Non-VMAs in LA: Emerson plans for more course diversity


Photo: Iwan Baan

When senior Eleana Gudema decided to go to Emerson Los Angeles as a marketing communication major, she said she knew she’d be a minority among the majority of visual and media arts students.

“[LA] is an entertainment-focused city, so it’s kind of easy to think that everybody is interested in just film,” Gudema said in a phone interview from LA.

However, the LA program is now looking to offer more classes outside the visual and media arts departments, according to Lori Beth Way, senior advisor to academic affairs.

Emerson’s LA program has existed for over 27 years, but it wasn’t until earlier this year that the program had its own facility — instead of renting classroom space and apartments —which doubled its capacity to over 200.

“The LA program has grown pretty substantially since the new center has opened,” Way said in a phone interview from LA. “This is really the first time we’ve had the opportunity to really start to expand offerings.”

Gudema said she could tell the school was working to broaden the program’s focus.

“The program is definitely in a transition period,” Gudema said. “But the faculty and everybody here has been really great about listening to us.”

The LA program has never been restricted to VMA majors, but Way said this summer will be the first time that a large enough number of non-VMA classes are offered to draw in a multitude of students. More classes from the marketing communication; communications studies; and writing, literature, and publishing departments will soon be added to LA’s course catalog, according to Way.

Kevin Bright, the founding director of Emerson Los Angeles, declined to comment.

Senior marketing communication major and former Beacon columnist Leah Casselman, who is also currently in Emerson’s LA program, had to take a screenwriting class because she couldn’t get into a second marketing course. However, she said many people don’t realize the connections LA can offer non-VMA majors.

“A lot of people when I first said I was applying were like, ‘Where would you work?’” Casselman said. “But there’s a ton of industry in Los Angeles for people to get into who aren’t VMA majors.”

Both Casselman and Gudema said LA has provided an abundance of networking opportunities in their fields, even in a city predominantly recognized for its entertainment industry.

“I am meeting different people here every week,” Casselman said in a phone interview from LA. “I met people [from my field] like once every three months in Boston.”

Gudema praised the guest speakers that talk to her classes about their work experience.

“It’s a really great way to make connections and meet people at major companies,” Gudema said, “and hear their path and how they got there.”

A new writing and publishing program was offered for the first time this summer in partnership with The Los Angeles Review of Books. The professor, Paul Mandelbaum, said students went to the LA campus solely for the eight-week course, where they studied long-form magazine writing and publishing.

He said the summer course demonstrated that non-VMA programs in LA are just as legitimate as their counterparts at other Emerson campuses.

“[Students] managed to create some really good pieces,” Mandelbaum said. “Probably better work than they’d ever done before.”

Way emphasized that Emerson’s LA program has always meant to incorporate a variety of studies, and that it welcomes even more academic diversity for the future.

Some non-VMA courses in LA that the college plans to offer include Topics in American Literature: LA Stories, Topics in Journalism: Entertainment and Pop Culture, Entertainment Marketing Cross Promotions, Entertainment Public Relations, and Global Marketing Through the Lens of Los Angeles.

“Emerson LA is for everybody,” Way said. “All majors at Emerson LA are welcome.”