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Los Angeles alumni mentor undergraduate students

Making the leap from a small town to the big city can be daunting, but as the number of Elon University alumni continues to grow with each passing year, graduates are establishing themselves in large metropolitan areas and making it easier for current students to pack up and peddle their wares - especially in Los Angeles, where the university is quickly expanding its presence.

In the past three years, an influx of Elon students and grads has moved to the City of Angels to begin their careers in media, arts and entertainment. The local alumni chapter continues to grow, the Communications Fellows take a yearly Winter Term excursion out west, and more than 30 interns hole up in the Oakwood Apartments for a nine-week summer experience.

The reason for the recent Elon-to-LA population spike? In large part, the alumni mentorship opportunities afforded to students in the Elon in Los Angeles program, which has helped students gain a familiarity with the city. And to a person, students almost always say connecting one-on-one with alumni has eased their hesitation about making the 2,500-mile trek west.

“Elon is always that kind of community, where you always feel safe,” said junior media arts & entertainment major Alex Trice. “I feel like whenever I’m struggling at Elon, there are so many people who care about me and try to help me out. And I feel like here in Los Angeles, with program and the mentors, it’s kind of the same thing. It’s sort of like a safety net you can fall on.”

J. McMerty, the director of Elon in LA, said the mentorship program, which began last year, is an important component to the students’ experiences. The alumni are able to provide unique and important insights about the city, about how to land a job, about how to get around town. They become fast connections and resources who remain fixtures in the lives of the students when they return to campus.

“I think it’s really important to involve the alumni in our program because that is one of the goals of the program: to help build an alumni community out here that can help people adjust to living and working in Los Angeles,” McMerty said. “I think a lot of them will make lifelong connections with these people. We want our alumni to give, and if the only thing they can give at this point in their careers is time, I think that’s really important.”

This year, there are 21 alumni serving as mentors in LA, all of whom were invited by McMerty to serve. They’ve all been graduated for at least a year, and every one has been paired with a student who shares the same interests or professions.

McMerty said he’s pleased that there are 21 mentors helping 35 students, but he also hopes in the near future the ratio is closer to one-to-one. And if the Elon in LA program continues to produce SoCal-bound students, it’s a ratio he may reach soon. McMerty said of the 48 students who have gone through the program, 32 have graduated from Elon and 23 of those will be living in Los Angeles by the end of the summer.

One of those 23 is Tim Johnson, a 2009 broadcast communications graduate who works as a junior assistant editor at Precision, where he interned while in the Elon in LA program.

Johnson said he was thrilled when he received the invitation asking him to mentor an undergraduate and leapt at the opportunity to give back to students and to Elon.

Aaron Moger '12 (foreground) works as an intern with Precision + Post Production with alumnus Tim Johnson '09.

“It really interested me because my experience had been so tied to speaking to alumni and others who were already in the workforce,” Johnson said. “And if I could help some students have the same experience that I did, I figured that was something that I really wanted to take part in.”

Johnson has met with both of his mentees, and he also works with junior Aaron Moger, who’s interning at Precision this summer. Johnson said he helps as much as he can. He’s only been in LA for a year, but he has a good sense of the kinds of questions and concerns students may have because they’re probably the same ones he himself expressed when he interned in Los Angeles for the summer.

“I’ve been here only a year, so I feel like I’m still learning a ton, but some of these students who are just a couple of years younger than me may have a lot of the same questions that I did when I first came out,” he said. “And those are the types of things that I might be able to help with.”

Kristin Hegel, a 2006 broadcast and new media graduate, interned in LA with Ithaca College’s program five years ago. Shortly after graduating, she moved west to take a position with Fremantle Media. Since then, she’s been integral in helping undergrads secure internships with her company and in making herself available to them whenever they need guidance or support.

“I’m a big believer in giving back to the school,” said Hegel, who’s the associate manager of creative services for Fremantle Media Enterprises. “I worked on the Elon Fund, so it instilled that in me.

“I think a lot of kids come out to LA bright eyed and think world is theirs. And it is, but it’s important to realize the realistic part of Hollywood I don’t have all the answers, but from my three years experience, I think that makes me a pretty well rounded LA citizen.”

Of course, the mentor-mentee relationship isn’t completely one-sided. The students also offer something invaluable to the alumni: a true connection to the campus and the school they love.

“We kind of keep them up to date on what we’re learning in classes and how campus has actually changed and what we’re doing with the program,” said senior media arts & entertainment major Lauren Kenney, who’s interning with Fremantle.

Michelle Niland, a supervising producer on “Ax Men” and a 2003 communications alumna, stays busy for work and hasn’t made it back to Elon in a couple of years. So she relishes the opportunity to stay abreast of developments at her alma mater.

“It’s just a good way also to hear from kids that are actually there now and see how much has changed and staying connected to that, especially being on other side of country,” she said.

And suddenly, thanks to the Elon in LA program and a dedicated group of alumni, being on the other side of the country, as Niland said, doesn’t feel so lonely. A community is developing out west, and it’s welcoming Elon students and graduates with great energy and enthusiasm.

“People may have thought LA was an option, but now that they have this intern program, they get to see it, they get to experience,” Hegel said. “Slowly but surely, we’re infiltrating the city.”

Los Angeles Mentors and Mentees (mentors’ names in bold):

Mirai Booth-Ong – Julia Gallagher and Sarah Glover
Marian Bruno – Jeff Masters and Megan Reeves
Ben Deloose – Brian Glover and Cameron Jackson
Lauren Gadd – Clint Edmondson and Kristin Genszler
Matt Gaffney – Molly Cimikoski and Lauren Kenney
Kristin Hegel – Alex Ardinger and Jennifer Austin
Keegan Heise – Caroline Drage
Ryan Howard – Lucas Lovett
Timothy Johnson – Brett Annese and David James
Jess Linderman – Perri Rossi and Emily Tryon
Stephanie Moeller – Abby Bassett and Jonathan Keller
Michelle Niland – Lauren Ludlow and Alex Trice
Candra Nazzaro – Laura Dorado
Ben Parish – Matt Smith
Lindsay Robinson – Alexis DeRosa
Kristen Rossi – Evann Clingan
Joe Saladino – Tyler Dorenburg
Troy Senkiewicz – Michael Heil and Alex Leedy
Margot Stephenson – Cristina Gutierrez and Jessie Schroeder
Kari Taylor – Nneka Enurah and Barrett Weed
David Waters – Philip Kimbrough and Aaron Moger

Alumna Kristin Hegel '06, right, of Fremantle Media, works with Lauren Kenney '11, who's interning with Fremantle.
Colin Donohue,
8/4/2010 3:31 PM