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Travel abroad, go behind the scenes: Maymester goes summer school one better

Students at several USC schools plan to study everything from geology in Argentina and food activism in Mexico to salon culture in Paris

Ten students pose in group photo aboard boat in bay
A USC Annenberg group took a cruise in the Bay Area during a Maymester trip. (Photo/Lauren Pickford)

After a grueling school year, you might think students would be ready for a break when finals are over. But for many Trojans, May means something very different: “Maymester” and the opportunity to take shorter, intense classes — and maybe travel a bit, too.

USC’s Maymester classes generally start mid-month and run for two to four weeks. And they’re offered everywhere from Los Angeles and Santa Barbara to Paris, Singapore and Dakar, Senegal.

It was on a Maymester trip to the Bay Area with 16 fellow students from the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism that Joy Ofodu had an “Aha!” moment.

Ofodu had studied up on the companies that filled their two-week itinerary — Google, Instagram, Pinterest and Pixar, plus a full roster of top-tier media tech companies. She suited up, as she puts it, “to the nines.” Still, she couldn’t help feeling like an imposter.

But what she and her cohort soon realized — as they listened in on the planning of national campaigns, talked with executive-suite leaders and bounced ideas off creative strategists — was simple and mind-opening: They could do this.

“What made the most impact was realizing there are so many roles for young communication professionals within the tech industry,” said Ofodu, a junior studying communication. “I had never before seen myself at a company like Google or Facebook. But communication within tech is so essential. It’s the glue that holds everything together.”

Looking ahead

Planning for the 2017 Maymester is underway. Students at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences will study topics ranging from geology in Argentina to food activism and culture in Oaxaca, Mexico, to marine biology on Catalina Island.

Students from the USC Thornton School of Music and the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance will partner to examine the music and dance of Paris’ salon culture.

At USC Annenberg, the Maymester itinerary has grown more ambitious each year since it launched in New York in 2015, when School of Journalism Director Willow Bay opened her own Rolodex. Bay, School of Communication Director Sarah Banet-Weiser and Dean Ernest J. Wilson III joined as students visited companies shaping the future of communication, journalism and public relations fields — from BET and Food Network to the NBA, The New York Times and YouTube.

“Not every college student gets to go behind the scenes of Good Morning America and talk to producers and anchors,” said Aaron Glazer, a broadcast and digital journalism student selected for this year’s New York Maymester.

USC Annenberg added the Bay Area program last year. Besides Google, Pixar, Instagram and Pinterest, students spent time behind closed doors at Bloomberg TV, Brigade Media, Intel, the Pac-12 and Salesforce.

“It was eye-opening because it was the first time we realized we have something unique we can offer to the work world,” said Lauren Bickford, a junior studying communication. “We can bring a totally new set of skills.”

Perfect transition

The experience was a perfect transition into her summer internship at Buzzfeed.

“Maymester was like an intro course for my internship at a young tech and media company,” she said. “I was able to apply classroom knowledge in a new way, seeing the industry inside-out, and then my internship was experiencing it in a work setting. Maymester was that middle connecting point.”

As much as she loved the Bay Area experience last year, Bickford still dreams of a career in New York, she said. Toward that end, she’s taking on the New York Maymester this time.

“Now that I have a better grasp of all the innovation that is happening, I’d like to understand more about how some of these legacy companies started,” she said. “I think it’s all part of understanding what is happening in the industry. I need to keep exploring.”

USC’s Allison Engel and David Medzerian contributed to this report.

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Travel abroad, go behind the scenes: Maymester goes summer school one better

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