ALWAYS BE PREPARED
Brooks Institute has programs in place to help you land a job
For students, training and talent are a huge part of the equation, but without the ability to market themselves, finding an in-field job could be difficult.
Brooks Institute, with six campuses throughout Southern California, knows that competition is fierce, and before letting its students—working toward degrees in video production, graphic design, professional photography, and visual journalism—graduate, the school makes sure the students have all the tools they need to make themselves hirable. Brooks does this in a number of different ways: for instance, offering required seminars and courses geared toward finding an internship and helping with a job search after graduation.
While internships are not required at Brooks Institute, the faculty strongly encourages students in that direction by having career-services advisors visit classrooms and talk to students who are eligible for full-time, for-credit internships about how the process works.
“Students are learning all the technical tools they need here, but internships coupled with our business curriculum teach students the real-world business aspects to this industry,” says Maggie Tomas, Brooks’s director of career and student services. “Internships are such a valuable opportunity for the students. They help the students begin networking in the industry and can sometimes lead to continuing positions.”
(Inset) Maggie Tomas, director of career and student services at Brooks Institute, points out that in this business, self-promotion and personal relationships are important.
One way the school assists students in obtaining internships is through organized on-campus interviews—held at least six times a year—that benefit the students as well as the companies involved because it allows the firms to meet a handful of students at one location in one day. Yet, with just a few companies participating, how are students chosen? “Sometimes the employer wants to see all interested applicants, sometimes they request career services to screen the best candidates, sometimes they require a certain GPA, and sometimes they ask for faculty recommendations,” Tomas says.
A full-time internship has to be approved through the faculty and the academic affairs office. The student and the internship host company must create an eight-week agenda, including their learning objectives. “This ensures that the internship is a learning experience for the student,” says Tomas.
Internships can be an eye-opening experience for some artists who hope to be doing high-end work from the start. “We prepare students and let them know that they will be assisting in entry-level assignments while observing a photographer’s or filmmaker’s process,” notes Tomas.
Required to Prepare
Before a student can graduate, the person is required to complete a professional development seminar called Business Launch. “This seminar teaches professional behavior, cold-calling techniques, resume and cover-letter writing, and interview skills,” explains Tomas. “Students need to know this is a competitive industry that relies on networking, meeting people, and marketing your work.”
Brooks Institute has six campuses in Southern California, all with their own unique personality.
In addition to bringing in guest lecturers who are professionals or alumni in the industry, Brooks recently held a Graduate Success panel. “We brought in graduates from the past two years who have found success in varying ways, and they spoke to the students about how to get started in the business,” explains Tomas, who says that the closeness in age of these panelists hits home with the students. “We invite experienced photographers, but that level of success may seem unobtainable to an undergraduate, whereas stories and advice from more recent graduates can be motivating and inspiring.”
Another requirement of the school is the Graduation Review, which prepares students for a professional interview. “Film students, for instance, submit their reel, resume, cover letter, and contact list,” Tomas explains. “Faculty and career services review the materials, and the student must pass this process in order to graduate.”
Brooks Institute’s career-services advisors work with all graduates, assisting in their job search. Each student has a career-services advisor who will make cold calls all over the country on behalf of their graduates. These advisors search databases and start dialing, trying to find job leads and opportunities for the graduates. They also search the Internet and network with their alumni, to find specific opportunities for the graduate.
“So much of this business is self-promotion,” Tomas says, “who you know, who you meet, and how you market yourself. Our office tries to teach students that they need to promote their work in order for others to see the value and talent behind it.”
Preparing to be an artist and a professional
What is on the mind of a college freshman studying for a career in digital content creation? To find out, we spoke recently with TJ Zafarana, who is currently enjoying his freshman year at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD).
At SCAD, freshman TJ Zafarana is acquiring the skills that will help him bridge the gap between a student’s artistic abilities and business marketability.
Zafarana’s father heads worldwide marketing for the workstation division at HP, so he’s no stranger to how difficult this industry can be for someone just starting out. So far, his school experience has been very positive. “Everything is new to me, and school is presenting so many opportunities I can hardly keep them straight,” he says.
Although Zafarana is at the early stage of his education, some of his experiences could help others in choosing the right college and program, or at least get them to ask the right questions.
Zafarana is beginning to “stretch” his own style in new directions.
Zafarana says his path to SCAD became clear through a combination of his own interests in technology and art, and the support and encouragement of people he met along the way. “The summer before my senior year in high school, I tagged along with my dad to SIGGRAPH in Boston,” the annual conference and exhibition for computer graphics professionals. “I found myself transplanted to a whole new world. Suddenly, I was talking to designers from DreamWorks, Pixar, and other influential cradles of design innovation. Interacting with these people kicked it off for me. I was hooked! During that trip, I decided to go into digital animation.”
Zafarana says that when he returned to high school to start his senior year, a supportive teacher encouraged him to create a portfolio. “Looking back, I realize I went to a great high school in Colorado. Without the support of the staff at Rocky Mountain High School, I never would have had the opportunity to develop my portfolio with AP assignments and projects like designing prom ads. My portfolio turned into 24 entirely digital pieces, and I used it to apply to SCAD.”
Since arriving at SCAD, Zafarana has focused his interest on a major that is fairly new to the school—broadcast design—and one he says is rare to find elsewhere. He will double-major in advertising.
The first order of business for this driven freshman is to complete his foundations classes. “So far, I’m prepping for my major-oriented classes by first learning the industry standards, such as Adobe Creative Suite and Autodesk Maya. I’m also taking drawing and speech classes to prepare me as an artist and a professional.”
According to Zafarana, the daily learning experience varies, with the basic lecture classes lasting an average of two and half hours. All classes are capped at a small number of students. His art history class was a highlight. “I enjoyed it far more than I imagined I would. It focused on a lot of art styles I had never been exposed to before,” he says. “It made me think about stretching my own style in new ways. The traditional assignments were there—essays, exams, memorizing styles, pieces, and cultures—but those exercises took me through some new historical influences that I am glad to have experienced.”
The studio classes Zafarana has taken so far—drawing and color theory—were very hands-on, covering basic techniques and providing a forum for experimenting with a broad variety of colors and mediums. “In my color theory class, we had a new project every week. We would create a design using acrylics to demonstrate our understanding of the subject being explored.”
Zafarana says he has been surprised at the free-form nature of the classroom experience, and he admits it has been an adjustment from what he was used to. “My foundations professors come from the industry and are talented professional designers first and teachers second,” he explains. “The lack of structure takes some getting used to, until you realize the advantage—we are being presented a very wide sphere of influence and then given the opportunity to interpret new ideas and express them in our own way. My computer arts professor, in particular, encouraged us to go beyond the basics.”
Another exciting discovery Zafarana says he has made at SCAD is that his peers are as valuable a resource as the school itself, each with different experiences, ideas, and insights. The campus almost sizzles with the creative energy.
By the time he graduates, Zafarana hopes to have mastered the foundational tools and media he needs to become marketable as a professional designer. One of the biggest advantages he believes SCAD will offer is in preparing him with skills that bridge the gap between a student’s artistic abilities and business marketability. He has been impressed in particular with the networking and career opportunities that SCAD provides for its students, and he plans to take full advantage of them when making his next move.
When asked about any advice he has for students considering SCAD or design school, Zafarana offers, “I would advise students considering art and design schools to visit and spend some time talking to other students. Find out about the experience, and ask about the teaching styles to assess whether they match your learning style. That’s the magic combination.”
Randi Altman is the chief editor of Post magazine, the sister publication to Computer Graphics World. She can be reached at