From working class to classy work and beyond

April 4, 2010 at 9:55 PM
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From working class to classy work and beyond


Juliana Schatz NU ‘08 and Jim Stellar


Juliana and I have been talking for some time about doing a blog post together.  She sent me the following e-mail which is really an essay in itself.  I thought that this essay was something that should be seen in its entirety as it shows one student’s evolution from high school through a fantastic job that ended in employment after graduation.  I am happy now to also report that Juliana got into graduate school in Journalism at Columbia University and so now has opened up to her the highest end of ambitions of any academic department – that their student will get into an top graduate program.  Let me stop here and let Juliana tell the story.


My trajectory through experiential education begins in a working class town of East Hartford, Connecticut with a lot of ethnic diversity. My high school class was about a quarter white, black, Latino and everything else from Pakistani to Vietnamese. Many of the students were new to the country or first generation Americans. College was on some of our minds, but the guidance counselors did little to encourage us to reach beyond a safe bet like community and state colleges.


When I told my parents I wanted to go to a private institution, hesitation was their first reaction and financing was their primary concern.  When money’s tight, there’s no luxury to coo over who the rock star faculty members are or what the facilities are like. Practicality is front and center. So when I followed up by telling them I didn’t want to be a nurse, doctor or lawyer — they looked at me with some pause and concern — they had no idea what to expect.


After a dissatisfying year at my first college, I learned about cooperative education from a friend at Northeastern University. From the moment I went to orientation, I knew it was the right place for me. There was something redeeming about getting couple of jobs under my belt by the time I graduated. My parents also liked the idea. I eventually decided to major in Communication Studies and Political Science — confirming my parents’ initial fears. But while I was at NU, I reassured them, I would be able to work in the field and really get to know what I wanted.


No one I ever knew ever worked in television. But somehow, I figured I would be able to do so. “Someone has to do it, right?” I would say to my dad. As a transfer student, I knew I would only have enough time to complete two co-ops (normally students do three in five years). The fall semester after my first co-op as a press assistant for Mitt Romney, who was governor of Massachusetts at the time, I decided I would take a step to the other side of the news and apply for an internship at FRONTLINE. Thankfully, I could fit in an internship during my normal class schedule.


They hired me. It was my first experience in news and in production. I was handling equipment I had only used briefly in class and some I had never heard of. Not to mention, I was working with producers whose pieces I watched in my very first Media Studies classes. I was thrilled – in over my head, but thrilled. My work involved the menial, too — the coffee making, the mail getting — but I was very happy to do it.


One day as I was walking to get the mail, I stopped to chat with Steve, an editor who I had become friendly with. He was frustrated that he might miss his son’s hockey game that night because he had to sit and monitor media that was transferring from one drive to another. I asked him if it was a difficult thing to do and he smiled and said all it really involved was sitting there making sure nothing went wrong.


“That’s it? I can do it.”


It was the best offer I had ever made. Happy to get a night off, Steve gave me a few instructions and was on his way.


Steve, it turns out, worked for Michael Kirk, one of the founders of the series. He produced several films per year with his independent production company (Kirk Documentary Group) and had won more than his share of awards. After helping out that night, I was invited to join lunches with Steve, Michael and the rest of their crew. The rest is a little foggy to me — but as time to apply for my next co-op rolled around, I decided to wing it and ask for a job. I knew I could work for free and keep my job at Starbucks in the mean time. But to my surprise — not only did Michael hire me as a production assistant — he also paid me a full time wage.


There I was, 21 and learning the ins and outs of the best documentary filmmaking around.


Ultimately, I hung around with Kirk Documentary Group throughout the rest of college and continue to work with them today, three years later. I am now an associate producer, working on story creation and editorial research. I fly to shoots around the country and work with Peter Jennings’ old crew. Never, in a million years would the stars have aligned this way if I didn’t make the decision to co-op.


Sadly, my father passed away suddenly mid-way through my co-op with Kirk Documentary Group. But, I have to say, in spite of my tremendous heartache, I am delighted that he lived to see the first time my name ever scrolled through the credits. He called after the show, his voice proud and full of emotion, and said to me “Jules, you’re a documentary producer. You did it.”


And then added, “Thank goodness…you would have made a lousy nurse.”


Mission in Mexico – The Ultimate in Learning from Experience
1 Comment

One Response to “From working class to classy work and beyond”

  1. Juliana Schatz says:

    Hello, old friend!

    Thanks for your reply. It puts a huge smile on MY face to hear from you. Yes, it’s true, after nearly 4 years with FRONTLINE I am off to Columbia J-School in the fall!

    Not much to contest with your post. I agree wholeheartedly. It takes a self-starter to really maximize the experiential learning experience. It’s possible for a student to cruise through the program with what is presented to them and do okay, but to really get the most out of it — the student must be inquisitive and as you say, autonomous. Co-op really is what you make it. I see interns pass through here all the time now – it seems like they all just meld together as the semesters come and go. But every now and then there is a student who stands out —asking questions, with genuine interest. Students: Make yourself known!

    Your other point that I find accurate is this flurry of opportunity that can happen when you are out in the field. I will speak for myself, although I think it is safe to say we both had similar experiences, but had I not been on co-op at FRONTLINE it is almost certain I would not be an associate producer today. Just being out there, a physical presence in the office, developing relationships with colleagues makes you recognizable within your community and before you know it, you have professionals that can vouch for your work, potentially employ you or recommend you to another prospective employer. Those kinds of professional opportunities simply do not happen within the traditional classroom setting.

    So good to hear from you, Arminé. I’d love a LSE update!


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