Syracuse University

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Students experience rewarding semester in LA

December 15, 2009

Kara Landsman

From the student publication "Equal Time"

On a typical weekday in the fall semester, senior film major Sophie Benhamou pitches ideas in development meetings with network executives. Later, she attends classes and schmoozes at the home of “The West Wing” creator Aaron Sorkin before going to a screening for an independent film from Mali and then a Q & A session at the Directors Guild of America.

Benhamou is one of 28 SU students studying in Los Angeles for the inaugural semester of the “SU in LA” program. Students attend classes in their respective majors while working at least 20 hours a week at an entertainment industry internship.

The program’s director, Andrea Asimow, has 25 years of experience in the entertainment industry. Asimow first worked to create a program for Newhouse graduate students; they would fly out to L.A., stay in a hotel, and attend a week-long series of meetings with professionals.

“I think that was a nice transition to the idea of getting a campus going,” Asimow says. “The idea was to be an exciting dynamic presence on the west coast, and eventually grow beyond just course work having to do with entertainment.”

Richard Dubin, television, radio, and film department chair in the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, realized that students in Newhouse had very little connection to the reality of the entertainment business.

“I started to lobby for some connection to Los Angeles,” Dubin says. “School is school and the entertainment business is the entertainment business, and I think once students get exposure to the real thing, they get very excited. It’s happening in a place where the business is real. They’re seeing the potential for some of their aspirations.”

Since he did not study abroad as a junior, Dan Siegel, a senior television, radio, and film major, decided the L.A. program was a perfect fit.

“It seemed like fate,” Siegel says. “The program has everything you could imagine. If you’re deciding if you want to move to L.A., it’s the perfect opportunity to experience it. And you can’t argue with 75-degree weather every day.”

Siegel currently interns with the production company Super Delicious. He has had the opportunity to work on set with a production team shooting a competitive baking show for The Food Network.

All students take an internship class in which they discuss their experiences and any problems they may be facing at work. However, Asimow keeps the focus of the program on real-world experience.

“If there is any kind of event that we’d like to attend during that class time, she encourages us to take advantage of it while we can,” Siegel says. “A group of four students were out recently to see a taping of the “Jay Leno Show.”

Dubin expects the program to continue expanding. He believes the SU in LA students will come back to Syracuse fired up about the program and will spread the word.

“The guidance we are getting from these industry professionals is unbeatable, and the lineup has been extremely impressive,” Siegel says. “It makes you start to realize the pulling power that the Syracuse University brand has in L.A.”

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