Students find success and connections by spending a semester in Los Angeles

The School of Film and Animation’s Study Away: LA program creates unique learning opportunities for third-year students

Nash Snyder

Students from the 2023 Study Away: LA cohort look out over the city of Los Angeles from a balcony at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.

Nash Snyder, a film and animation-production option student from Rochester, N.Y., was looking for a change in scenery during his third year of studying at RIT. The School of Film and Animation’s Study Away: LA program provided the perfect opportunity for Snyder to spread his wings.

Snyder spent the fall semester exploring Los Angeles, working as a production assistant intern for the Society of Camera Operators and taking classes to support his study away experience. He was one of 10 students who participated in the experience last fall, and Snyder said the experience gave him and his peers a taste of what it might be like to live and work in LA.

“The biggest thing I learned is just that it’s realistic and that this is something I could actually do. It's the most fun job, but it can seem so unattainable. When you're out there, you can see that there are so many different jobs waiting for you,” said Snyder. “Just through my internship, I met deep sea cinematographers, helicopter cinematographers, and other specialized workers—and they’re all making good money doing jobs that I could see myself doing.”

Snyder enjoyed his internship experience, but, due to unfortunate timing, not all of his peers secured internships. The students’ study away semester took place amidst the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike and the 2023 Writers Guild of America Strike, which forced School of Film and Animation Director Shanti Thakur and David Simkins, a veteran screenwriter with more than thirty years of industry experience and LA-based leader of the Study Away: LA program, to pivot their plans for the semester.

“We didn’t know how long these strikes were going to last. The students were working their hardest to find internships, but many of the companies that previous students worked with didn’t have any open positions available,” said Thakur. “We had to think very quickly to figure out a way that we could offer the students who couldn’t secure internships experiential education opportunities.”

To address this issue, Thakur and Simkins created two new, networking-focused courses for the students: case studies in problem solving and visionary centers. Both courses, taught by Director and Producer Rachel Raimist, gave students the tools and time needed to network with local professionals in the film and animation industry.

With support from Daphne Wyse, regional director of advancement, and James Marotto, senior director of advancement, Thakur and Simkins connected with RIT alumni in the area to help support the new courses.

“The real reason our students want to go to LA is because they want to network and learn more about the jobs in the film and television industry. When we met with our alums over zoom, they were all so open, enthusiastic, and delighted to help with that,” said Thakur. “When you're a veteran and you've worked in the industry for 10, 20, or 40-plus years, to meet your younger self and give them the advice you wish you had when you were in their shoes is a really exciting proposition.”

Katelyn Park’s networking experience throughout the semester is a testament to finding success while facing seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Park, a third-year film and animation- animation option student from Montvale, N.J., didn’t secure an internship while in LA—but the free time she had as a result allowed her to expand her professional network by attending events, including the 2023 Lightbox Expo, meeting people for informational interviews over coffee, and more.

“In the beginning it felt like almost everything was telling me not to go. But Professor Tom Gasek helped set us up for success by giving us an entire email list of alumni and his personal connections in LA,” said Park. “He also gave me advice and said, ‘even though the strikes are happening and it’s going to be difficult to get an internship, being in LA is the most important thing.’ I don’t think I realized at the time how powerful it is to be in the middle of this huge hub for animation professionals, but I’m glad I stuck with it to find out.”

A highlight of Park’s time in LA was connecting with a networking group called Asian Queens in Animation, which she discovered on her own by seeking out local events. She also formed a mentoring relationship with RIT alumna Cameron “Cami” Kwan ’15 (film and animation), director and partner at alumnus-owned Apartment D Films. Park’s connections with the group and Kwan helped open her eyes to the possibilities waiting for her after graduation.

“The nature of the city really helped me build up that initiative to do research, go to events to meet people and have fun, and then come back and reflect on my experiences. The people I met through Asian Queens in Animation were especially kind to me,” said Park. “They are a really nice community filled with a lot of young women, so I really felt seen around them. Finding that close knit community out there definitely helped me feel at home.”

Park’s experience was everything Thakur and Simkins imagined when crafting the new courses and experiences for this year’s cohort. Simkins emphasized the value of nurturing connections with RIT alumni so that more students can have an experience like Park, who met with at least two industry professionals every week during her time in LA.


Simkins went further to explain that the value of nurturing those relationships extends beyond just the one-to-one connections that can be made between alumni and current students.

“The other benefit of working with our network of alumni in the area is simply the fact that they are established and working in LA. It wasn’t just limited to students talking to them about their experiences, our alumni were opening the doors to their places of business so students could see what they do,” said Simkins. “RIT alum Tori McCaleb arranged for our students to sit in on a recording of Jeopardy. Another alum arranged for the students to tour a virtual production stage on a set at Universal Studios. It all made for a great experience.”

This is the second academic year Study Away: LA has been available to third-year film and animation students in select programs. For information about how to apply for the fall 2024 study away experience, go to the RIT Global website.

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