Q&A: Student Questions, Alumni Answers

Content Contributed By Rebecca Hilker ‘16

Gannon University’s Communication Arts programs and student media have evolved along with the changing pace and technology of today’s multimedia industry. So, just how different was the experience about 30 years ago?

Senior journalism communication major Becky Hilker asks Gannon alumni Monique Beatty ’87, director of production, DreamWorks Animation Television; and Kevin Sullivan ’87, staff writer at Nickelodeon Animation Studios, about their experience, and what advice they have for students today.

Becky Hilker: The two of you have been friends for quite some time; so, is it true what they say about college friendships being the most lasting in one’s life?

Monique Beatty: Definitely! I think at that time in your life you’re open to lots of new things, and it’s easy to make friends. Going through shared experiences together–A.J. Miceli’s thesis class, for example, or acting in a production of “Dr. Faustus” –forms pretty strong bonds that you find yourself referring back to later years. (I suspect our group will still be talking about these things when we're sitting in our rocking chairs at the retirement home!) Those shared experiences form a strong foundation that has become unbreakable.

Kevin Sullivan: It is so true! I can’t believe we’ve known each other so long. How many people get to say that? We get together and I think, if I close my eyes we could all be 19 again hanging out in the bungalow I lived in on Fifth St.

A significant group of us were at Homecoming (a reunion we try to attend every year), and Sunday of that weekend happened to be my 50th birthday. I had a realization: one of my very favorite memories is the surprise 20th birthday party my college friends threw for me. And now, 30 years later, I was still celebrating with the same group of people. It was an overwhelming feeling of being so blessed and lucky. Not only did I share four amazing years with these people, but they have been an indescribably important part of my life ever since.

BH: What are your thoughts on the new Center for Communication and the Arts bringing advertising, multimedia, communication arts and journalism under one roof?

KS: What I loved about Gannon's Communication and the Arts department and my time there was that it always seemed to be a family atmosphere. To unite that under one roof is even more extraordinary. Having all these functions in one place will allow students in various disciplines who might not normally cross paths more opportunity to mingle, share experiences and maybe find something new they really enjoy. Monique and I can’t say enough about A.J. Miceli and M.C. Gensheimer’s passion and dedication in making the School of Communications and the Arts a reality.

BH: Recently you’ve given back to Gannon, and a classroom in the new Center for Communication and the Arts is named after your classmates. Can you tell us more about the “Media Rats?”

MB: Media Rats was what we called our group of friends; I think Joe Bruncsak ’88 came up with the name. We were so into all aspects of our major–radio, TV, theater–and “media” neatly covered them all. Plus, the media center was in the basement of the library and we hung out there a lot, so “rats” just seemed a natural partner. We want to be clear, though, that we have never seen an actual rat in the library!

BH: Is there one definitive Gannon experience that has stayed with you through the years?

MB: Oh, gosh, it's hard to pin one down. Presenting my thesis, which was terrifying, nerve-wracking and ultimately satisfying (I survived!). Dragging myself down to WERG at 5:45 a.m. for an early morning shift, which was worth it because I love–and still do–the music we played.

The best memories, though, were of the times the Media Rats spent together, whether it was driving around the peninsula, hanging out in Schuster or sitting through some challenging and rewarding classes. When we get together now, we just pick up where we left off and add to the wonderful collection of experiences we’ve shared. We are a very loving and supportive group. Each person's accomplishments, joys and sorrows are shared, and that is considerably more satisfying than a successful thesis presentation.

KS: I was a very shy and introverted 17-year-old when I started Gannon, and it took me a long time to come out of my shell. But when I was a junior, I co-hosted a local cable access show called “Sidestreets,” I co-edited the Communication and the Arts newsletter of the time, called “The Clips,” and I stepped onto the Schuster stage for the first time in a performance of one-act plays.

Finding a new comfort level and taking those first steps out of my shell were extremely significant experiences for me; I wouldn’t be able to do what I do now without the confidence that miraculously began to take root during those days at Gannon.

BH: What is one thing that you know now that may not have been so clear in college? 

MB: Be flexible with your career plans. My career path has not been a straight line. After graduation, I worked in radio, then at a bank, then in the legal department at a studio before finally settling into my current career path in animation.

KS: I thought I had to have everything accomplished and set in stone by the time I graduated (I didn’t), or by the time I turned 25 (I didn’t), or by the time I turned 30 (nope, not then either).

So what wasn’t so clear to me then that I’ve learned in the almost 30 years since graduation, is that it’s all about the journey, not the destination--such a cliché, I know! But if you stay open to all the opportunities that present themselves along the way, and learn to let go of your hard and fast expectations, I think your career and your life will be all the richer for it. 

BH: What advice do you have for students entering the field of communications?

MB: First, maintain your friendships. It’s so rewarding on both a personal and professional level. The Media Rats have been a wonderful support group through both good times and bad.

Second, be in the moment. As amazing as life can turn out to be, where you are now will never happen again.

KS: Don’t let “the real world” overwhelm you.

Be flexible. You never know where your career path will take you. Be open to different possibilities. Try new things. Try anything.

If you were to interview the rest of the Media Rats, you would hear so many varied and fascinating stories of where their career paths have taken them in the last three decades. By being more receptive to different opportunities, you’ll have a more varied and more fulfilling career.