Student employees experience doubt, transitions amid pandemic

In the face of an unexpected shake-up, Drake students are brushing off the dust and giving it the old college try.

By Sarah Bogaards
Originally published April 15, 2020 in The Times-Delphic

“Alternative workspace” is one of the new catchphrases of the coronavirus pandemic. Employers and workers alike are confronting change, and student interns are no exception.

Photo courtesy of pikrepo.com

The present level of uncertainty blanketing every community means that students are facing a variety of employment scenarios, from complete loss of work to remote work, on top of concerns about classes, living arrangements and more.

Junior Kasey Springsteen studies Strategic Political Communications and English at Drake University. Her “dream internship” working for a rural health care advocacy organization this summer was cancelled due to the pandemic. 

“When I got the email, it was just heartbreaking,” Springsteen said. Her volunteer spring internship with Cindy Axne’s office was also suspended. With concerns hovering over the future of summer hiring, Springsteen said she wants employers to update students as their plans change.

Carlyn Crowe is the Internship Coordinator for Drake’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication. She said opportunities are still available, but it’s crucial that both employers and students take the responsibility to reach out during this time.

“We all need to be communicating more than we typically would be in this environment because we’re so disconnected,” Crowe said.

Annette Watson, a career services liaison for the journalism and business schools, advises students to keep applying, networking and talking to faculty. Worst case, she said to seek alternative opportunities and craft a plan for a productive summer.

“It’s such a fluid situation, and I think as we move closer to the summer, I hope we don’t have any more students that are going to be impacted, but I can almost bet that we will,” Watson said. Springsteen said if she exhausts her network and cannot find work, her backups include working for the Harkin Institute, freelance design work and summer classes at DMACC.

For students who have kept their internships, they are transitioning to a very new normal.

Maja Quiles appears to have an upperhand. She has worked full-time at Wells Fargo for about 14 years; and for the last three years, she worked from home. Now, in her first semester as a student at Drake, she is also tasked with school work and taking care of her two children.

“The things that you would do on the weekend, now they’re kind of thrown at you every day,” she said.

JD Pelegrino is a senior news major and an apprentice for Successful Farming Magazine at Meredith Corporation in Des Moines. He learned over spring break that after seven months of working for the publication, the Meredith office was closed and he would have to work from home.

“It kind of sucks,” Pelegrino said. “There’s no other way to put it because I’m not able to get the experience. Myself and the other apprentices aren’t able to get the full experience anymore.”

Without access to the physical workplace, his assignments dwindled to primarily social media work, interviews and story writing.  Pelegrino did say, though, that the experience is providing ample opportunity to learn how to adapt.

Kara Kelly coordinates the logistics of Meredith’s apprenticeship program. She said that the publisher is working to ensure apprentices have the right resources, even if they are not doing all of their normal tasks.

“The focus right now is keeping everything going [and] creating great content for our audiences, whether it’s print or online or in video,” Kelly said.

As a senior, Pelegrino is seeking full-time employment and is continuing practices he has always used, like checking LinkedIn and job sites.

“It’s going to be the time to really utilize those avenues and network your butt off,” he said. “It’s all about who you know, and especially in a time like now where people are getting hired less and less frequently, we have to roll with the punches and adapt.”

According to Crowe, journalism students will receive credit for spring internships as they received some experience before the pandemic. She also said now is the time to develop and capitalize on soft skills, like discipline and adaptability, which are fostered by the sudden switch to remote work and classes.

“If there can be opportunities, it’s an opportunity to learn that skill set, and also to understand how employers are adapting to a crisis like this too,” she said. 

Career services staff are offering services remotely to all Drake students. Learn more and contact a liaison at drake.edu/career.

Pixar lighting pro speaks in West Des Moines

There’s a reason it’s Lights, Camera, Action

By Sarah Bogaards
Originally published: March 27, 2019 in The Campus Chronicle

Danielle Feinberg works at Pixar, but when she’s successful, you might never notice it.

As the director of lighting and photography, the goal of her work is to keep viewers from noticing what she has done and keep them immersed in the film.

With 19 years and counting at Pixar, Feinberg gave an insightful presentation at the DMACC West Campus for ciWeek about how code and physics help create stories everyone has come to know. 

Although the effects of lighting are nuanced and often unnoticed in the final product, Feinberg demonstrated how vital they are to the film. She compared a scene from “Toy Story 3” before and after lighting was added, and only by seeing the before image first does the viewer recognize both obvious and subtle changes to the lighting as well as the level of work involved in making those changes undetectable to viewers.

Photo courtesy commons.wikimedia.org

Feinberg is from Boulder, Colorado and said she was exposed to both design and coding by the age of 10. She studied computer science at Harvard, but set her eyes on Pixar early and focused on computer graphics and animation.

After working on several movies, Feinberg said she found her passion in lighting.

 “I fell in love with the moment when the world comes to life,” she said.

Most recently, Feinberg was director of lighting for “Coco,” which places the Day of the Dead holiday and Mexican culture at the forefront, as well as an abundance of lighting work for the Pixar employee. 

Shots like the one that reveals the land of the dead for the first time speaks to the skill of artists to design a world and the computer scientists to bring it to life. Feinberg said by the end, “Coco” had 8.5 million lights programmed into it, more than any other Pixar film.

She discussed the undertaking of creating the land of the dead, where the film director’s only instructions were to make it tall and to “create a world like no one has ever seen before.” She took this piece of the world, stripped it to its bones tp then rebuild it for the audience.

Feinberg said the appearance of the marigold bridge, which connected the land of the living and that of the dead was determined by physics simulations. Up close, a particle simulation was used to make each petal move during a scene where a character gets stuck trying to run across the bridge. 

In a landscape shot, she explained how wind and erosion were simulated so the bridge still appeared to be made of petals by floating across the length of the bridge and cascading down like supporting pillars.

Feinberg acknowledged the relationship between science and art in her position several times while she held the floor at ciWeek. 

“Technology gets us 50 percent of the way there, and then the artists come in and get us the other 50 percent,” she said. 

On a research trip to Scotland in preparation for “Brave,” Feinberg and her colleagues discovered an immense amount and variety of vegetation. Upon return, the way Pixar animates plants had to be reinvented: the art department designed dozens of templates to showcase the varieties of moss and lichen, and Feinberg detailed how graphics programmer Julien Guertault conceived the animation method “Wonder Moss” which is still used by Pixar today.

“We can create anything we want and sometimes that can be crippling,” Feinberg said.

A crowd of all ages filled the main atrium of DMACC’s West Campus to hear Feinberg speak of her experiences and give a crash course on animated lighting and photography. Outside of her work, she mentioned that she co-owns a California doughnut shop which has won on a Food Network show.

This year’s events marked the 10-year anniversary of ciWeek which began under Anthony Paustian, provost at the West campus. He said the theme of ciWeek 2019, “Small Steps to Giant Leaps,” was partly inspired by the simultaneous 50-year anniversary of the first U.S. moon landing. 

Watch: Feinberg’s TED Talk on her work at Pixar

Caffeine or Sugar?

Whatever your buzz, this event has the fix

Originally published April 2018 in The Campus Chronicle

On Saturday, April 7, coffee connoisseurs and businesses from around Iowa gathered at Seven Flags Event Center for the 2nd Annual Coffee and Donut Festival. I have now attended the event both years, and it has already grown more popular from its first year. It is an opportunity for consumers to sample products from new businesses and get a dose of their favorites. 

Of course, Hurts Donut Co. was in attendance and everyone knows they go big. Alongside their signature donuts with heaps of sweet toppings, they featured a glazed donut about the the size of an average human head. The super-size confection cost $5, a disappointing setback to the festival — admission includes a few amenities and there are free samples, but you pay for any other products. 

Well-known local coffee shop, Friedrich’s Coffee served their ‘Nitro’ Cold Brew coffee infused with nitrogen gas. I frequent Friedrich’s but haven’t tried that particular brew; a friend said it looked like a Guinness as it was poured and there was a foamy texture similar to beer, but the brew’s overall flavor was weak

Creativity took several forms at the festival, with an impressive representation for all ages and interests. The Donut Burger stand sold the peculiar concoction of a cheeseburger housed between glazed donut buns. While it drew my attention, I opted not to try it. 

Bruegger’s Bagels has attended both installments of the festival; and although they were not actually selling donuts, their bagels and cream cheese are certainly among the best in Des Moines. 

Included with admission this year was the Donut Bar, where you could top a donut to your heart’s content and wash it down with a cup of Friedrich’s coffee. Although delicious, the wait was easily 20 minutes. Given it is only the festival’s second year, there are bound to be some details to iron out.

Both years, several events were featured in addition to the vendors, and this time I experienced a few new ones. Jelly Donut Wrestling brought a pair of contestants wading into an inflatable pool full of Jell-O cubes to slip and flounder in attempts to pin one another. It was very entertaining for the crowd, especially when the Jell-O escaped the ring. 

Later, a donut eating contest was held between Des Moines area police departments. Each participating officer had a pile of 15 cake donuts and three minutes to eat as many as possible; Newton Police Department was declared the winner. The contest was held in support of a local charity serving police and their families.

Another addition this year was a whimsical mascot of sorts. “Jessie Sweet” wandered the festival clad in a cotton candy style wig and with a table of goodies surrounding her middle. She mainly appealed to the children in attendance, which also significantly increased from last year. Several games were provided for them at the festival to expend any and all sugar induced energy.  

The growing popularity of the festival depicts a new generation of consumers and how their ideals are driving the success and interest in events like this, where new trends are discovered or even inspired. Overall, it was a buoyant event to lift your spirits, or at least your blood sugar.