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March 15, 2019

Day of SCervice 2019: Alums Welcome Thomas Jefferson High School Students to SCA

By Ben Del Vecchio

Every year, thousands participate in the USC Alumni Day of SCervice – an opportunity for Trojans to engage with their local communities. Whether cultivating gardens in Sun Valley or providing interview clothing for children in Hong Kong, alumni around the world spent their weekends giving back. This year’s Day of SCervice, March 9th, 2019, was observed by Trojans internationally, across the United States, and, especially, here in Los Angeles.

At the USC School of Cinematic Arts, a host of alums from various USC schools welcomed, toured, and chatted with a collective of budding filmmakers and film enthusiasts from Thomas Jefferson High School, located in Los Angeles’ South Central neighborhood. The students recently started and the school’s first ever film club, where they screen classics and contemporary films alike, discussing the films’ merits, joys, and missteps. Thomas Jefferson, SCA, and the alumni organization Woman of Cinematic Arts banded together to organize a day of interaction and dialogue between these students and SCA alums working in the industry.

Heather Humpleman ’12, current membership chair of Women of Cinematic Arts, spoke on the idea’s genesis: “These students are so eager and passionate, we really wanted to try and connect them with the school. It started as something small –– just trying to set up a tour or something –– but before we knew it, we had a day planned, with screenings and lectures and pizza.” The Women of Cinematic Arts were the main instigators for the event, but alumni kept cropping up and volunteering to join the crew.

The day began with an overview of the school, before a screening of Ryan Coogler’s MFA ’11 student short film, Locks (2009), produced in his 290 course at SCA. It received a warm reception for the students and prompted conversation over creatively tapping into their individual stories (as Coogler did).

After the screening, Bret Marnell ’89 gave a condensed presentation that walked students through the creative process of editing for animation –– using images and clips from films like Spider-man: Into the Spider-Verse and Smurfs: The Lost Village before taking questions regarding the process, the industry, his trajectory, and USC’s film school. Marnell gave insight into the industry, its machinations, and the multitude of creative positions available within it.

Alexa Harzan ’12, commented on both Bret’s presentation and the event as a whole: “All the niches and nooks and crannies available in the filmmaking world, opportunities a lot of people don’t know about, letting these kids know that there is both a diversity in the jobs available to them and the people already working within those jobs is very important.”

Indeed, whether recently out of school or in established careers, independently contracted or studio-based, in production, academia, or digital media, the SCA alumni who participated in Day of SCervice represented a panoply of opportunities in the industry, and the strength of the alumni network USC offers.

Jennifer Gamez (Annenberg Class of ’11) found the student-alum interaction particularly engaging, as it allowed her to discuss her work in digital media at 20th Century Fox: “I like to do day of SCervice every year, but this was such a unique way to engage. Both in showcasing the specific work I do, and spreading awareness of what is possible going into/coming out of USC.”

“A lot of people don’t see the Arts as a viable career path,” remarked Tyler-Rose Veguez, who studied Business of Cinematic Arts while at USC, and is Communication Director of the Women of Cinematic Arts. “I grew up with parents who pushed me to do something “more practical” but I want these students to know that there aren’t only jobs and opportunities in the arts, but there are well-paying, ‘practical’ paths as well. The people here today stand as a testament to that.”

Antonio Novoa, USC Class of ’91 and teacher-librarian at Thomas Jefferson, stressed the effect something as simple as a conversation can have on a budding student: “[These talks] provide a vision of what is possible. It’s not out of their reach. I grew up in this area, and often times it felt like USC was in a bubble, sectioned off from the rest of the local area. Hopefully, for these students, this makes it seem less so.”

The program ended with pizza, soda, and a picnic-like gathering in SCA’s Meldman park, where the students and alums chatted at length. There was an air of belonging about the moment: for the students, it was a taste of what could be; for the alums, a recollection of what was.

For Heather Humpleman '12 , organizing the Day of SCervice, for her, is an encapsulation of the kinds of events the school needs more of, the kind that link current students and alums to local communities: “I think it’s important as alumni to contribute and give back to the community that has given so much to us, and to help expand that community so as to include the surrounding local areas. The more inclusive and diverse we are here, the better not only for SC, but also for the community at large.”

Photo Credit: Brian Artica, Thomas Jefferson High School