Communication professor Ron Leone couldn’t believe what he was seeing. The room in the Kruse Center was full, and he and his student, Chris Gagne, ’09, were running out of the 40 copies of the handouts they’d come with. Chris’ presentation was about to begin, but they hardly had enough chairs for the 65 students who had shown up to learn about entertainment internship opportunities in Los Angeles.
A member of Stonehill’s Internship Committee, Leone had met Gagne while in New York visiting Stonehill interns. He heard that Gagne, a communication minor, had applied for an internship with the soap opera One Life to Live, and was seeking Stonehill-sponsored summer housing if he should secure the job.
“I told him, if you get that internship, I’ll do whatever I can to help you – simple as that,” says Leone.
A Program Is Born
Indeed, Gagne got the internship, and he and Leone soon became partners in a new initiative: helping to identify and harness a burgeoning interest among Stonehill students in entertainment careers. In lieu of a paper to accompany his internship, Leone assigned Gagne a research project on the availability of Los Angeles internships for Stonehill students, to culminate in the presentation at Career Services – which turned out to be standing room only.
“That was a lightbulb moment for me,” says Leone. “It gave me a strong sense of purpose – I said, ‘If this is something our students want, we have to try and make it happen.’”
Leone did some research on Los Angeles internship programs at other institutions, identifying one that was open to external students; the $30,000 price tag per student, however, made him rethink the strategy.
“I said forget that,” he says. “We can do this for our own students, with what they already pay in tuition.” He began to build the infrastructure necessary to send Stonehill students to Los Angeles for a semester-long internship, and a year later, the first group of four Stonehill students headed west to discover what Tinseltown and the entertainment industry had to teach them.
Today, Leone oversees the Los Angeles Internship Program – currently in its third year – along with Gagne, now a Stonehill alumnus and Marketing Assistant at Universal Pictures, who provides on-the-ground support for the interns while they’re living in Los Angeles. So far, the program has placed Stonehill students in positions with such well-known Hollywood entities as CBS Films, MGM, Warner Brothers and the Conan O’Brien Show.
From Classroom to Studio
The first day of work is never a dull one when you’re starting as an intern at a major motion picture studio. For Renee Rispoli, ’14, who interned with Langley Park Productions on the Warner Brothers Studios lot, the first day on the job meant a brush with actor Channing Tatum, who strolled through the studio door.
“I remember sitting at the reception desk thinking, ‘Well, this is quite the first day,’” says the communication major.
Rispoli says the experience interning in Los Angeles through Stonehill taught her two important lessons: First, it gave her a taste of the less flexible schedule she faces after college, when lingering in the cafeteria with friends in the middle of the day is no longer an option. And second, the internship helped Rispoli define her future career plans in an unexpected – but critical – way: by showing her she should seek her career beyond the entertainment industry.
“It’s great to work in Los Angeles for a few months, but I am not as passionate about it as the people I work with,” she says. “I don’t think I could do it for the rest of my life.”
Osasu Igbinedion, ’13, was also led in a different career direction by her Los Angeles internship experience: toward entrepreneurship. A TV Marketing Intern for MGM Studios, Igbinedion, a communication major, gained experience conducting market research and developed social media campaigns for MGM-produced movies – skills she says will only help as she pursues a Master’s in Brand Marketing and Integrated Communication and starts a business.
“My mum always told me, ‘Experience is the best teacher’ – I’ve come to know that for myself through this internship experience,” says Igbinedion.
For Brendan Mahan, ’14, a communication major who interned for Disney subsidiary Laugh productions, the experience has only encouraged his interest in the field while helping get his foot in the door and gain exposure and contacts he otherwise couldn’t have gained through classroom-only learning.
“The way I’ve learned how a sitcom is put together couldn’t be replicated in the classroom,” he says. “Seeing the stage managers wrangle the actors and actresses and being at the ‘table read’ and the ‘notes’ meeting with Disney executives – it’s all been so much fun.”
Stirring Students’ Interests
Leone is modest about his role in creating what has proven to be a successful launching point for Stonehill students interested in Hollywood careers. But Gagne says none of it – including his own success in navigating his way into the Los Angeles network – would have happened without Leone’s enthusiastic support for his students.
“I was a finance major who didn’t actually want to be in finance – but I didn’t have connections in Hollywood,” says Gagne. “He helped me realize what was possible.”
The program is just one example of Leone’s unique ability to inspire students to reach toward their true aspirations. In the classroom, the self-described film addict shares his love for cinema with students, and says he takes great pride in what each individual student achieves.
“The nature of this place is that students have to work hard to avoid teachers, to not be on our radar – we interact in more meaningful ways,” says Leone. “Whether I’m in the classroom or advising students, I try to ask interesting questions, find answers and help our students get to where they want to be.”
Sometimes, where a student actually wants to be is not where he or she began. For Christine Dwyer, ’12, squeezing Leone’s film class in as a senior-year elective would prove to be a life-changing decision. An Environmental Studies major who intended to work with animals, Christine found that Leone’s passion for movies reawakened her own long-dormant interest in the subject.
“His class reminded me why I like film,” she says. “Professor Leone reassured me that I could change directions and pursue this as a real career path.”
After her eleventh-hour career direction change, Dwyer pursued an internship in Los Angeles and recently accepted a full-time position with E! Entertainment Television. Though at first a bit hesitant about being a science major in a decidedly artistic industry, Dwyer says the knowledge she acquired in Leone’s class made all the difference in her finding quick success.
“People here refer all the time to the classic movies he gave us to watch,” she says. “He taught us the things that matter – I didn’t need film school because I took his class.”