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'Seriously the best thing I’ve ever done,' South by Southwest class immerses students in their chosen industry

Warning: if you ask the students who participated in this year’s South by Southwest (SXSW) class about their experience, you might get tired of hearing words like “best,” “incredible” and “amazing.” The group of nearly 30 students have been preparing since October to attend the weeklong conference, where they networked with mentors, interacted with cutting edge technology, and actually saw Keanu Reeves in real life.

“I have to say it is one of the best memories that I've ever had,” said senior Jessie Laub, a music production and recording industry (MPRI) major. “It was just so fun. There's so much to do at South By: movie premieres, TV show premieres, music showcases as well as just the huge, huge networking event, and then all these great panels from industry majors.”

South By, as the SXSW conference is commonly referred to, is indeed more than just a dazzling experience for people who love concerts, TV and movies. Mentoring sessions are built into the schedule, and students in the class are encouraged to register for as many as they can. 

“I was able to connect with so many people in relevant industries right now and learn about the cool things that they're doing and exchange contact information with them,” said sophomore Honors Tutorial College (HTC) journalism major Julia Weber. “So I know that I'll have people in the industry as I continue my career through college and post-graduation who are willing to help me and lend a hand because of this incredible experience at South by Southwest.”

The mentoring sessions and other networking opportunities allow students to learn about their chosen industry, make connections and sometimes even land internships or jobs.

“The goal of this trip is laser-focused on engagement: with industry leaders, new ideas, experiences, and a wealth of premieres and showcases from creatives across tech, music, film and television, and so much more,” said Josh Antonuccio, director of the School of Media Arts and Studies and director of the SXSW course. “100 percent of students that attend connect directly with leaders in and around their industry space. It makes for an exciting environment, to say the least.”

Nina Blair and Ella Franks are shown at South By Southwest
Nina Blair and Ella Franks are shown at the South By Southwest conference.

For freshman MPRI and graphic design major Ella Franks, the goal of engaging paid off with tangible leads on future opportunities.

“The part that was most beneficial to me on the trip was the mentor sessions, because I had about five or six of those with industry professionals,” Franks said. “And actually, two of them are prospective to give me an internship this summer in the music industry. And one of those works for the Grammys, which is really exciting.”

Another major element of the class is ensuring that the students maximize their experience at the conference. The daily schedule is packed with sessions, performances, speakers and premieres. It’s important to go in with a plan, and the OHIO students make the most of the experience. As such, Antonuccio has the students start planning their schedules in November, with an eye toward cultivating students’ goals for the trip.

“My favorite part of the event was just walking around what they called the Creative Industries Expo,” said Gabriel Moss, a junior MPRI student. “It had hundreds of tech companies, music companies, film companies, just showing off their new gear and what's to come in the future. And it really just felt like traveling into the future. You felt like you were at the center of it all and you just got this sneak peek into like, what's coming and what's new.”

Between the professional connections and industry insight, nearly all the participants in the South by Southwest class offered by the School of Media Arts and Studies come away with even more confidence and direction about their chosen field than they had before the trip.

Senior integrated media major Greta Cargin wants to pursue a career in the film industry. She said the stories she heard from professionals reinforced her goals.

“It makes me confident in my ability to pursue what I want to do in the film industry and know that there's really no right or wrong answer to how I get there,” Corgin said. “And that no matter what, it's very much possible and I'm very excited to see what else the world has to offer.”

Keanu Reeves is shown speaking at a South By Southwest event
The OHIO students even saw Keanu Reeves at one of the South By Southwest events.

For sophomore media arts production major Sam Gottfried, the experience provided the guidance he was looking for as he narrows down his professional focus. 

“I am kind of in between things and trying to figure out where I want to work in the media industry,” Gottfried said. “Talking to people and professionals who are actually in the field, not just classwork, really helped me realize that the path that I want to take is more towards film.”

The students certainly expand their professional network at the conference through mentoring sessions and networking and social events, but many found just as much value in expanding their OHIO network.

“It's gonna sound corny,” Gottfried said, “But the friends I made along the way, the people in my class, are really great and really supportive. And I will always cherish this break that I had at South By.”

Finally, let’s not forget the electrifying experience of watching the world premiere of a major new movie, all while earning course credit toward your major. This year’s premieres included the North American premiere of “John Wick 4,” Ben Affleck’s new movie “Air,” as well as several major streaming television premieres including “Swarm,” “Love and Death” and Netflix’s “Beef.” Senior MPRI major Johnny Le said he learned about what employers in his field are looking for and about industry trends. And he made it to one of those premieres.

“I also got to see the premiere of ‘John Wick 4’ and saw Keanu Reeves in real life,” Le said. “So these are very cool experiences for me.”

April 6, 2023
Staff reports