MSU Alum Betters His Craft in Directing and Film

Posted on: May 1, 2017

When Jacob Kornbluth was an Interpersonal Communications major at the College of Communication Arts and Sciences, he had an interest in relationships and uncovering the reasons why people lie. His curiosity in people and all of their complexities mixed with an impulse to learn about concepts he didn’t understand, ultimately resulted in ideas worthy of portraying in film. Ideas that kickstarted his career.  

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Jacob Kornbluth

“I work as a director full time, though I spread my work over short-form and long-form (projects),” explained Kornbluth. “I co-founded a nonprofit with Robert Reich, Inequality Media, that makes short (2-3 minute) videos to explain complex economic issues in a way everyone can understand. In 2016, the videos had 100 million views. As it goes for 2017, the audience has continued to grow and videos have already reached over 70 million views.”

Jacob hopes to make 25 to 50 videos this year. He just released LOVE & TAXES, a feature-length comedy that he directed. Later this year, he plans to release a feature documentary called Saving Capitalism, a Netflix Original Film.

Past success led to future lessons
Kornbluth’s previous work includes a documentary he made after the financial crash of 2008 called Inequality for All. This piece won a special Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, was released by The Weinstein Company and did the best at the box office for any issue documentary since Waiting for Superman. Kornbluth says that to this day, his favorite part of the process was truly understanding the bigger issue by the end of it.

“When I made Inequality for All ... my friends and I were sitting around trying to figure out what happened,” said Kornbluth. “I was watching the news after the crash in a way I hadn’t before. I was trying to make sense of it all, and it felt like the more I learned about what happened, the less I understood it. I didn’t have a financial background, so I went into a period of deep and focused study for a year to figure it out. Now, I refer to this period as my own ‘grad school’.”  

Currently residing in Berkeley, California, Kornbluth is in production on Saving Capitalism, a follow-up to Inequality for All. In collaboration with Robert Reich, it is another piece that tells a compelling story while making sense of tumultuous economic times. Since the 2016 election result, the premise of the story changed from a transition in liberalism and conservatism to the importance of economic power as a whole.

Making his mark
After his time at ComArtSci, Kornbluth has bounced around all over the globe making moves in the industry. Following graduation, he immediately moved to San Francisco looking for a fresh start. He then immersed himself into the theatre culture by directing three comedies, which led him to working on film crews. Eventually, Kornbluth found his way to Los Angeles to immerse himself in the film business.  There, he directed his first comedy film, called Haiku Tunnel, that went to Sundance and was distributed by Song Pictures Classics.

Unknown-1Later, he moved to New York City and created a narrative drama called The Best Thief in the World starring Mary-Louise Parker and other New York Theater actors. Kornbluth’s admiration for theatre led to working as a screenplay writer. He then encountered the itch to get back into directing, this time in documentaries.

“All of (my) work on stories has informed my work as a documentary director,” said Kornbluth. “I believe, first and foremost, a movie needs to be entertaining and fun to watch.  When I bring that approach to ‘big issues,’ the results have been interesting to audiences. My hope is to continue that work going forward.”

Green roots
Kornbluth draws a direct line from where he is today back to his personal experiences as a Spartan. His passion still springs from his own curiosity, which has motivated him while striving toward personal and professional long-term goals.

“My work in film today tends to focus on the big issues, things like economic inequality and climate change, in a way that is personal and approachable,” said Kornbluth. “It’s a genuine privilege to tell stories that help others make sense of the big questions we all share.  I feel like I’m just now getting better at visual storytelling, and hope to spend a lifetime improving on my craft.”

By Emmy Virkus

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AD+PR Alumna Finds Success as Producer and Development Executive

Posted on: April 11, 2017

As a freelance director, producer and development executive for unscripted television and digital series, Melanie Reardon ’99 looked out to the crowd of film students in front of her and offered sage advice on the world she works in every day. She shared knowledge gained from her experiences developing and working on shows like National Enquirer Investigates, Broke-Ass Bride and Chopped and for brands like VOGUE, Vanity Fair, Glamour and most recently, People.

Reardon just wrapped the first season of American Doers for People.com, with Happy Marshall Productions. She is the co-creator and executive producer of the series, and came to ComArtSci to speak with students about the business of producing, including the process of developing and pitching ideas, working with production companies and networks and the importance of people skills in her line of work.

Among the many tips and tricks Reardon shared with the students on her visit, the one item she stressed the most was the art of the coffee run. Because just like the others who came before her and those following in her footsteps, Reardon started out as a production assistant.

“Getting coffee is step one because it gets you into the meetings with the executives. It builds trust. Get the coffee and lunch orders right and then people start trusting you with more,” said Reardon.

Reardon explained that menial tasks like grabbing coffee or lunch for executives shows you can follow directions, you listen and take initiative. “Once you prove to me that you can do that, you’re going to be taking field notes, you're going to be sitting in development meetings, you're going to be producing. And that’s how it starts. You gotta take the coffee order,” she said.

Reflecting back on MSU
As an undergraduate student in the MSU College of Communication Arts and Sciences, Reardon studied advertising. She wanted to make commercials, and would take any classes that would give her the skills needed to make that dream a reality. With the help of her academic adviser, Dr. Larry Red, Reardon was able to build a curriculum that prepared her for a future in production.

“He knew I was a unique student and I had a unique set of experiences, skills and interests when I came to MSU. He really dug in and made sure I was taking the right classes, I had the right tutors. I was able to pull from different parts of the ComArtSci umbrella,” recalled Reardon.

She took advertising, journalism, production and law classes that prepared her for the real world. In the beginning of her career, Reardon started as an intern working for National Parks Magazine in Washington D.C., an experience that helped her realize the power of “putting yourself out there.”

Melanie_Reardon_headshot_feature

Melanie Reardon

Building a career
After a few years working in events, media relations and production, Reardon spent three seasons on the Food Network favorite, Chopped where she picked up industry knowledge from the strong women she worked with every day.

“A lot of the people I’ve worked with over the years have been very inspiring and influential to me. Certainly, Co-Executive Producer, Vivian Sorenson on Chopped and, Executive Producer, Linda Lee who created the series… Those women are fierce and incredible,” said Reardon.

After Chopped, she landed at Condé Nast working with some of the most iconic brands in the world, meeting, collaborating and spending time with magazine editors and producers.

Reardon told us, “There is a certain tingle that you get when you walk into the Condé Nast building and you go to a meeting at VOGUE or Vanity Fair and it’s a pinch-me moment. It’s like wait, how did I get here? I’m just a girl from Mason.”

Working with People.com and Advil
In her latest project, American Doers, Reardon partnered with James Marshall of Happy Marshall Productions to tell real, honest, uplifting stories of people in America. As host of the show, Marshall completely immerses himself in the lives of the people he meets, working in their businesses and walking in their shoes.

“For me as a producer, the most rewarding work is telling the kinds of stories that matter to me and I had a fantastic opportunity to do that with James,” said Reardon. “We believed so much in this project, we knew somewhere, somehow there was somebody that was going to resonate with this message and care about it as much as we did. That happened for us when we met with People and Advil to pitch the series.”

The first season of American Doers is available on AmericanDoers.People.com. As for other projects coming up? Reardon said she always has something cooking, but there is nothing she can share quite yet.

By Nikki W. O'Meara

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ComArtSci Remembers Leo V. Deal

Posted on: March 22, 2017

Beloved professor, Leo V. Deal, Ph.D., passed away on March 11, 2017. Leo was a pioneer in the Communicative Sciences and Disorders (CSD) program at Michigan State University and a Chairman of Audiology and Speech Sciences (ASC) for 12 years. He was a Distinguished Alumni of the department, an ASHA fellow, a Professor Emeritus and a charter member and co-founder of Sparrow Hospital’s Mid-Michigan Oral Cleft and Maxillofacial Consultation Clinic, "Cleft Palate Clinic."

Leo Deal

Leo’s greatest gift to CSD may have been his creation of the study abroad program, Communicative Disorders in the British Isles, which began in 1984 during his last year as Chairman of ASC. It remains the oldest and longest consecutively running overseas study program in Communicative Sciences and Disorders in the United States.

For those who knew him, Leo will be remembered as a steadfast student advocate. He knew every student by name, and never forgot them - even over the past year, he would ask about students that he remembered.

His students and colleagues will always view Leo as a gentleman and a scholar, with unwavering integrity, compassion and a commitment to education as a bridge to human understanding.

Leo leaves behind Nola (nee Arndt), his devoted wife of 64 years; son Eric (Sherrie); daughter Nancy (John Beaver); grandsons Taylor and Mason (Whitney); granddaughter Emma; as well as loving nieces and nephews.

A private burial took place on Wednesday, March 15. A memorial service will be held at a later date.

In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that contributions be made to the Leo V. Deal International Enrichment Fund, Department of Communicative Sciences and Disorders, College of Communication Arts and Sciences, at Michigan State University.

Condolences and memories may be shared with the family at www.greastlansing.com

For more information - http://obits.dignitymemorial.com/dignity-memorial/obituary.aspx?n=Leo-Deal&lc=7224&pid=184486358&mid=7326722

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Spencer gets drafted for his dream job early in the game

Posted on: February 21, 2017

Jamal SpencerSometimes in order to pursue your dream, there comes a sacrifice. In recent journalism grad Jamal Spencer’s case, this meant making the decision to leave Michigan State University early, back in 2009, to pursue his aspiration of becoming a sports reporter through a once in a lifetime offer.

People ask him, “Was it worth it?” Following his dream meant giving up undergraduate experiences and prolonging the process of earning a bachelor’s degree.

“It was incredibly difficult,” said Spencer. “Only one man in my family had graduated from college and that was my father. So, attending MSU was a blessing and receiving my diploma was the goal, but as my academic career progressed I realized the importance of job experience and networking.”

As a Detroit native, Spencer jumpstarted his career by working as a sideline reporter and production assistant for Fox Sports Detroit. After this, in spring 2011, he was able to finish a couple more credits toward his degree before taking off for his next job in Fargo, North Dakota where he later became Sports Director. Years after, he reached a point where he wished to move closer to home. Fortunately for him, the perfect opportunity arrived. Spencer packed his bags and moved back to his home state as the newest Sports Director at WZZM 13 in Grand Rapids.

“I was granted a few career opportunities that I felt I couldn't pass up and I promised my parents I'd return to get my degree, which I did in the fall of 2016,” said Spencer. “My parents joke that it was like getting drafted into pro sports after your junior year.”

How it all started

Spencer said that his entire athletic background consisted of a strong passion for baseball. However, once he realized that he wasn’t going to grow up to be a major leaguer, he decided to drop his bat and pick up a career that still involved talking about them.

“My mother and I would visit my grandma often and she always watched the 6 p.m. news,” said Spencer. “Sitting there quietly, I figured that if she’s giving these news anchors this much respect then this might be a career path worth following. I’m glad I did.”

As the Sports Director of WZZM 13, Spencer is responsible for production, film and editing content daily for the local sportscast. He is also the anchor for the 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. sportscasts Monday through Friday. In addition, he takes the time to search for local stories that will appeal to the same target audience and engage them on a personal level through social platforms.

“I try to do as much as possible everyday.” said Spencer. “I went back to MSU in 2016 and took two classes in East Lansing during the summer, then finished with another class in the fall, all while working my full-time job as Sports Director in Grand Rapids.”

Forever a Spartan

Being a Spartan is more than just wearing green and white. Students and alumni take a pledge to remain passionate, devoted and have grit while earning their degree and using it to succeed in their fields. For Spencer, his undergraduate years at MSU were, without a doubt, the best years of his life thus far.

“It was amazing,” said Spencer. "The campus was changing and I made lifelong friends, many in the ComArtSci building. I lived in the Sparty’s on the first floor. My favorite JRN class was Ethics of Journalism taught by Manuel Chavez, who is a tremendous professor and made our class feel like a family for a semester.”

Spencer continued to discuss his highlights in ComArtSci. “The most helpful resource was without a doubt my professors. Geri Zeldes, Folu Ogundimu, Manuel Chavez, Bonnie Bucqueroux all cared about my well-being as well as my academic success. They stressed the importance of focus and L.A. Dickerson stressed the importance of internships, and both of mine led to jobs that got me to where I am today. The ComArtSci staff was by far the most helpful resource in helping me reach my goals.”

For more information about resources at ComArtSci that will assist you, click here.

By Emmy Virkus

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Award-winning MSU film student pursues passion in New York City

Posted on: February 9, 2017

livLiv Larsen had an extraordinary senior year at Michigan State University — to say the least. The former journalism student, with a minor in documentary film studies, along with her crew produced a documentary called “From Flint” that won a student academy award in 2016.

In May, Larsen moved to New York City to fulfill her passion of working for a production company at 4th Row Films. As a production intern, she was assigned three documentaries to work on. She came up with different ideas for the director and tried to put her spin on the little details when she saw an opportunity. She even got to attend a few of the shoots.

“I really got to see first hand how different people interview,” Larsen said. “The director’s style was different from my style and I was able to see how to set up the whole production in the real world.”

She excels at the logistics behind the shoot, “Whether it’s applying for grants, setting up the location or making sure everyone’s on the same page; I really enjoy these aspects,” said Larsen.

Larsen claims that her favorite part of the internship was collaborating with other interns.

“The interns pretty much got free reign to give ideas,” Larsen said. “It was great to have that group and connection, in case we wanted to collaborate on future projects together.”

To her surprise, after completing her internship in New York City, Larsen found herself wanting to try her hand in independent filmmaking. After completing her award-winning documentary in Professor Bob Albers’ class, she thought she wanted to work for a large production company, shooting films, but realized that she had a desire to pursue her own personal film style.

“I don’t think I would be where I am today if it wasn’t for my student film,” Larsen said. “After it won a Student Academy Award, our crew filed to work with an actual distribution company, which is amazing.”

Larsen said no member of her crew had actually been to Flint before creating this film. The main task of the film was to see how they could get involved with the community of Flint and make an impact.

“After doing basic internet research, we met with a few people, which turned into more people,” Larsen said. “The film started to unfold and the community of Flint embraced us with open arms. Our crew just took it one step at a time. The whole thing was a puzzle we put together, since we only had a semester to do it. It was so rewarding at the end.”

Currently, Larsen is still living in New York City, pursuing her dream of independent filmmaking. She's doing freelance work, which involved working on a project for Netflix, and currently producing another independent documentary film.

Her interest in documentary filmmaking evolved over time as she added new skills and learned more about the field.

“I have always been involved in the arts as a kid,” Larsen said. “Then I came to MSU and I had my journalism major, but I wasn’t completely satisfied with just that. After joining Telecasters and SideShow, I wanted to get more involved.”

Larsen always liked documentaries because they went further into telling stories and resonated with people a little more. She enjoys how one documentary can cover so much and bring out the layers of an issue.

She said the difference between her crew’s coverage of Flint and every other major news outlet was their angle. The networks were covering the city of Flint based on the government. Larsen and her crew covered Flint based on the people.

“Everybody can relate to someone else,” Larsen said. “You can emphasize with someone and try to understand their tragedy. Everyone has a story worth telling. So to me, it’s a mission to find these stories that are untold and tell them in a way that’s never been done before.”

By Meg Dedyne

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Journalism alumnus shares stories of adventure and inspiration in his latest book

Posted on: February 8, 2017

51AHBfJ+4+L._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Some people wait their entire lives to do the things they said they always wanted to try – like fly a plane, canoe through the Everglades, or ride in a hot air balloon. Michigan State University journalism alumnus Chuck Werle (‘58) wants to help people check off goals on their bucket list and encourage them to add new ones they’d never thought about before.

In between life as an award-winning public relations professional, Werle made the time to travel. He’s visited all 50 states and 11 countries, where he shared unique experiences with family and friends, and even attended local events, like the World Chicken Plucking Championship in Spring Hill, Fla.

In 2015, the seasoned traveler released his book A Lifetime in Reverse: What’s on YOUR bucket list?  Werle said his goal is to inspire people to think about their bucket list in a new way by inviting people to read about a few of his adventures, including some he took with his wife and sons.

The book is divided into two parts: “Mine” and “Yours.”

“The first part of the book is all about my experiences over 30-some years, and then the second part of the book is briefer,” said Werle.

The second part lists 70 events or experiences that a person could have done, and can still do, in their life. The list includes five different categories – personal, humor, adventure travel, career/occupation, sports and hobbies – with goals like stage a surprise party, donate blood and more.

Werle’s inspiration for the book came from the well-known film “The Bucket List” starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. Released in 2008, the movie tells the story of two dying men who set out to accomplish the things they never got around to doing before they were diagnosed with cancer.

“It was all about, from their standpoint, (the) crazy things that they wanted to do that were really dangerous and they just had a great time, so they just kept adding to the list, so to speak,” said Werle. “I thought for years about that and I said, ‘You know, it’s a shame they only wanted to do all that stuff down the road instead of all the things that might have happened to them during their lifetime’.”

The more he thought about it, the more his thoughts gelled into a book idea. Werle submitted a pitch to Amazon Create Space and was offered a deal. One year later, the book was complete.

Today, Werle lives in North Carolina, where he’s been for the last 17 years. He helps other authors and writers by editing and promoting their work. He is also writing his third nonfiction book, this one is about crisis communication – his area of specialty in the field of public relations. In fact, the last time Werle visited East Lansing, he had been invited to speak to public relations and journalism students about his work in crisis communication.

Are you trying to find the motivation to take chances and seize extraordinary opportunities? Check out Werle’s book and more on his website.

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Grad credits full-time position in LA to MSU experiences and AWSM

Posted on: February 2, 2017

hannaHanna Sprague ran out to her car after work one day during the fall of her senior year to complete a phone interview with PRO Sports Communications in Los Angeles. In just a matter of weeks, she was offered an internship with the company and enthusiastically accepted.

“I knew, sitting in my car, only 5 minutes into the conversation that this company embodied everything I wanted in a career,” Sprague said.

Sprague was the president of the Association for Women in Sports Media (AWSM) group at Michigan State University and said joining the organization gave her so many opportunities in college for her future career.

Every year, there is an internship pool for AWSM. Sprague applied in the public relations category in the fall of 2015, which is how she got connected with PRO Sports Communications.

“The process went by quickly, but also seamlessly,” Sprague said. “I remember I just kept thinking, this is going to be my path.”

She moved out to Los Angeles the second week of August 2016, after graduating in May and spending the early part of the summer participating in the School of Journalism’s first-ever sports journalism study abroad program in Europe. At PRO Sports, she was told right away that she would never have an intern title.

“My internship actually turned into a full time job and I already have a manager title,” Sprague said. “To see how far I’ve come both personally and professionally is just absolutely incredible.”

Before Sprague moved out to LA for her internship with PRO Sports Communications and prior to being promoted to, now, a senior manager, she worked for the athletic office at MSU – a position she was offered even before starting her freshman year.

“This shaped every experience I had at MSU,” Sprague said. “There were some amazing opportunities that I was lucky enough to be exposed to.”

She also had a job with the Detroit Tigers Foundation event staff.

“At MSU, I worked more on the PR side and being the liaison between entities,” Sprague said. “With the Detroit Tigers, I was raising money for certain causes and tasks similar to that. So, in a way, they were the same experiences, just a different skillset.”

Now, Sprague works a lot on the social and digital side of public relations.

“It’s great using social media to promote change and using it for a bigger purpose than I am used to,” Sprague said.

One of the great aspects about working at her company is that PRO Sports Communications emphasized that titles don’t matter in regards to responsibilities and open communication.

“From day one, I have sat in on every meeting and phone call,” Sprague said. “I never felt like an intern. I knew at that point I wanted to be a part of this company, because of how their management team ran internal processes.”

Half of her responsibilities include client work and the other half working on new sales pitches.

“We try to set up meetings with places we can help create an impact with,” Sprague said. “Working with different athletes and organizations has been incredibly beneficial to me.”

Sprague’s advice is to focus on getting experience in college, and not so much on the paycheck, even though sometimes it can be hard to do.

“The paycheck doesn’t matter as much at this point in your life, so focus on doing everything you can to get that great experience,” Sprague said. “Treating people right is also so important. Stay in touch with people and get to know who they are, and don’t only reach out when you need something.”

Sprague also discussed how being a Spartan gives you connections and friends all over the world, which helps when moving to new places.

“When I moved out to LA, I didn’t know a single person,” Sprague said. “But for the first football game, I thought, I am going to go to an alumni restaurant. I walk inside to the fight song playing and it was all decorated in green and white. Not too long after, a few fellow Spartans invited me to their table – it was incredible.”

By Meg Dedyne

 

 

 

 

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MSU alum walks into strategic sector of Campbell Ewald

Posted on: January 18, 2017

In the advertising industry, it can be tricky for students to decide on the concentration that best suits their skillset or interests. From creative to production, account, strategy and more, each team comes together as one to make up an agency and make the magic happen for clients. For 2014 communications grad Ken Walker, he credits a specific class that he took as an undergrad at ComArtSci, ADV 342: “Account Planning and Research,” for pointing him in the direction that led to his position today at Campbell Ewald, an advertising agency in Detroit.

“Initially, I didn’t understand the different departments and their roles in an agency as an undergrad,” said Walker. “I think in order for me to discover my niche, it took different courses that were tailored toward each aspect and component that an agency needs. That makes the ADV courses more valuable, because working as an account person, you learn what every department does, which that in itself has its own value to your growth in this industry.”

“Planning” for the future

After interning as an account executive for a couple years at a local agency in Okemos, Walker landed a position post-graduation as a strategic planner at Campbell Ewald on the Cadillac account. With this role, his hope to “be the voice of the consu14117718_10207414730347698_5314308850025772459_nmer” came to life, for he is now in a department that is more hands-on and he has a bigger input on a campaign’s augmentation.

“I knew right a way that I didn’t want to be an account person after working as an intern, because I wanted to have the ability to give some insight or thought when it comes to creating ads,” said Walker. “If you’re a thinker, I think planning is always a good choice, but if you have some ability to use some level of persuasion, then an approach with more research involved is your saving ground.”

A strategy for strategy

In the words of Walker, strategy is the ability to give an insight from a point-of-view that the client, the account team and creative team hasn’t thought of yet. The challenge of this is that consumer behaviors are constantly evolving, but it’s up to you to find a new, strategic way that makes sense for the campaign’s message and target.

“The key to strategy and planning is curiosity. Your curiosity is what makes you better, and it causes you to always ask ‘why’,” Walker said. “You can challenge research that way, and become more equipped by constantly finding more useful insights out of the data.”

Walker continued, “Strategic planning is all about connecting the dots and bringing everything together. Everybody has an opinion, but you can inspire effective creative in ways that encapsulates everybody’s thoughts if done the right way.”

Life in the agency

The culture in an agency is very different from that of your “average corporate America role,” but Walker states that the fast-paced atmosphere never allows for a dull moment.

“Advertising, as a whole, is an industry that is easy going,” Walker, said. “My favorite thing about working at Campbell Ewald is how highly collaborative it is. The agency is one of the few that promotes an open architecture (which) helps inspire us all, no matter the department.”

Everybody brings their own personal story and skillset to the workplace, too, according to Walker, which makes it a special place to be and create.

“Diversity is important in this industry. (Campbell Ewald is) actively improving the ways that we educate each other about our differences and how they make us who we are,” he said. “I think a lot of the effective work that our agency has created (i.e. the recent Find Your Words campaign for Kaiser Permanente) has been mindful of different cultural tensions, because ultimately we want to compete with culture, not advertising.”

Advice for the aspiring

Just like many students toward the end of their college careers, Walker felt lost in terms of how to approach finding where he belonged in the advertising industry. Based on his experiences, he has a couple of useful tips for students that are about to graduate.

“I can attest that MSU has the best advertising department. It is both robust and challenging, which will teach and prepare you for all aspects of this industry,” said Walker. “The courses are there to help you find your way, but you must be resourceful.”

Walker states that it is up to the student to define their future.

“It’s your job to be proactive enough to talk to your professors on a personal level, because you are part of a network where Spartans are literally all over the world. If you learn how to be resourceful and proactive at such a young age in college, that persistence is only going to help you build life-long useful connections.”

For more information about Campbell Ewald and the work they do, visit here.

By Emmy Virkus

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MSU ComArtSci to honor alumni and industry professionals at annual awards ceremony

Posted on: January 16, 2017

While their careers vary, one word describes a group of alumni and industry professionals associated with the MSU College of Communications Arts and Sciences: extraordinary.

This spring, alumni, faculty and friends will be recognized for their exemplary achievements at "The Celebration”, the College’s annual alumni awards ceremony and strolling dinner on Saturday, April 8, in the WKAR Studios located in the ComArtSci Building, 404 Wilson Road, East Lansing, Mich.

UnknownSeven alumni will receive the Outstanding Alumni Award, an honor which recognizes
ComArtSci graduates who have obtained the highest level of professional or academic achievement and demonstrated service to the college and community.

A journalism graduate will receive the Rising Star Award, which honors an alumnus or alumna who graduated within the past 10 years and has a strong record of accomplishment and service to the community.

Recipients will also be recognized with the college's Honorary Alumni Award and Faculty Impact Award.

"These exceptional people are deserving of high praise and exemplify Spartans Will," said telecommunications alumnus and ComArtSci Alumni Board President Phil Bertolini. "Their ongoing achievements in communication arts and sciences engage communities, affect the lives of individuals, and make a difference in today's world through creative thought, innovation and research. We are proud of all they have accomplished, and look forward to showcasing their successes through this special celebration."

Selected annually by the ComArtSci Alumni Board, the 2017 alumni award recipients are:

Outstanding Alumni

  • Haz Alwattar, B.A. '86 Telecommunication, Vice President of Content, Univision Radio
  • Lois Bernstein, B.A. '73 Communication, Chief Community Executive, MultiCare Health SystemKathy
  • Kathy Foltner, M.A. '76 Audiology and Speech Sciences, President of Foltner Consulting; Adjunct Faculty, Rush University Medical Center
  • Rackeline Hoff, B.A. '65 Advertising, City Commissioner, Birmingham, Mich.
  • Amy McGraw, B.A. '89 Telecommunication, Vice President of Marketing, Tropical Financial Credit Union
  • Jeff Sinelli, B.A. '90 Communication, Founder, CEO, and Chief Vibe Officer, Which Wich, Inc.
  • Tim Staudt, B.A. '71 Journalism, Sports Director, WILX TV; Radio Host, Staudt on Sports

Rising Star

  • Jon Erickson, B.A. '08 Journalism and Finance, Honors; Reporter, ABC 15, Phoenix

Honorary Alumni

  • David and Sarah Taft, Ph.D. '63 Natural Science (Chemistry/Teaching)/ B.A. '62 Arts and Letters (English)

Faculty Impact

  • To be announced in late February

Online registration for the "The Celebration" will open in late February. For more information, go to www.cas.msu.edu/celebration.

MSU Federal Credit Union is the premier sponsor of the event, reflecting their commitment to MSU alumni, the pursuit of excellence and community engagement.

"The Celebration" is one of several events during ComArtSci Awards Week, April 5-9. For a complete list of ceremonies honoring students, alumni, faculty and friends, visit http://cas.msu.edu/comartsci-awards-week/.

About the MSU Federal Credit Union

MSU Federal Credit Union, the world’s largest university-based credit union, offers a full range of personal — and business-related — financial services to Michigan State University and Oakland University faculty, staff, students, alumni, and their families worldwide, in addition to a variety of select employee groups. Founded in 1937 by MSU professors, MSUFCU has 17 branches, nearly 230,000 members, more than $3.3 billion in assets, and over 730 employees. In 2016, MSUFCU was recognized as the #1 Top Workplace in the large employer category by the Detroit Free Press, as well as one of Fortune’s 50 Best Workplaces for New College Grads. Also in 2016, MSUFCU was selected as one of West Michigan’s 101 Best and Brightest Companies to Work For, receiving the Michigan Business Professional Association’s top honor of Elite Overall – Best of the Best award. MSUFCU has a national reputation for excellence, and was recognized in 2016 as fifth in the nation for its financial education program by the National Youth Involvement Board.

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ComArtSci alumnus Geoff Johns named President & Chief Creative Officer of DC Entertainment

Posted on: December 9, 2016

Many people dream of turning their passions into a career. For Geoff Johns, his love of comic books and their iconic characters - Superman, Batman, The Flash and Green Lantern - was all the fuel he needed to pursue a career in media and entertainment.

In 2016, Johns hit superhero status at DC Entertainment when he was promoted to president and chief creative officer of the company. Johns is now leading a new era for the DC Universe, revamping the stories of his favorite childhood superheroes - including Wonder Woman, who will be at the center of the first female-powered superhero movie, set to release in summer 2017.

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Geoff Johns

Becoming Geoff Johns
Johns graduated from Michigan State University in 1995 and studied media arts, screenwriting, film production and film theory. As a student, he took advantage of the unique opportunities at MSU, from film club to physics classes.

“I’ll set aside the fact that it’s a beautiful campus, that the culture is amazing, that it has the biggest comic book collection in the world, which is awesome,” Johns told us, while reflecting on his time at MSU.  “But, the thing that was so valuable to me is that you find that whatever you’re interested in, they have something for it.”

Johns was drawn to classes in film and media production, and crashed MSU’s library of comic books, as he worked to develop a better knowledge of film, screenplays and characters. He also found value in the basics like economics and physics, ultimately preparing him for the business side of his budding career.

Two physics classes in particular made a lasting impact. “The physics of light and color and the physics of sound. Those two classes were really valuable to me both in my storytelling as a writer, as well as in production, because they actually taught me how light works, how color works, how we interpret sound and how sound works.”

He continued, “If you want to be a screenwriter, my advice would be don’t just take writing (classes). You need to study production, accounting, history, everything that you think will help you tell your story. I think that the more you can broaden your horizons the better, and you can do that at MSU.”

Meanwhile, across the country...
After college, Johns started his career in Los Angeles, working as an intern alongside the original Superman director, Richard Donner. He later became an assistant to Donner, wrote alongside him, and picked up industry insights along the way. In his professional career, Johns has become one of the most decorated comic book writers of his time. He has written highly acclaimed stories starring Superman, Green Lantern, the Flash, Teen Titans and Justice Society of America and is a New York Times best selling author for his comics.

As a hero in the halls of his office, Johns will play a crucial role in DC Entertainment’s current rebirth, aiming to bring DC Comics back to the basics and focus on storytelling first. Ultimately, striving to minimize the gap that lies between diehard fans and movie critics.

“At the end of the day, the thing I’m most interested in and the thing I’m most passionate about is story and character," said Johns.

One idea Johns picked up from Donner that stuck with him is the concept of superheroes as “healthy junk food,” promoting a positive message while also entertaining. Johns told us that Donner believed, "you never do entertainment under the guise of a message, you do a message under the guise of entertainment. Whether it’s Superman’s inspiration and hope, or Batman’s justice - they all have these wonderful moral qualities to them and I think that’s why people respond to these characters so much."

According to Johns, superheroes aren’t just fun to watch. It’s more about why they do what they do and how they do it that matters and is exciting to the viewer. When asked what superhero was most like him, he said it changes everyday.

“There are some days where you think you feel like Batman, where the world is dark and you have to fight back. There are days when you want to inspire like Superman. I’d say (I’m most like) Green Lantern. I love Green Lantern, I wrote him for 9 years, he’s all about willpower and perseverance and that’s how I got to where I am. I’ve got a lot of willpower and perseverance and I love what I do. And if you want to succeed that’s what you need to have.”

Wisdom built and shared
Perseverance, willpower and the ability to learn from past mistakes are all traits of popular superheroes - and even Johns himself. These traits have allowed him to face challenges head-on, working and learning as his career progressed.

“The truth is that the hurdles that I’ve faced in business and in my career have just been learning experiences. There are times when you try a new project and it doesn’t work or you’re working with someone and the chemistry isn’t producing the best work,” Johns told us. “Any kind of hurdle or challenge, as long as you keep working at it and try to learn from it, it’s ultimately a very good thing.”

Johns’ positive outlook on professional experiences - good or bad - has helped him to grow in his career. Never expecting a handout, always working for everything he’s received, Johns set out to prove himself and encourages current students to do the same.

“Being in the real world, in the job, you’re not going to be promoted just because you’ve been there a year. It’s not like school where you move on and you move up. You’ve got to prove yourself. You’ve got to work hard,” said Johns. “I loved Michigan State. I got so much from it and learned so much from my time there. And the one thing that they can’t teach you is when you’re in it. Get out here and really be a part of it.”

Sparty the next superhero?
Johns gave us some insight into what Sparty might look like as a comic book character, sharing how he would draw him.

“If we were going to draw him, he’d be as broad as Superman, maybe a little taller. We might want to give him a flowing cape, a green cape would be cool. I think he’d definitely be on the Justice League, though. He’s kind of a cross between a superhero and Popeye.”

And we’re sure that just like Johns, Sparty’s superhero would show the world how Spartans Will.

By Nikki W. O'Meara

 

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