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August 3, 2009

Animation Alumnus & Single Dad

Jose Olmos ’09 Makes Most of SCA

By By Jimmy Kelly

Jose Olmos ('09) is and isn't your typical Trojan. A native of Los Angeles, the recent SCA grad is still wrapping up a couple of summer courses as he splits his time between homework and his job across the street from SCA at the dental school. Olmos has been a standout in the John C. Hench Division of Animation & Digital Arts and dreams of someday working for Pixar. He looks forward to one day giving back to the school and the L.A. community. However, between campus and career, Olmos has one other big priority vying for his time.

"I'm a single parent. The hardest thing was finding childcare, but I have family and friends help me out," said Olmos, who has raised his 13-year-old Desiree for the last nine years. "My daughter's very helpful, she's very patient and she listens. The sacrifices she's made while I'm here have been more than I've sacrificed. She sometimes doesn't get to do stuff on the weekends, because we're staying home and I'm doing homework, I'm working on my project."

At 41, Olmos sticks out among most younger undergrads. And while some of his classmates have travelled from all parts of the world to hone their talents at USC, it's the homegrown Olmos who has perhaps travelled the furthest to be where he is today.

Olmos arrived at USC as a transfer student from Los Angeles Trade Tech Community College. Olmos had dropped out of high school years ago, but was determined to balance work and being a parent with getting his G.E.D. and furthering his education. He had always admired USC for its sense of tradition, but didn't always see himself as a Trojan.

"USC, when I was attending high school, wasn't something I thought about," said Olmos. "I knew friends of mine that were in programs, other things that were situated with transitioning into college, but I wasn't at that phase."

Olmos began working at various jobs in his years after leaving high school and looked at each one as its own valuable learning experience. As the years went on, his parents passed away and, at 28, Olmos suddenly had a family of his own.

It would have been easy for Olmos to keep education on the back burner, but he wanted to set a better example for his daughter.

Animation had always been a passion for Olmos, but he rarely had opportunities to pursue his talent. When he learned of SCA's new animation B.A. and how the program was accepting transfer students, he put together a portfolio. Not only was the division, then chaired by professor Kathy Smith, impressed with Olmos' drawings, they also saw an applicant who had earned a second chance at pursuing his education.

"We have a lot of high-end applicants, but you've got to also accommodate people that don't always get those opportunities," said Smith.

Olmos received a grant to help pay for school and was also awarded a highly selective scholarship from the Norman Topping Student Aid Fund, a program for students with high financial need and a strong sense of community awareness. Olmos had always valued volunteer work and even passed up an internship for the chance to take part in the Youth Animation Workshop, a program run by animation professor Shelly Wattenbarger, where animation students work with kids from Para Los Niños Charter Middle School at Inner-City Arts downtown. Olmos helped run special animation courses and screened his thesis film, Mayan Reign, to the students, who were big fans, according to Wattenbarger.

"Jose was great with the kids," said Wattenbarger. "He was a role model for them, especially coming from a similar background. They really respected him, but felt comfortable asking him for input in their projects."

Olmos has also done volunteer work through the Joint Educational Program (JEP) at USC, all while focusing his academic efforts on traditional and 3D animation. He's gone to animation events in Tokyo and is preparing his work for festivals. Olmos has viewed his time at SCA as a great privilege that came along just when he needed it.

"I felt this is where I wanted to be and needed to be," said Olmos. "I imagined myself walking with my backpack like I am now with my books and my USC gear on and it was awesome. It was a good feeling, like wearing a perfect pair of shoes."

That good feeling has even rubbed off on his daughter, who would like to be a Trojan herself someday. Olmos points to his relationship with Desiree as a major motivation as he pursues his passion for animation.

"Having my daughter, a child in the house, re-sparked animation, because she's always watching Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, Sponge Bob. I've enjoyed reinvigorating the imagination of animation through my child."

Olmos will spend the coming months looking for internships and isn't afraid of having his time spread thin yet again if it means raising a family and working toward that dream job at Pixar. It's been a long road for Olmos, but every step, every sacrifice, every risk has been well worth it, perhaps none more so than the decision to come to USC.

"For me, my excuse was the money, the time, I'm a parent, I've got to pay bills, so all those things people talk about … You just have to try. You just have to follow your passion."