Media arts major Kaitlynn Perry ('23) was just two classes away from her degree. Needing only a few credits, she found an opportunity on social media.
"I was hanging out with my friend and she saw this post on Instagram about a new program," Perry says.
The post was for UNT's first-ever Media Arts in Los Angeles program, which in July took a group of 12 students to Southern California for an immersive look at Hollywood and the media industry.
"As somebody aspiring to be in that industry, L.A. is a hub for me," Perry says. "I wanted to know if it would be a place where I could see myself living and working."
The program was the passion project of associate professor Jennifer Porst, who was inspired by a similar program at Emerson College in Boston.
"I always thought that it would be something, especially for our students here in Texas, that could be really valuable," Porst says. "Students could get a sense of what Los Angeles is like, but we could also strengthen our ties to our alumni currently working there."
The program was made up of two five-week courses -- "Hollywood History" taught by Porst, and "Contemporary Hollywood" taught by assistant professor Courtney Brannon Donoghue.
"Our goal was to offer them an experiential, on-the-ground Los Angeles program," Brannon Donoghue says.
Students participated in classes on the UNT campus and online for the first two weeks of the program. After that, they made their own way to Los Angeles, where they stayed at the University of California at Los Angeles campus for the second two weeks.
From Warner Bros. and Sony studio tours to the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures and the Writers Guild Foundation Shavelson-Webb Library, students witnessed every aspect of career life and even got to experience the Writers Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA members' strikes.
"There was nothing really shooting while we were there, but that actually freed up a lot of people to be able to talk to us," Porst says. "It was just exciting for everyone to be in what is really a pretty historic moment."
However, it wasn't all play and no work. Students were assigned a research project to complete at the end of the second two weeks.
"The students had to do independent research on the media industry," Brannon Donoghue says. "They either had to go back to an archive and do research, or they had to contact an industry professional and interview them about their work."
While the star-studded glamour of Hollywood was the draw of the course, the foundation was the UNT alumni.
"Almost every day of the trip was spent meeting with an alumnus," says Mary Alice Sattler, a senior media arts major. "They really gave us that insider look into what everything is like over there."
The alumni, who were located via Bryant Marion, director of development for the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, as well as Porst's own searches, were given the opportunity to be guest speakers for the program. Screenwriters, showrunners, directors and others offered the students advice on living and working in the media industry as well as a chance to network. One alum even went above and beyond to give back to his alma mater.
"There's an alumnus, Matt Walters (who attended from 1993 to 1999), who's now the director at Disney's Motion Picture labs," says Dilyan Arizmendi ('23), a media arts major. "Disney doesn't really do tours for outsiders, but he was nice enough to give us a personal tour of the building."
On the last night of the program, alumni from across the L.A. area gathered for a reception. It was the perfect opportunity for alumni to network with each other as well as the students.
"It was a little nerve-wracking, but it was really good connecting with all of them," says Xiyomi Surratt, a senior media arts major. "They were all so open and nice and willing to help us in the future with any advice that they had or any questions that we had."
With the L.A. trip serving as a send off for some and an inspiration to all, Porst hopes to keep the momentum going.
"I think for next summer, it would be really great if we could have students in L.A. for three weeks instead of two," Porst says. "We want to make sure that students have as much time as they need and want to really take advantage of everything in Los Angeles."
As for Perry, her time with the program has her looking forward to the future. She plans to stay in the DFW area for a few years before moving to L.A. to pursue her dream of becoming a screenwriter.
"I do believe I could live in L.A.," Perry says. "It'll be hard to live there, but I'll make it."