Alumni Share Advice During COM Career Night

By Nina Tabios

As the spring semester came to a close, students from Academy of Art University’s School of Communications & Media Technologies (COM) logged onto Zoom for one of their final lessons: finding a job and keeping it. 

On Tuesday, May 5, students from around the country—from Hawaii to San Francisco to Atlanta—tuned in to the first-ever digital COM Career Night, where a diverse alumni panel from various lanes of media and production offered their stories of navigating the workforce and advice on how to land your first job or internship.

Speakers included Liz Sweeney (B.A. 2016), an associate video producer and editor for Kendo Brands; Joey Marchini (B.A. 2017), who works for Salesforce as an associate systems engineer; Norma Lopez (B.A. 2018), a two-time Emmy Award-winning producer for Vanishing Pictures; Taylor Martin (B.A. 2019), social media manager for Point Hospitality Group; and Tara Cooley, who graduated in December and recently landed a job with Compass, a real estate technology company. 

Moderator and COM Director Jan Yanehiro pointed out this group was the event’s youngest panel ever. While their individual journeys varied, their collective advice touched upon themes of tenacity and persistence. 

One of the first points of the evening was that it’s never too early to get experience. Marchini said it was internships that set his career off to a good start. 

“I did three internships my senior year,” he said. Working for instructors like Matty Staudt and Danielle Pascual kicked off Marchini’s roundabout journey to Salesforce, where now he’s part of a small production team focused on live streaming and online engagement. “Take every opportunity you can. And use your resources at the Academy, your teachers are working in the industry you’re trying to get in to.” 

But internships aren’t the only way. Martin got his start in a freelance capacity, building social media campaigns for select clients. The work there didn’t just appeal to his employers but segued nicely into his current role at Point Hospitality Group, where he manages socials for five hotels across the west coast. 

“For me, it was about having faith in your skills,” Martin said. “You can find yourself in a spot you may not have envisioned yourself in, but that might lead to something else down the line.” 

For Lopez, she had her mind made up. 

“I didn’t want to be a producer. I’m going to be a producer,” she said. Having that confidence paid off—handing out her business cards to everywhere she went, Lopez eventually connected with someone at Vanishing Pictures who was looking for someone to join their San Francisco Giants production team. 

“I would always introduce myself like, ‘Hi, I’m Norma Lopez, and I’m a producer,’” she said. “The more I said it, the more I felt it.” 

When Yanehiro asked about what it takes to keep a job, the key was to be versatile and proactive. Employers find it attractive when prospective candidates can do it all. 

“I wear many hats,” Lopez said. “As producers, we’re the first ones on set and the last to leave. We have to do a little bit of everything in between.” 

Sweeney echoed that sentiment. She first cut her teeth as an editor on AirBnB’s marketing team, then later moved on to Salesforce as an online video content manager. Looking to do more creative work in lifestyle and beauty, Sweeney’s Swiss Army knife skillset helped her jump over to Kendo Brands, where she works with beauty best sellers like Marc Jacobs and Fenty. 

“One of my biggest pieces of advice is being able to do multiple things,” Sweeney said. “Some days I’m producing, I’m on set organizing my next shoot. Some days I’m operating the camera, some days I’m on the computer just purely editing. So being able to quickly transition between roles has been a huge asset, and I learned that while at the Academy.”   

Cooley, the latest to be hired, spoke to the elephant in the room. Looking for a job in the age of pandemic adds a layer of uncertainty to an already competitive market but Cooley insisted that there are still opportunities out there. Like her fellow panelists, gaining footing in the workforce is about making an early impression, expanding your skills, and taking initiative. 

“We all know we’re in this situation together, that we’re all learning together,” Cooley said. Yet, she still makes it a point to step up and take on responsibilities outside of her role. “It showed I wasn’t afraid to speak up even in my first few days on the job,” she said. “So now, I’m able to make an impact in other areas which can be beneficial for everyone.”   

To end the discussion, Cooley’s final words summarized it best. “Keep on keepin’ on,” she said. “Don’t get discouraged. Keep on doing the work, expand your skills, and take every opportunity. You’ll never know where it’ll take you.”

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