Penn State Hollywood Program offers connections and opportunity

Nina Trach
January 23, 2020

Carl Laguerre wakes up every morning in sunny Los Angeles (L.A.), much like he did in his final semester as a Penn State student. Now working in sales distribution for Walt Disney Studios, Laguerre thinks back on his time in the Penn State Hollywood Program as the starting point for his career.

Laguerre, who earned his bachelor's degree in journalism from the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications, was a member of the first cohort of Hollywood Program students in spring 2016. For the Long Island native, the opportunity to complete an internship and take classes through the program in L.A. introduced him to the city, and build the connections and skills he would use to establish a career in the entertainment capital of the world.

Every spring semester, the program offers highly motivated students the chance to complete internships for entertainment companies during one of Hollywood’s busiest seasons, while still taking Penn State courses on site or online.

“I didn’t know what to think about it because it was the first year,” Laguerre said. “One of the things I think is important with this program is that it gives you the insight, the inside look, on an industry that otherwise is closed off.”

“One of the things I think is important with this program is that it gives you the insight, the inside look, on an industry that otherwise is closed off.”

-- Penn State alumnus Carl Laguerre, 2016 journalism 

Now, five years later, another cohort of juniors and seniors in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications is hoping to gain that same perspective as they embark on the same adventure.

Under the guidance of program creator and director Robert Richards, the Hollywood Program compliments classroom and internship experience with networking dinners and guest speakers. Housing is provided at an apartment complex located in close proximity to both the Warner Bros. and Universal Studios lots.

Richards, the John and Ann Curley Professor of First Amendment Studies, is a respected and well-known First Amendment scholar who established the Stanley E. Degler Washington Program more than two decades ago at Penn State. The model for that successful program in the nation’s capital provided the blueprint for the Hollywood Program. And, these days, Richards retains membership in the National Press Club as well as the Screen Actors Guild.

The opportunity to work and study in Hollywood is actively drawing students like Jenna Minnig (senior-journalism) to the Bellisario College.

Minnig has loved the entertainment industry for as long as she can remember, having grown up watching E! News every night. After hearing about the Hollywood Program during a tour of Penn State, she saw it as a chance to try to make her childhood dreams a reality. It was a major reason she chose to attend Penn State.

A semester in L.A. was the motivating factor in Minnig’s dedication to complete internships at Young Hollywood and the Bryce Jordan Center. It also drove her to get involved on campus with CommRadio and “Centre County Report,” and even work to graduate a year early.

“I am just so happy and honored, honestly, that I was accepted into it,” Minnig said of the Hollywood Program. She is currently serving as a global publicity intern for Warner Bros. and hopes to stay in L.A. with a job after graduation.

Bellisario College Fellow Jacob Saar (junior-film) also hopes his experience as a post-production intern at Light Vision, a Panavision Company, will lead to a job down the road. After working hard to complete the on- and off-campus and internship experience necessary to apply for the Hollywood Program, Saar has looked forward to participating in the program since switching his major from mechanical engineering his freshman year.

Christine Kovell (junior-telecommunications and finance) and Emma Furry (senior-public relations) have similar stories.

For both students, the Hollywood Program was a deciding factor in their choice to pursue majors in the Bellisario College; Kovell decided to double-major in telecommunications and Furry transferred into the Bellisario College from the College of Human Health and Development.

“The entertainment industry is so relationship based and it’s so daunting to think about how you really have to know someone to get in there,” said Kovell, who considered transferring to a school in Los Angeles earlier in her college career. She ultimately decided to apply for the Hollywood Program, leading to internships with both Echo Lake Entertainment and Warner Bros. this semester.

“I knew I loved Penn State and I knew (the Hollywood Program) was still going to give me the opportunity to make those relationships,” Laguerre said. He confirmed the networking opportunities were part of what made his experience in 2016 so valuable, along with the chance to see that there is more to the entertainment industry than some traditional roles like production, script writing and acting. He learned that through his digital, publicity and marketing internship in distribution with Open Road Films, where he discovered the perfect career path to mix his salesman flair and love for media.

Minnig looks forward to finding the same success in combining her interest in broadcast journalism with a passion for event marketing. Meanwhile, Furry sees the program and her role as a communications assistant with Beck Media and Marketing as an opportunity to explore the start of a long-term career in entertainment.

“It’s just as important to know what you don’t want to do,” Furry said. “I feel like this program offers us a really good way into seeing if we really want to do entertainment, and if we don’t, it’s just as valid, which is awesome.”

Leo Massey (senior-film), already confident in his passion for entertainment, plans to use his Hollywood semester to discover how he can best contribute to the industry. Massey will work with Fox and Silver Pictures during the semester and hopes to gain experience that he can pair with his passion for inclusivity, specifically in the LGBTQ community, later in his career.

That is part of the flexibility of the program; students have the opportunity to work for organizations diverse in size, focus and culture, depending on their expressed interest. In the previous four years of the program, companies including ABC Studios, HBO, Viacom and more have welcomed Penn State Hollywood Program interns onto their teams.

“Not only do students have the chance to work in the industry that they are passionate about, but the most reputable names in entertainment get to see how hard working our students are,” said Dean Marie Hardin of the Bellisario College. “The Hollywood Program gives students skills and connections that will carry them far beyond one semester.”

Beyond their internships and coursework, Laguerre said each cohort of Hollywood Program students can also look forward to learning how to manage their time and master the L.A. commute — skills he still uses every day.

With the semester underway, the 15 students who are part of the program this semester are eager to gain experience supported by the Bellisario College before starting careers on their own.

“They always say ‘big school resources, small school feel.’ I’m trying to utilize the resources and the connections, especially with the alumni network out there,” Saar said. “I’m glad to be going as part of Penn State.”

  • Carl Laguerre

    Alumnus Carl Laguerre completed the Hollywood Program in 2016, which led to his career in the entertainment industry.

    IMAGE: Photo Provided
Last Updated January 23, 2020