This Tuesday, Southern’s School of Visual Art and Design (SVAD), in partnership with the School of Journalism and Communication (SJC), concluded its fourth annual Roundtable event.
Roundtable is an event where alumni from both departments are invited to return to their Brock Hall classrooms as volunteers and present to students about the professional work they have done in fields related to the SVAD or the SJC.
The program, which first took place in 2016, was founded mainly with the leadership of alumni Tom Wentworth, Nicholas Lavanos and David George. According to Wentworth, there has been significant growth since the 2016 event, which focused only on the film department and scheduled only 12 alumni. This year‘s Roundtable had over 60 alumni in attendance.
The scheduled sessions represented a wide range of topics such as animation, photography, journalism, television and movie production, public relations and much more. Presenters also brought a wide area of experience with them anywhere from advertising for IBM to working on animating “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.” Wentworth said that the reason this project was started on the basis that after he and his colleagues graduated, they felt fellow Southern colleagues were lacking something.
“The school does a fantastic job of teaching you the hard skills and that kind of thing [but] we felt like we had this gap between knowing how to start a career,” Wentworth said. “We all found it. We ended up finding it on our own but there’s just a lot of things we wish we had known.”
In order to extend the opportunities, the organizers added a special aspect particularly for seniors called “Senior Cohort.” This new component assigns seniors with a professional alumni from their corresponding fields. The alumni are meant to act as mentors whom seniors can reach out to for advice and networking, not only during their last months at Southern, but also as they transition into the working world.
One of the program’s mentors is Omar Bourne who graduated in 2007 with a degree in print journalism and now works as the Deputy Press Secretary at the NYC Emergency Management Department.
“I am happy to be able to come back and share the knowledge and my experience with the future [students],” Bourne said. “There is information for everyone, and there is stuff that everyone can learn. I wish I had something like this when I was here.”
Despite it being Bourne’s first time being a part of Roundtable, he said he is eager to be here and even added two additional seniors to his list of mentees as he felt his work lined up more with their major than the students’ original mentors.
Michaela Lewin, who is graduating in May, has participated in all four years of Roundtable and joined the Senior Cohort with 2012 graduate Lauren Brooks as her mentor.
“I think [mentoring] is valuable because it brings people who have gone through the same things that we’re currently going through to just give us that extra reminder that you’re not alone,” Lewin said. “It gives you valuable information because these people have been working in the industry for 10 plus years.”
Wentworth said that the idea from the mentorship aspect originated last year after hearing feedback indicating that students who had attended in previous years had lost interest because they felt the event was too similar to previous years. He believes that they weren’t wrong and hence, they created something specifically for seniors.
“We wanted to create something that genuinely brought value to the seniors,” Wentworth said. “…We wanted to create an experience that everyone else could see happening, and that they weren’t allowed to go to it to create a little bit of [fear of missing out].”
Looking into the future, Wentworth said that he and the leadership team plan on continuing to grow the program and expand it further than just the three day event. He mentioned having ‘Roundtable nights’ once a month throughout the year where an alumnus joins students virtually in a classroom to speak over a specific topic.
“The core purpose of the Roundtable is to create those connections to make sure that students have as much access to alumni who care about them and who are invested in them,” Wentworth said.