Westmark Launches Career Exploration Series

Westmark Launches Career Exploration Series
Westmark School

“I have dyslexia, and I've had dyslexia all my life. It's not something I live with, it's something I love,” acknowledged Sam Gibney, standing in front of an auditorium of Westmark Upper School students.

Mr. Gibney, a digital marketing executive, and his business partner, Angela Daily, were visiting the School as part of its first weeklong Career Exploration Series, which aims to illuminate the path from classroom to career. Throughout the presentation, Mr. Gibney emphasized how his learning difference has enabled him to thrive in a creative, ever-changing industry.

Focus on Art, Entertainment, and Design

Mr. Gibney and Ms. Daily were just two of the seven highly successful art, entertainment, and design professionals who spoke to students Monday, December 4–Friday, December 8. Also on the lineup were Brandon Griffith, independent LEGO® artist; Robert Kirkman, comic book creator and television writer-producer; Ellen Heuer, Foley artist; and Craig McCracken and Lauren Faust, animation creators and producers. Each of the speakers shared stories about various career achievements and setbacks and provided practical tips to the students. At the end of the presentations, students had the opportunity to ask questions.

The Art of Lego

Mr. Griffith, who displayed several of his impressive LEGO sculptures, kicked off the series, explaining how he turned a hobby into work that could be displayed in an art gallery. In addition to emphasizing the importance of trial and error in creative pursuits, Mr. Griffith also gave sound business advice to demand half of your fee before you begin a freelance project.

Benefits of Bouncing Between Projects

Famed co-creator of the comic books–turned–television series The Walking Dead and Invincible, Mr. Kirkman also discussed his learning differences as strengths. “I’m uniquely suited to bounce around from project to project,” reflected Mr. Kirkman, who shared that he was diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia as an adult. He also added that side projects are an excellent way to overcome the dreaded “writer’s block.”

Storytelling through Sound

Ms. Heuer’s presentation—about the art of sound effects, or “Foley,” in film—was particularly memorable for several Upper School students. Eleventh grader Dejah, who plans to pursue a career in the film industry, appreciated learning about “the process behind [creating] sound [effects] and how long it takes.” A former dancer and musician, Ms. Heuer described how the creativity and hand-eye coordination she honed in those roles have been extremely useful in her work as a Foley artist. With several tools of her trade on display, she demonstrated the innovative ways she creates characters and tells stories through sound. For example, she crushed celery stalks in her hands to show how the sound could be used to stand in for someone getting stabbed in a film. She encouraged the students to think outside the box and search for careers that allow them to apply their passions. 

From Classmates to Creative Partners

The week’s final guest speakers were Mr. McCracken and Ms. Faust, the celebrated animation duo best known for their work on The Powerpuff Girls and several other animated television series. Mr. McCracken and Ms. Faust walked the students through the step-by-step process of releasing a single episode of animated television, noting the various types of jobs and skills—many of which do not require the ability to draw—that are necessary. They also underscored the value of developing strong working relationships with their classmates, who may someday be their colleagues.

Westmark is thrilled to host the next iteration of the Career Exploration Series, Monday, April 22–Friday, April 26, when Upper Schoolers will hear from five esteemed nonprofit directors and entrepreneurs. Recordings of the series are available to Westmark families in the Parent Portal.