Media Entrepreneurs Don’t Wait to Graduate

By Kelli B. Grant ’04, April 18, 2019
Students start careers while still enrolled at IC’s Roy H. Park School of Communications.

Shooting video for New York Fashion Week or taking over Instagram’s official account to cover the March for Our Lives would be a bucket-list achievement for most people. For student entrepreneurs in Ithaca College’s Roy H. Park School of Communications, however, it’s business as usual — even if they are writing term papers en route to an event or blocking out time between classes to remotely attend a client meeting.

“I feel like I’ve had a significantly different experience than other people,” says Casey Schoch ’19, who is one year into a five-year contract with Amazon to stream her short film “Dead Weight,” which she created as a sophomore at IC. “I feel like I've just been super fortunate in that way, that I knew what I wanted to do and I've had the chance to meet all these incredible people who have helped me move forward with my career.”

By taking advantage of the hands-on training, mentorship, and alumni network afforded by Ithaca College, these four students have been able to take their careers to the next level. Rather than putting their dreams on hold until after graduation, they have been building their media livelihoods while earning their degrees.

Malick Mercier: The Journalist

Out of the blue last March, Malick Mercier ’21 heard from a producer at Instagram. She got right to the point, he recalls: “How would you like to be the host for our March for Our Lives coverage?” Just a few days later, Mercier (@classymalick on Instagram) was in Washington, D.C. He shared his experiences at the demonstration against gun violence with Instagram’s followers — which at the time numbered more than 230 million.

I was lifted high into the sky via a scissor lift above the crowd that I now know was hundreds of thousands of people,” Mercier said in interviews with the college right after the march. “I was truly moved at that sight — all those people coming out to fight for something they believed in, and it was organized by students! I could feel the energy, which strengthened me and my work.”

That led to a wave of other opportunities. Media company Mic asked Mercier to host its Instagram coverage of the first stop on the March for Our Lives Road to Change tour. Teen Vogue and shoe brand TOMS cast him in a video urging young adults to vote. JetBlue. Converse. CNN. And the list goes on.

The Instagram pitch may have come as a surprise, but Mercier has been building a professional portfolio and reel since high school, when the self-professed aviation geek began freelancing for aviation news site and interning with public access Manhattan Neighborhood Network.

Ithaca College, he says, offered the chance to build on those skills from day one — and a full-ride scholarship through the Park Scholars program. “Just seeing that other schools wouldn't let you get hands-on experience, especially your first year, was just really annoying,” he says. “I think a lot of us are already figuring out ways to tell stories, whether it be on social media or on other platforms in high school.”

Mercier scaled back his projects temporarily while on leave from the college to recover from a car accident. But he sees that break as a way to find his focus and hone in on his goals amid the opportunities coming his way. “I’ve been approached by all these different brands and news story organizations,” he says. “I’m figuring out, who do I actually feel I’m more like?”

“Realizing where your values are and what you align with more is a cool thing that I’ve been able to do,” he says.

Kristin Butler: The Marketer

An open spot in her high school schedule proved serendipitous for Kristin Butler ’20. Butler’s mother suggested she take a marketing class to learn how to better market herself for job opportunities. “I ended up doing really well in it, and actually really loving it, and understanding all the strategies and the ideologies that come with it,” she says. “It really inspired me to want to do something with marketing.”

With that new career path in mind — and two parents who graduated from the Park School as television-radio majors — Ithaca was the first place Butler looked for a marketing program. The college’s integrated marketing communications degree seemed like a perfect fit.

The summer after her first year, an internship with Boston-based startup Armored Things quickly escalated into bigger opportunities. The company uses technology to create safety solutions for large venues.

“The first week I was actually promoted,” Butler says. “I was able to work on social media for them and help them network with clients that they had hoped to be able to complete soon, and so that was a really great experience.”

She continued working for Armored Things through her sophomore year at Ithaca, remotely attending meetings and working on projects. “It was really exciting to see that I was able to really make a difference within the startup culture,” she says. “You can feel insignificant in large corporate environments, and I didn't feel that at all here.”

“I feel like I know a lot, and I should know a lot because there was no department of marketing there when I started,” Butler says. “It was just a startup with five people and I was the one involved in all this marketing… it really let me see that I'm far more capable of doing things than I even dreamed of.”

Now a junior, Butler has shifted her focus. “I really want to be in an advertising agency and be a part of that,” she says.

She’s still freelancing for Armored Things, but has also taken on other clients — including a photography-videography company using drones. “I've been helping them understand how to position their brand,” she says, “as well as determine how to target an audience using social media.”

“I've been able to challenge myself, and accomplish things that I had never even realized that I would attempt to accomplish,” Butler says.

Jake Lattimore: The Videographer

Launching a YouTube channel at the ripe old age of 10 provided Jake Lattimore ’21 with his first foray into media. By his first year of high school, he was shooting and editing videos for his Instagram (@jakelattimore4) — and hatching a business idea.

“I realized that there were a lot of fields where the advertisements and videos made for them were very boring,” he says. “I thought that I could just put a good spin on them and make them exciting.” JL Media was born, just before Lattimore’s sophomore year of high school.

It was around that same time that Lattimore got his first drone, seeing it as an investment in a tool that a lot of video producers weren’t yet taking advantage of. “I used it to make my videos different and to separate myself from others,” he says.

Clients hiring Lattimore based on his work portfolio were often surprised to discover he was so young. “I was going to business meetings and my mom would drop me off,” he says. “I walk into the meeting with a full mouth of braces, and a button-down [shirt] and they're like, ‘Oh, you're Jake.’”

When Lattimore looked toward college, he kept spotting Ithaca connections in artists he admired — such as photographer-videographer Mike Holland ’16, who worked on Logic’s “Everybody’s Tour.” “He’s doing something that, honestly, my dream would be to do,” Lattimore says.

“What was best for me was going to a school that will set my future up,” he says. “That’s why I chose Ithaca.” Once at the college, Lattimore quickly took advantage of the IC Drone Workshop, which gives students access to the fleet for projects after they take a licensing course. “It’s almost given me the open road to go and do what I want to do,” says Lattimore, and adds: “I’m working with equipment now that I’ve only dreamed of.”

As his skills grow, so has his roster of projects. Lattimore has taken on diverse clients, shooting video for big events and organizations including New York Fashion Week, Rochester Jazz Festival, and Save a Child's Heart, as well as local restaurants, gyms and real estate agencies.

He sees the semester as a training ground to prepare for breaks where he’ll focus on his own work. “It gives me the time to hone my craft, to learn new things and how to be better,” he says.

Casey Schoch: The Filmmaker

When film festival acceptances started rolling in for Casey Schoch ’19 and her short film “Dead Weight,” her bosses at film distributor Digital Media Rights took notice. They helped Schoch — who was there for a summer internship — broker a deal with Amazon to stream “Dead Weight.”

But before she signed the contract, Schoch knew she should get professional advice. She decided to seek guidance from faculty members Phil Blackman in the School of Business and Jack Powers in the Park School.

Blackman and Schoch went through the contract line by line, with Blackman providing an explanation for the key terms and what they meant for the film. Powers focused on the financial aspect and the image of the film to make sure the deal was fair.

Fast forward one year into the five-year contract, and she’s starting to make a profit from users watching. “That’s unheard of for a student film,” Schoch says. 

At Ithaca, Schoch got involved right away with IC’s media incubator, The Studio. “Not only did I pitch my own ideas for the studio, but I was also able to work on other people's scripts and give critiques,” she says.

“Dead Weight” came to life during the spring semester of Schoch’s sophomore year. The idea for the film, about a heist gone wrong, came from a short poem she’d written for a creative writing class. Schoch also directed, executive produced and edited the film.

“I was super fortunate to know exactly what I wanted to do when I came in freshman year,” Schoch says. “It was because of that that I was able to hit the ground running... When it came time to film, I knew exactly what I had to do.”

With that first film under her belt, Schoch has since made a historical re-creation for a class, focusing on the last day of Virginia Woolf’s life. And she recently finished her senior thesis film — a comedy that follows a couple who stage a faux fight to trick a restaurant into giving them free food.

Then there are her passion projects in progress. The first is a spoken-word piece called “Last Entry,” about a girl who’s dealing with depression.

The second is a psychological thriller she originally conceived as a short in high school that she’s turning into a feature film. As a freshman, Schoch pitched that last project to Dan Heffner ’78, executive producer of the “Saw” movie franchise, when he visited for a “Pitch It to Produce It” event. He liked it, she says, and recommended a few changes. She plans to run the script by him again while studying in Los Angeles this spring.

“I feel like every single thing that's happened with this process has definitely been just super helpful in understanding where to even go after graduating, and what you can do with the work that you do have,” Schoch says.

Tips to Succeed

Building a business as a full-time student is no easy feat. Here, the students share what’s helped them excel:

  • Get organized. Butler keeps a detailed schedule, allocating time for her class and work commitments, as well as personal time. That lets her easily determine how much time she can devote if a client has a sudden need or a short deadline — and when she has to say, “no.” “It's okay to focus on yourself before you take on other responsibilities,” she says.
  • Maintain your network. Getting work can often hinge on your connections, Lattimore says. “It's all about what people can say about you: If they like your work, and how hard you work,” he says. “So, making sure that I show the people in the past that I've only continued to get better and grow, is something that I really try my best to do.”
  • Build a presence. Mercier credits his Instagram opportunity in part to having a professional, approachable presence online. “Had I not had a reel and had I not had a blog and had I not had all this stuff for them to vet me by, I would have been passed by,” he says.
  • Enlist help. After doing almost every role for “Dead Weight,” Schoch says she learned to outsource different project roles to people she can trust to know what they’re doing — and can help teach others on the crew. “That way, in the future, I can rely on them for bigger roles and bigger things,” she says.
  • Set a fair price. The students agree that their entrepreneurial endeavors have taught them a lot about setting a fair price for their work — and not accepting lowball offers or requests for free work.  Being young, Lattimore points out, “doesn’t mean that you have to charge a very minimum price.”