An Empire State of mind for Emerson

by Alexander C. Kaufman / Beacon Staff • March 29, 2012

Each year, droves of Emerson graduates migrate from sleepy Boston to the bustling epicenters of their chosen industries. Filmmakers and actors head to Los Angeles to pursue work on the silver screen, an easy transition from spending a semester interning and studying in the college’s expanding satellite campus. After a semester in the Washington, D.C. program, our politically inclined classmates—future political reporters, activists, political aides—find themselves changing hats from student intern to staffer as they make their move to the capital. For these industries—film and politics—the college’s external programs do well to prepare students to dive into competitive metropolitan markets.

But Emerson neglects New York City—the country’s largest, most cutthroat media market—and the college’s meager attempts to prepare us to transition to life in a city of more than eight million fall embarrassingly short. The industry powerbrokers for theater actors and publishers flock to New York. And journalists, who face a bleak job outlook in most cities, are highly sought-after in Manhattan’s burgeoning news startup scene.

The college should establish an external program, similar to those in Los Angeles and Washington, in Manhattan, allowing prospective New Yorkers to intern and study for a semester, while living in Emerson-administered dorms or apartments. This would help undergraduates develop an incipient professional network and acquaint themselves with the pace and culture of a city drastically larger and faster-moving than Boston.

And, according to a post-graduate survey of last year’s graduating class, New York was among the top three states where students moved, alongside Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. California and D.C. didn’t even make the cut.

Earlier this month, when I joined dozens of my classmates, alumni, and college officials in Hollywood for the official groundbreaking of the Los Angeles campus, there was an overwhelming sense that with a degree from Emerson, you could make it in that city. We had the connections, the internship opportunities, and, moreover, the name recognition. A semester in Hollywood—or Washington—gives students the start they need to eventually move there.

This leaves Emerson students at clear disadvantage in New York. Our competitors from New York University, Eugene Lang College, and other liberal arts schools spend four years making connections to break into the job market. 

We get little more than an afternoon.

For us, there’s the New York Connection, a program which, according to Emerson’s website, helps to “assist undergraduate students with their career planning.” That translates to an afternoon sightseeing trip. Students bus down to Manhattan at 7 a.m., visit a few dream jobs—this year’s trip covered everything from the Rachel Ray Show studio to the Simon & Schuster publishing house. After a dinner with some alumni—just enough time to schmooze and maybe get a business card or two—students get back on a bus and return to Boston. 

That’s hardly enough time to give serious thought to, let alone plan, a career.

The current Los Angeles center consists of living space in an apartment complex and classrooms in an office building. In D.C., the college partners with the Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars, a nonprofit educational facility that serves as both a dormitory and campus center. 

A satellite program in New York could easily borrow from either model—Emerson could purchase an apartment building and rent classroom space, or it could partner with another university to use its facilities.

I grew up on Long Island, about a 30 minute drive—traffic permitting—from midtown Manhattan. Many of my high school friends moved to the city when they graduated, and are now finding the jobs Emerson students should be seeking. To speak from personal experience, journalists face a particularly anemic job market. Except in New York. There, fast-growing startups like Business Insider, BuzzFeed, and Gawker Media are hiring reporters while traditional media outlets—The Los Angeles Times and The Boston Herald, for instance—continue to downsize. 

As it stands, Emerson grads who want to be in New York are on their own. You can spend a summer interning there, which sounds simple until you realize you must navigate the nation’s largest and most expensive city left to your own devices. With the college pumping money into programs that benefit our peers in Hollywood and the capital, we deserve more support.

As Emerson solidifies its West Coast presence and eyes more opportunities abroad, I urge the college to put down roots in the city so many of us wish to, and thousands more already have.