Alumni film panel helps students build connections

January 31, 2020 / by / 0 Comment
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Film alumni (from left) Athena Bates, Sam Erdmann and Maya James shared their experiences in life after graduation.

Story and photos by Ashlee Larrison
GCU News Bureau

“James, don’t feel afraid to reach out to me if you have any questions,” said Grand Canyon University Digital Film alumna Maya James.

She and James Childress had just finished a follow-up conversation about the photography business after this semester’s Digital Film Production Alumni Panel. Childress even shared some of the photos within his portfolio with James, who operates her own wedding photography/videography business, MayaPapayaPictures, and asked about the opportunity to shoot with her at some point.

She agreed.

“Plus, if you come here and don’t have a place to go to for Thanksgiving, my home is open to you,” she offered.

It is exactly the response Digital Film Department Director Lisa Tervo had in mind when she had the idea to bring film alums back to campus to give perspective and build connections with current film students.

“Last summer, I realized it would be a great opportunity to have people living in town and, hopefully, eventually people living out of town to come talk to students, explain what they’re situations are, to help our current students to get to meet them but also hear a little bit about what they learned while they were here at GCU and how they were able to take these lessons and actually turn them into working film jobs,” Tervo said.

Film students made connections at the DFP Alumni Panel.

The first DFP Alumni Panel took place last semester and resulted in some exciting, yet unexpected, feedback from students.

“I was like, ‘Hey, guys, what did you think of the alumni panel?’ and they said, ‘It was awesome, I actually got a job this weekend to PA (production assistant). … You could see the other seniors in the room look at them and be like, ‘Wait. You got a job? Can you give me the contact info?’ I said, ‘Well why didn’t you guys go to this?’ and they said, ‘Oh well, we were busy.’”

This semester’s panel consisted of film alumnus James as a moderator, Athena Bates (formerly Simmons) and Sam Erdmann. Bates shared her experience previously working on film for The Mayo Clinic before making the switch to Kitchen Sink Studios, while Erdmann shared her work as a freelance videographer and professor at Scottsdale Community College. It was an opportunity the panel wished they had when they were a student.

“I think it’s beneficial they get to meet people who are in the industry currently and that there are people they can meet in this room maybe they didn’t before,” Erdmann said. “In a program with 350 people, they may not know everyone in this room, and hopefully, they get to know each other and maybe gain a little bit of knowledge, as well.”

In James’ case, when Tervo asked if she would be involved with the panel, her answer was an instant yes.

“The first time that Tervo reached out to me about it, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh! Yes. I’ve been waiting for somebody to ask me what that experience was like because I feel that sometimes it can be very different for different people,” she said.

“To be in a spot where you don’t know if your path is right, to have somebody else confirm, ‘You know, I did it this way and it’s going to be all right. You’ll be able to make it. You’re going to be able to do XYZ. You’re going to be successful.’ That really kind of helps inspire you right when you’re in the middle of the semester, you’re stressed and you don’t even know if this is worth it. ‘Should I just drop out right now?’ It’s good to hear those words of wisdom from somebody who’s like, ‘Yeah you’ve got this, keep trucking,'” James said.

It was also an opportunity for James to show her gratitude to her alma mater in a special way.

“I always feel like sometimes in positions where you’re an alumnus, you need to give back but you can’t financially do it,” she said. “Being able to give back in your experiences and give back in your time is a great way to kind of benefit another generation.”

It’s an experience that freshman film student Nathan Arbuckle was grateful for, too.

“It shows that people care,” he said. “It shows that people care a lot more about our success and want me to succeed as well as they did and be able to create a better environment for the world.”

Contact Ashlee Larrison at (602) 639-8488 or [email protected]

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Related content:

GCU Today: GCU students win awards in regional film festival

GCU Today: Students’ film talents readily seen in 1-night Festival


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