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.”