ONE ON ONE WITH A USC STUDENT
As a Media Arts & Practice (MA+P) student, what is your primary interest and how has the School of Cinematic Arts and the MA+P Division helped to shape that interest?
My mother is a graphic designer, and my father works in digital graphics. Consistent throughout my childhood was an exposure to both technology and creativity. I think this is a relatively rare upbringing, especially for a kid from a small town in Montana. I am incredibly fortunate to have had this experience. Thanks to the influence of their respective right- and left-brains, I always planned on pursuing the intersection of art and technology when it came time to choose a profession.
A few years ago, before enrolling in MA+P, my definition for a developing career path stopped there; I did not know what heading to take towards this intersection, or what I would be doing when I got there. I think I shared this anxiety with many other college-bound students. I chose MA+P because of its interdisciplinary, dynamic curriculum, hoping (praying) that I would figure things out as I went. And I have. The program exposed me to a breadth of topics–technical, creative, and theoretical–that I never knew I would love as much as I do. During my time at SCA, I have narrowed my general interests into several specific, developing skill sets, some creative, others technical, in my pursuit of a combination. Among these, I am most drawn to creative coding and interactive media, specifically in the fields of augmented and virtual reality. I had never been exposed to these platforms before attending USC. In so many words, SCA has not only shaped my interests but has also allowed me to define them. As I enter the upper divisions of the major’s curriculum, I am able to take classes that cater specifically to these interests. When I go to school, I am immersed with material that I am truly passionate about, and I am lucky enough to practice these developing skills at my current job. It may be the first time in my life I have felt some certainty about what I want to do for a career, which is a wonderful feeling.
How has the School of Cinematic Arts prepared you so far for a career in your discipline?
I think for most college-bound students, the choice to attend an art school can be a scary one. In my case, I had to decide between MA+P and several more traditional degree programs. I was incredibly lucky to be in that position, but still, the decision was hard to make. There is a subtle but powerful social force that dissuades art school as a viable, responsible option for higher education and I nearly succumbed to that. MA+P was an intriguing but abstract major housed in a film school, while my other choices were established and conventional. After just a few weeks into my first semester, I knew I had made the right choice. This confirmation was largely derived from my first set of instructors. The caliber of professors available to SCA students is unreal. Everyone has had one or two or three instructors throughout their education that they will always remember; those teachers that opened our minds in new ways and made us care about something we never cared about. Every professor I have taken at SCA has had this effect on me. But classes are only the beginning. The curiosity that was instilled, especially in regards to those topics I mentioned in the first question, prompted me to pursue the development of skills outside of the classroom. My hobbies became more constructive, geared towards my emerging interests.
“I am very proud of the path I took to get here. I think the community college sequence in California affords so many wonderful opportunities to those who work hard and can’t initially afford a four-year university”
I am learning what I need to learn in order to produce on my chosen platform. In my case, this involved learning how to program. Computer science is hard, but it is integral to working with interactive media. My projects in class and my free time out of class, as well as a supplementary minor, are now largely devoted to learning this medium. Just like anything else in life, you get out what you put in. Thanks to the positive encouragement and instruction of MA+P professors and some hard work, I am gaining the skillset to be competitive in any interview for many types of creative and technical positions. Last spring I secured an internship at an augmented reality company that ultimately turned out to be a dream-type job, especially for this early stage of my career. It is incredibly exciting being in the position I am now, a student in a progressive program like MA+P, working where I am, as the next wave of world-changing technology begins to be introduced. MA+P has introduced me to this new technology, and now I get to help create and define the way we use it.
What advice do you have for prospective students looking at applying for MA+P?
The MA+P curriculum is progressive, compared to other classic, more traditional majors. It does not have an easily articulated definition. When someone asks what you are studying in college, you won’t be able to answer with one or two words. Familiarize yourself with the opportunities the major will afford–the specific classes, the professors, the possible progressions through the curriculum, and the types of employment of recent grads and current students. Talk to the MA+P administrators; they are incredibly helpful in describing the goals and techniques of the major. A common thread in every class is critical production of media. If you are a curious, autonomous, open-minded individual that wants empowerment to create on multiple platforms, the environment MA+P provides is unprecedented.
What have been the biggest challenges for you at USC?
While in school and at work, I am consciously learning. But a large part of knowledge gained during this time of my life has been subconscious or passive. I am frequently overwhelmed (mostly in a good way) with all the things I want to do and have to do. Luckily for me, these overlap most of the time. Working and going to school simultaneously has been challenging, but is teaching (or forcing) me to manage my time better than I ever have. The biggest challenge for me has been finding this management and keeping a balance to my life. It has been progressively easier but is something that requires vigilance. Developing the work ethic necessary for success is much easier when you love what you are learning though!
What in your past has given you inspiration or a unique point of view that you bring to USC?
I tried going to college after I graduated from high school, but did not have the capacity or character to take it seriously at the time. I dropped out, moved to California, and worked minimum wage jobs for a while. After a few years of learning what life was like without a diploma, I decided to get back into school. I attended Orange Coast College, a city college in Orange County while working as a construction laborer. I did well this time and eventually transferred to USC. Attending USC has been a goal of mine since junior high school (unabashedly because of the early 2000’s football team). While unconventional, I am very proud of the path I took to get here. I think the community college sequence in California affords so many wonderful opportunities to those who work hard and can’t initially afford a four-year university, and I am so grateful to both OCC and USC for helping me get to where I am today.
By Michael Kozlowski