialized field.

When I told my parents I wanted to pursue a career in the business side of the arts world, specifically in entertainment, they simply laughed and wished me luck. This forum provided ample opportunity to listen, learn and question some of the best in the field, extremely helpful for those of us dealing with a particularly exclusive and seemingly mysterious industry.

This stigma surrounding this crucial sector of the arts almost deterred me from even considering it as a viable life choice at all — and that shouldn’t be the case for anyone. But, if I took away anything from the stories the panelists at the EMC forum shared, it’s that while this career choice is unconventional at best, with hard work the choice will be worth it.

As I see my friends and peers around me accepting high-paying offers to amazing companies left and right, it’s important to keep a level head and remember to not be afraid to start at the bottom, because everyone needs to pay their dues and start somewhere — especially in entertainment.

Particularly, University alum Ben Davis, who graduated in 2011 majoring in Communications studies and is now a digital agent at William Morris Endeavor—IMG, discussed his time at the prestigious talent agency from his humble start in the WME mailroom.  In the digital world where mail may not be all that important, for WME employees having experience from the ground up is not only crucial, but also necessary, for employment. The mail room, while not as glamorous as people envision entertainment to be, gave Davis a clear path in, and the best way to learn about how everything works at WME, and in the entertainment industry in general.

The second story that resonated with me from the forum had a crucial moral, while easy in theory it proves difficult in practice. University alum Amy Fleischman, a 2012 Communications Studies graduate and a casting assistant at DreamWorks Animation, shared her journey to where she is now and stressed the importance of making the most of every and any opportunity that comes your way.

Starting as a page in NBC’s highly competitive page program, Fleischman stepped in when USA network’s then-President of Production Jeff Kirschenbaum needed an assistant. While she may not have been ready for this jump from a page at that exact moment, she took the challenge. Because of her hard work and dedication, she networked and made the necessary connections to get her to where she is today at DreamWorks.

I think about all the times I have shied away from challenge because of this inherent fear of failure. Choosing a career post-college is hard enough as it is, but it doesn’t get any easier when you choose a field that doesn’t have any guarantees. The arts is a grueling and unpredictable world, and the business side of it is no better.

University alum Peter Jaysen, class of 1989 and a film and television producer at Veritas Entertainment, feels like he is just now hitting his stride. After 20-plus years in the industry, his past experiences and hard work have begun to catch up with him and he now feels established and settled in the industry. At one point he described the entertainment world as a country club of sorts, and how he feels like he is finally a full-time member as opposed to just having a guest pass.

While the road is long and the path tricky, I couldn’t have been more excited and affirmed in my career choice just through seeing the passion each one of these accomplished graduates had about the work they were doing and all the work they had done to get there.

We have the privilege of attending a university with one of the largest communities of alumni in the world, who have gone on into diverse fields from journalism, politics, engineering, to entertainment. A forum such as this shouldn’t be the only thing available for students choosing to follow their artistic passions. However, it is one crucial step forward in giving all of us entertainment junkies a chance to learn — and to learn from the best alumni around.