Arts and entertainment alumni share industry insights at experiential learning networking event

June 17, 2024 by Adam Elliott Segal - A&S News

Things are buzzing at the University of Toronto’s new Experiential Learning Commons building. Students mingled and networked with industry professionals recently as part of a powerful Arts & Science Internship Program (ASIP) event.

ASIP, a new co-op program for Faculty of Arts & Science undergraduate students launched in the fall of 2021, provides specialized professional development training and up to 20 months of paid work experience for students from 49 different Arts & Science programs.

The event provided a valuable setting for ASIP students and industry professionals from diverse arts and entertainment organizations to come together to discuss career options, and for students to gain a better understanding about opportunities in the arts and entertainment sector.

Shabnam Abbarin, Timaj Garad, Giulio Fazzolari, Liam Stevenson, Cherise Seuchuran and Joyco To standing in front of a banner.
From left: Shabnam Abbarin, Timaj Garad, Giulio Fazzolari, Liam Stevenson, Cherise Seuchuran, Joyco To.

“It's important to understand the trials and tribulations the student community is going through,” says Giulio Fazzolari, who earned his bachelor of arts in political science as a member of St. Michael’s College and an MBA from the Rotman School of Management. Fazzolari is now executive director of media and marketing solutions sales for Cineplex.

"If there's anything I can do as a director of a big publicly traded company in Canada to help them along their journey, I’m happy to. You never know — some of them could end up being people we work with in a few years.”

Fazzolari was among a number of industry leaders at the event to extend a helping hand and guide the 42 prospective students through the next phase of their educational careers. Others included Cherise Seucharan, who earned her honours bachelor of arts in 2012 as a member of University College and is a journalist with Canadaland, a news site and podcast; Timaj Garad, senior manager, outreach and access, Toronto Arts Council and Foundation; Joyce To, who earned her master of music in 2021 and is the grants and outreach administrator at the Toronto Arts Council Foundation; Shabnam Abbarin, feature animation pipeline supervisor at DNEG, a leading visual effects and animation studio; and Liam Stevenson, senior data scientist, Toronto Blue Jays, who earned a honours bachelor of science in 2016.

The informal structure of the event encouraged students to move freely around the room and engage in conversation with invited guests, who sat along curved forest-green banquettes and in front of maple tabletops repurposed from the uprooted trees during U of T’s Landmark Project.

Shabnam Abbarrin sitting at a table with a group of people.
Shabnam Abbarrin engages with students in the Experiential Learning Commons building.

“Events like these are critical to our students’ development,” says John Cowling, business development officer with the Faculty of Arts & Science. “We work with students to expand their horizons in terms of what jobs are out there in the ecosphere. Over the past several months we have hosted themed industry nights with professionals from the technology sector, life sciences sector, food and beverage sector and this one today focused on the arts and entertainment sector. Students from the humanities, social sciences and sciences see firsthand how their skills can make valuable contributions to these industries.

“The industry events so far have been highly successful, with speakers coming from organizations big and small, and professionals sharing linear and non-linear career paths,” Cowling stressed. “Some Arts & Science students, however, may not see the direct connection and pipeline from their program to the workforce. That’s why in-person events and relationship building are so important for students to learn about in order to build their network.”

This is especially true in journalism, Seuchuran offered. “It’s a trust-based industry. Getting to know people, being able to make connections and get some face time — in journalism, that’s big.”

ASIP networking and engagement events, and the Experiential Learning Commons at large, offer a critical first step in experiential learning, building a bridge to the workforce that students otherwise may not have access to. These events are part of the Faculty of Arts & Science’s larger effort to provide a diverse experiential learning portfolio for undergraduate students.

“Within the Faculty of Arts & Science we have been placing significant effort in building and expanding a diverse range of experiential learning opportunities for students, including research and international opportunities, 20—to 200-hour course-based experiential learning opportunities, entrepreneurship programming and fully immersive, paid co-op work experiences,” says Vicki Lowes, executive director, experiential learning and professional development. “Experiential learning opportunities allow students to see first-hand what they may have previously only seen in books or in the classroom, and to put their already stellar education into practice in real-life settings. Support from the community is critical to the growth of our offerings and opportunities, and we are incredibly grateful to our alumni, industry and community partners for giving their time and expertise, and their commitment to the professional development of our students.”

The experience and knowledge gained from conversations with working professionals is invaluable, says Cowling.

“Networking is a learned skill,” he says. And while events such as this aren’t job fairs, simply sharing a table with industry leaders gives students confidence when applying for internships or following up with a potential employer.

“It's always great to network and meet new people who are connected with interesting industries and get a general idea of what type of work is out there,” says Julian Apolinario, a second-year history student and a member of Victoria College. “When I was looking at companies and organizations on offer, there were several I wouldn't have even thought to apply for.”

Some students asked questions pertaining to specific areas of interest, while others listened to alumni describe their career journey and how they transitioned from school to the workforce.

Garad, who works at the Toronto Arts Council and Foundation, spoke to the industry at large.

“I think the arts as a whole is a sector with a lot of growth potential,” says Garad. “It's a sector that informs the cultural development of our city and is multidisciplinary in nature. At the Toronto Arts Council and Foundation, we have people who work in research, fundraising or do interpersonal work within the community, and more. There are so many different career paths culminating in one space.”

Abbarin, who in addition to working full-time in animation is a mature student majoring in cognitive science, says attending events and information sessions are indispensable learning opportunities.

“Students have a lot of concerns: ‘What am I going to do next? What’s the job or salary going to be?’” Abbarin says. Having a valued skillset is one thing, she adds, but passion is what makes a student stand out.

“That spirit is what everyone looks for at the end of the day.”

Alumni interested in joining future industry events, hiring University of Toronto Co-op students, or understanding how they can help support future experiential learning opportunities for Arts & Science students, should reach out to John Cowling,, business development officer, office of experiential learning & outreach support.

ASIP is a proud partner of University of Toronto Co-op, where employers can connect with thousands of co-op students across U of T’s three campuses through one portal.