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Semester in LA Rolls Out the Red Carpet for Montclair Students

How the School of Communication and Media program has students shooting for the stars

Posted in: Arts, Communication and Media, Homepage News, University

A student stands next to a camera and wears headphones with a red carpet in the background.
Aidan Ping, a junior Film and Television major, works on the 2024 Grammys' red carpet, where he recorded audio for handheld mic interviews. (Photo courtesy of Aidan Ping)

The Grammy Awards may be music’s biggest night, but for Aidan Ping, a Montclair State University student spending the semester in Los Angeles, the 2024 Grammys struck a chord on his own personal highlight reel. Connections he’s already made in Hollywood led to a gig recording interviews with the musical greats on the Grammys’ red carpet. 

“I always hoped I was going to make it somewhere in film. But if you told me, like, Grammys and before I even graduated, I would have called you a liar,” says Ping, a junior Film and Television major participating in Montclair’s Semester in LA program. 

Now in its third semester, Semester in LA has Montclair students shooting for the stars, landing internships and networking alongside the other major East Coast college communication programs in film and television. “Montclair now has a significant footprint in the epicenter of where that all happens,” says School of Communication and Media Director Keith Strudler.

Students in a camera gear warehouse.
At their internship at Cinema Devices, a film engineering firm, Aidan Ping takes a selfie with Natalie Brangaccio, a junior majoring in Filmmaking at Montclair, in the company’s workshop. (Photo courtesy of Aidan Ping)

Ping, who has experience in mixing and production on set at Montclair, was working at his internship with Cinema Devices, a film engineering company, when a co-worker mentioned he needed a sound mixer for the Grammys’ red carpet. “I spent three days doing different red carpet events, recording the audio for the handheld mic interviews for the Recording Academy,” Ping says.

It’s the type of experience becoming more common for the students taking part in the program. We’re starting to see that people have now heard of Montclair State University. That’s opening doors for us,” Strudler says.

Alejandro Londono, a junior Film and Television major, will complete two internships over the course of the semester: one in sports media at Stadium Rant and the other as a television reviewer for an online entertainment magazine. “To be able to live out here and be in the middle of the industry at such a young age is a huge privilege,” he says. 

Madison with a "SAG-AFTRA on Strike" picket sign.
Madison Westenhiser shows her support during the Writers Guild of America strike that took place during her Semester in LA last fall. (Photo courtesy of Madison Westenhiser)

Last fall, Madison Westenhiser, a Film and Television major, was offered a job to continue her internship remotely when she left Los Angeles. She’s an assistant producer with Make That Paper Podcast, a show featuring interviews with artists talking about the odd jobs, side hustles and alternative income streams they find to help them pursue their artistic careers. “I do a lot of the show’s social media posts, along with newsletters, and now even edit some of the scripts,” Westenhiser says.

The podcast’s co-host is Jaime Parker Stickle, a screenwriter hired by Montclair to run its Semester in LA program. She teaches a class on the Los Angeles media industry, where she draws on her own connections to bring in guest speakers – cinematographers, showrunners, casting agents and writers.

“All people working in the industry who have held various positions leading up to who they are now,” Stickle says.

Montclair alumni help the students dream big. Michael Price ’81 (BA in Speech and Theatre), executive producer of The Simpsons; Marvel Studios’ Adam Derengowski ’19 (BFA in Filmmaking), production coordinator; Sean Aronold ’21 (BFA in Filmmaking), production assistant; and Rebekka Johnson ’01 (BFA in Theatre), an actress on the Netflix series Glow, have all shared their personal stories of what it takes to make it in the Hollywood entertainment scene.

“Every single day you are learning about a new person and what their life was like and what obstacles they had that you may have and can figure out how to overcome,” Westenhiser says. 

A student looks into a movie camera, bathed in purple light.
Alejandro Londono says, “To be able to live out here and be in the middle of the industry at such a young age is a huge privilege.” (Photo courtesy Semester in LA)

Students selected for the program stay on track to graduate by taking Montclair courses online while in LA. The University shares classroom space and residential housing with other East Coast schools, providing opportunities for all the students to get to know one another. They spend time together, whether hiking or touring LA, and in doing so are making connections with people who could very well be their collaborators after they graduate, whether in LA, New York or another city shaping the entertainment landscape.

“Coming out here and realizing that I’m a Montclair student in the same league with NYU or Ithaca, that we’re now up to that level, if not surpassing, is a super cool feeling,” says Ping.

Experiencing California in itself has been an adventure. “I was definitely missing Jersey but the weather and the views are unbeatable,” says Ahmad Muheisen, who took part in the program last fall and will graduate in May with a degree in Sports Communication. “And then, all the connections we gained, all the experience we received. It was like a dream come true.”

For information on how to apply, visit the Semester in LA web page.


Story by Staff Writer Marilyn Joyce Lehren

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