BEN KEGAN ’09
I spent a lot of time attending screenings in Kimball auditorium. But what the major taught me was how to transition from someone who watched and consumed media, to someone who thought critically and analyzed our visual culture: be it film, television, comic books, or a web-series. I remember conversations spilling out after classes, talking endlessly about everything from Bazin to the latest Blockbuster. I made connections between constructing an argument for my thesis and constructing a final cut of a documentary. The classes, professors, and fellow students fostered an intellectual curiosity that did not stop when lectures ended. I left with thorough theoretical and historical tools to engage with culture and media, not simply as a fan, but as a critic and an artist.
The ability to think critically and construct an argument, be it on paper or on the screen, is a tool I use everyday. And it’s not a tool that is learned magically; it came through classes, discussion, practice, and long nights in the library and editing lab alike. It comes through watching something for the sixteenth time with the same intensity as if it were the first. There’s almost too much to say about how Whitman’s program prepared me for grad school. Prepared me? No, it isn’t preparation; it’s the beginning. It’s where it starts. And what you learn is it never really stops.
JASON STRUSS ’06
Dedication. Diligence. Devotion. Whitman’s Film & Media Studies program hammered these three D’s into my once naïve soul, transforming me from an innocent cinephile to a full blown working cog in the entertainment machine. This transformation occurred by studying the power of visual communication and storytelling through a variety of forms such as Abraham Lincoln’s presidential speeches, Terrence Malick’s celluloid pastoral hymns, Michel Foucault’s theories of power and discourse, and the day-glo disco fantasia that is Saturday Night Fever. High and low, these cultural artifacts imbued me with a sense of speech, culture, and art and established a foundation of knowledge of mass media and popular culture.
Without Whitman’s Film and Media Studies program, I would lack the skills necessary to pursue my desire to work within the entertainment industry. I never would have gone to graduate school and I produced my own television show that won a college Emmy. I never would have interned at Discovery Communications or MTV Network and gained valuable working experience that drew upon my undergraduate background in media studies. Most importantly, I wouldn’t be holding my current position at Marvel Entertainment, straddling the razor’s edge between publishing and filmmaking. You’d be surprised at how much Foucault is needed when deciding which spandex suit Spider-Man should wear on his latest adventure.
In summation, I wouldn’t be the overgrown nerd I am today without the Film and Media Studies program. It’s an intellectual and emotional investment that keeps paying off every day of my life.
AUBREY GALLEGOS ’08
It amazes me how often my job now reminds me of the work I did as a student in the Film & Media Studies program. I work for POV, a documentary series on PBS. We curate and broadcast 14-16 films on PBS each year and my department produces accompanying discussion guides and lesson plans, and facilitates free screenings nationwide. The meetings I take part in to discuss the films and plan our outreach/education campaigns feel just like the discussions and presentations we had in Kimball auditorium except that, instead of being surrounded by fellow students, I’m now surrounded by filmmakers, producers and PBS programmers. Our discussion guides also remind me of the papers I wrote for my FMS classes, and the work I did on my thesis, delving into what “independent film” really means, has been invaluable as I navigate the industry on a daily basis. My analytical and communication skills are constantly stretched at POV and I’m grateful every day for my time in FMS, where I was held to high-standards and provided with the tools and support to reach them. I couldn’t wait for my FMS classes every week and the genuine passion of the professors was infectious. There’s no doubt that the FMS program played a key part in helping me develop the passion, confidence and skills necessary to do a job I now love.
AISHA FUKUSHIMA ’09
I wrote my undergraduate thesis on rap star Lupe Fiasco using political theory to analyze the social significance of his music. Through my work in media studies, I deepened my understanding of cultural change and social justice with the guidance of professors who honed my critical intellectual media lens. Upon graduating, I received the prestigious Watson Fellowship, pursing a year abroad in Africa, Asia and Europe exploring my passion for global hip hop justice, or as I call it, ‘RAPtivism’ (rap activism). I now live in San Francisco, California where I continues to grow my RAPtivism project by collaborating with other socially engaged artists and educating young people. My work has been featured by TEDx, Oprah Magazine, The Bangalore Mirror and a number of other international publications. I also contribute articles on pop culture and politics to New America Media, and recently returned from performance lectures tours in Kazakhstan and Japan. My educational experience with the Film & Media Studies Program gave me tools that continue to serve as a basis for her timely, socially engaged cultural activism today.
TEAL GREYHAVENS ’08
90% of getting anything done in film production is connecting with people. In my work and travels I collaborate with production teams, location managers, translators, business owners, local liasions, and so on. On one shoot I may interview a scholar who wants to discuss the world’s history, and a coffee picker who wants to share his personal story. Being able to understand and communicate with a broad spectrum of people is instrumental to making strong cinema. The Whitman Film & Media education gives students the chance to discuss & create together, to focus less on the when and how of cinema and more on the who – and the ways media can shape our perceptions of people unlike us. More on Teal’s work here and here.
My time as a Film & Media Studies major at Whitman posed a number of challenges: How does one make a documentary on public transportation interesting? A senior thesis on pickup artists and seduction techniques remotely appropriate? From my courses, classmates, and professors I eventually figured out that it all comes down to compelling storytelling, regardless of the medium or topic. This understanding helped to propel me through a number of post-college positions to land in my current job: Digital Project Coordinator for the clothing brand Anthropologie, based in Philadelphia. I work with the various teams that contribute to the Anthro website to write copy, produce images, and craft digital interactions that allow the customer to fully immerse herself in the narrative of the brand. Prior to this current role I organized photoshoots for Anthro’s website and catalog; before that I worked in San Francisco, first as an online advertising analyst, and then as a video and graphic design intern for an international telecom company. I’ve definitely bounced around jobs since graduating, but for me the connecting thread between them ties to the theoretical and practical skills I built in my FMS classes at Whitman: crafting a convincing argument, juggling logistics and personalities, and most importantly learning to let the story unfold organically.
During my time as a Whittie, I majored in English Literature and pursued many other areas of interest—acting in Harper Joy Theatre, taking film courses, singing, and studying French and studio art. Thanks to the advice of Whitman professors Robert Sickels and Gaurav Majumdar, I’m on my way to an academic career in media studies. I received my Masters from the University of Texas, where I focused on children’s media, media advertising trends, and the effect of cultural institutions. My Master’s thesis, entitled “The Lovers and Dreamers Go Corporate: The Muppets under the Disney Empire,” is an exploration in authorship as a site of cultural meaning making and the impact of Disney’s ownership and marketing of the Muppets. This Fall, I’m applying for PhD programs and looks forward to a career in media exploration and teaching. I remember Whitman as four years of crucial intellectual and personal growth.
KIM WETTER ’09
It was during my senior year at Whitman when my Film & Media Studies professors encouraged me to get hands-on with my television obsession. I spent that year working with fellow FMS alum Ben Kegan on an independent study creating a television pilot of our own. “Castle Academy” went on to premiere at the International Television Festival of Los Angeles and shortly thereafter I applied to work at Buddytv.com. This was my first official television-related “adult job.” Within the startup culture, I developed skills in internet marketing in addition to fostering my love of all things TV. I had the benefit of meeting and interviewing (and totally trying not to fangirl all over) Joss Whedon, Tahmoh Penikett, Joshua Jackson, Jane Espenson, Morena Baccarin, Ian Somerhalder, Taylor Lautner and many others. As I delved further into marketing, I realized the skills I had developed in SEO were in high demand and this has since set the tone for my career. I am now the marketing manager for Guide to Online Schools, which is the flagship website of a small startup in Kirkland called SR Education Group where I help realize the company’s mission to make education accessible and affordable to all.