By Neil Nachbar
Very few industries are as difficult to break into as the entertainment industry.
This past summer, two rising seniors at URI not only got their foot in the door through internships, but they made the most of their opportunity.
Out of hundreds of applicants, ThankGod (TG) Ugochukwu and Edwin Sam were two of the 16 students selected for engineering internships at Fox Studios in Los Angeles.
Ugochukwu, who is studying biomedical engineering with an electrical track, served as a broadcast engineer. Sam, who is a computer science major from East Providence, worked in Fox’s software applications group. Both students were given a lot of responsibility.
“On a daily basis, I did maintenance on their electronics and tried to fix anything that may be ‘broken,’ on top of a big project they gave me for the summer,” said Ugochukwu, who is from Norwood, Mass. “The project was to create an interactive board that would display the live feeds of all their production control rooms and the scheduling for each one every day.”
Ugochukwu worked under Daryl Moore, who was one of Fox’s head engineers. Sam did his internship under Vice President of Software Development Steve Simonian.
“My position entailed learning a new language that was commonly used in the software engineering department,” stated Sam. “I also had to learn how to use different API’s (Application Programming Interface) from top companies, such as Amazon, Google and Microsoft, to test different types of recognitions, such as facial, movement and landmark recognition.”
Charles (Chuck) Watson, who is the URI College of Engineering Assistant Director of Minority Student Recruitment and Retention, played an instrumental role in the students landing the internships.
Watson met Brenda Lacy-Davis, Fox’s senior vice president of Human Resources, at the 2016 National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) annual convention in Boston.
“Brenda was representing Fox at the convention’s career fair,” recalled Watson. “I asked her what Fox was doing at an engineering conference. She explained how engineers are needed to make television and movie magic and that they were looking for interns.”
Watson remained in touch with Lacy-Davis so that he could learn more about Fox’s internship opportunities.
“Charles Watson and I had several meetings over the course of nine months to formulate the program and the student selection process,” said Lacy-Davis. “Mr. Watson made two trips to the Fox studio lot in Los Angeles, where he toured the facility, spoke with my HR staff and met with the 2015 group of interns in order to gain more insight and to aid in his selection process at URI.”
“I learned about what type of student would be a successful intern at Fox and the type of coding and computer skills that would be required for the program,” said Watson. “The studio visits and conversations provided the first-hand knowledge I needed to determine which of our students were best suited to represent URI’s College of Engineering.”
Upon returning from his second visit to Los Angeles, Watson carefully considered which students he would select.
“As I went through my list of students several times, it became clear to me that TG and Edwin were the right fit,” said Watson. “I met with them and explained the initiative and what would be required by Fox for them to participate. I knew they were mature enough to spend 10-12 weeks on the west coast.”
Watson was familiar with the two students due to their involvement in the URI chapter of NSBE and the Dean’s office advisory group.
“I had spent enough time with both of them to feel comfortable that I was making the right choice,” said Watson.
The cost of the students’ travel, room and board was covered by the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) initiative. All other expenses were paid for by Fox.
The executives at Fox were very pleased with the students Watson selected.
“They were both eager, diligent and great to have on board,” said Lacy-Davis. “I especially enjoyed their sense of adventure and wonder as they experienced Los Angeles and California for the first time. This city can be overwhelming, and they were great. As interns they stood out among our best.”
After spending his summer at Fox, Sam is considering a new career path.
“I would most definitely like to pursue a software engineering job after I graduate,” said Sam. “I never saw myself in the entertainment industry, but now I have an interest in working in that field.”
Whether they end up working in entertainment or not, the connections they made at the studio could prove helpful in their careers.
“I made a large amount of contacts at Fox that could help me down the road,” said Ugochukwu. “I was fortunate to meet people who are willing to help me out or vouch for me whenever I need it.”
Count Lacy-Davis among those who are willing to help the two URI students out.
“I can’t wait to help them find permanent employment within the entertainment industry,” said the Fox executive.
According to Lacy-Davis, this was the first time URI students have ever performed internships at the studio. But since it was a positive experience for all parties, it won’t be the last time.
“The nine months of e-mails, phone calls and face-to-face visits in Los Angeles has developed into a strong relationship,” stated Watson. “I hope to expand their support as our partnership grows.”
Next summer, Watson would like to see a female student have the opportunity that Ugochukwu and Sam had.
“I’ll be sending out a call for applications and will be seeking recommendations,” said Watson.