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Students get once-in-a-lifetime experience in Los Angeles, thanks to Emory’s Pathways Center

Derek Newton read more fiction this summer than he has in years. Korean crime dramas. Anime novels. And, just before starting his senior year at Emory College of Arts and Sciences, a soon-to-be-published 500-page science fiction tome.

In each case, and in addition to hours of film watched and stacks of scripts read, Newton then submitted his take on whether Tomorrow Studios should option the story to develop into a TV series.

The opportunity to make that kind of impact has reinforced Newton’s plans to pursue a creative career after graduation — and it was all made possible through the Pathways Center’s internship program in the media and entertainment industry in Los Angeles.

“One of the main lessons I learned is that people will hire you for your taste if you’re able to think about what media you’re consuming and why,” says Newton, a psychology major and film minor whose lifelong commitment to devour all things Batman ultimately led him to an interest in understanding how our brains process trauma and fear.

“I hope to be an editorial or production assistant to start, but at this phase in my career, as long as I’m working in a creative and healthy environment, I’ll be a happy guy,” Newton adds.

Six other Emory undergraduates participated in the Pathways Scholars’ pilot eight-week cohort this summer. The Pathways Center provided housing for students to live together in an “intentional community” at Emerson College’s L.A. Center, supplied a cost-of-living stipend to help boost each intern’s pay and hosted a young-alumni dinner and student-alumni reception for networking.

The students in the cohort got a unique look at the industry during a pivotal time, due not just to ongoing strikes of writers and actors but also an evolving landscape of streaming, social media and other forms of digital engagement.

“The Los Angeles metro area is home to more than 3,000 Emory alumni, many of whom work in the media and entertainment space,” says Branden Grimmett, vice provost for career and professional development at Emory and director of the Pathways Center.

“Student participants interned Monday through Thursday, and during the Friday seminars they were able to meet many of these incredible alumni, gaining wisdom and perspective from their experience as Emory graduates thriving in the media and entertainment industry,” Grimmett adds.

Students share takeaways from their summer internship through the Media and Entertainment Pathways Scholars Program: Los Angeles.

Building an experience

The cohort program is the brainchild of Scott Garner, adjunct assistant professor of psychology and film and media at Oxford and Emory Colleges, who spent 25 years in the entertainment industry after graduating from Emory College in 1992.

Garner’s career took a winding path, starting with a dual degree in English and French and ending up in entertainment research and programming. His experience, and meeting Newton at Oxford while guest lecturing about media psychology, brought the program idea to life.

Garner was consulting with an app called Binj last summer and put his plan to the test by bringing Newton on as an intern. Binj culls recommendations of what to watch on TV or streaming from friends and family, and Newton was tasked with finding the right assessment tools to test for user experience in the app.

The success of the experience led Garner to work with Provost Ravi Bellamkonda and the Pathways Center to create this summer’s pilot program. Newton offered to serve as a TA for the cohort this summer, in addition to his own internship.

“We want to offer liberal arts students a chance to think expansively about their path, above and beyond how their major will play a role,” says Garner, who continues to work as a research consultant in the industry.

“College is the time to sample ideas, learn what you enjoy and what your skill set allows you to do,” he adds. “The internship is a real-world experience, to take what you’ve already learned and do that sampling.”

Together with Michele Schreiber, associate professor and chair of the Film and Media Department, Garner helped the finalists find internships in their preferred content areas, such as development, creative and market research.

Garner served as an on-the-ground faculty member who assigned readings and organized weekly lectures on the cohort theme of diversity and inclusion in media. Lecturers included high-level executives from companies such as Disney and several Emory alumni now working in entertainment.

Among them was Joanna Klein, a 1993 Goizueta Business School graduate who has a producing deal with CBS Studios alongside her creative partner Jennie Urman, who created “Jane the Virgin.”

The work is a world away from Klein’s first job in equities and trading on Wall Street. Her decision to take a job conducting quantitative analyses for business decisions in entertainment made her realize she was also skilled in the qualitative questions of what and why shows are made.

“I got lucky, and I realize it,” Klein says. “The entertainment industry is so rough right now, and we need young people for their knowledge and their point of view. It’s incredibly valuable to the industry and to them to try this out, to really put themselves out there and do the work.”

Junior Maylee O’Brien spent the summer immersed in TV market research with Screen Engine. While she enjoyed her work and could see it as a career, O’Brien was also intrigued by Klein’s trajectory. She’s now planning to look for an internship in development or project management while also finding on-campus creative outlets to replace being president of the Oxford College Film Club.

“I feel like I’ve found the right industry, and the summer helped me consider what might be the right niche,” says O’Brien, a Woodruff Scholar majoring in business in film and media management concentration, a collaboration between the Department of Film and Media and Goizueta Business School.

“I’d never been to Los Angeles before, so this is work I could never have imagined without the Pathways program,” O’Brien adds. 

Looking to the future

The Pathways Center plans to announce applications for next summer’s cohort in October, says Ed Goode, the center’s director of experiential learning. The number of students in the program is expected to increase, depending on interest and funding.

“Delivering a high-impact program like this one is ultimately a community effort,” Goode says. “The students, faculty and alumni gave much of themselves to make the program work. As a result, the experience was transformative for everyone.”

In the meantime, Schreiber says the film and media department will continue to offer courses that teach industry fundamentals, including “The Biz,” a class on the business of film, and a wide range of production courses for students to make their own films.

“We are in a position to teach the building blocks they need whether they become media makers or creative producers,” she says. “It’s essential for them to experience what it means to do the work that comes with thinking creatively like that.”

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