#ProfilesOfTenacity: Sherry Liang

Why did you choose Grady and your course of study?

The only class I enjoyed in high school was newspaper, so I came into college as an intended-journalism major. I joined The Red & Black within my first month and became an editor the following semester. But I already felt stagnant, which is not a feeling you want as a freshman, so I sought a creative outlet with EMST. I wish I could reassure freshman me that both journalism and EMST would welcome (and continue to welcome) me with open arms — that pursuing both paths would change my life — but I think she already knew.

What are you passionate about?

A lot, sometimes too much. I’m passionate about independent student journalism and innovating the newsroom’s status quo. I’m passionate about people and our emotions — the way we interact and react — and finding the universal in the personal. The entertainment and journalism I grew up with rarely told the stories of my community. I never saw myself in the media industry, so I hope I can play my part in changing that for future generations.

What is your most memorable Grady experience?

I hope I’ll remember the everyday moments like mingling with friends between classes, group exercises in cinematography, staying up until 2 a.m. finishing a script, sheltering from a tornado in one of the many windowless first floor classrooms, busting a kneecap open after class (unrelated to the tornado), table reads in Writers’ Room or watching film premieres at Ciné and University 16 … the list goes on. 

I also think back to when we planted seeds for ideas that would shape my college experience — like brainstorming web series concepts in Writers’ Room, pitching an AAJA chapter at UGA to Dr. Lough, the first conversations about the Backlight Student Film Festival, or the beginnings of what would become The Red & Black’s DEI Committee.

Liang served as the editor-in-chief of The Red & Black in spring 2021 (Photo: Taylor Gerlach).
What or who has had the biggest impact on your life during your time at UGA?

The students, by all means. From day one, I’ve been inspired by everyone’s dedication to each other’s work at The Red & Black, The Industry, in classrooms and on the screen. Members of Writers’ Room, for example, have exceeded every conceivable expectation of mine when I restructured the club. From first-time screenwriters to EMST veterans, everyone’s bonded over these characters and scripts that we’ve created. I’m also beyond impressed by students on the Selection Committee for the Backlight Student Film Festival, who have spent nearly 10 hours across three weeks watching and judging film submissions. This level of commitment and collaboration is a trademark of the students at this college.

As I round out my senior year, I feel like I’ve finally found my place with my people. Graduating and leaving UGA feels bittersweet and pre-nostalgic, but I am mostly relieved that given the volatility of the universe and its infinite possibilities, we all found ourselves here, together, if only for a moment. (Existential thoughts courtesy of Everything, Everywhere All at Once.)

What has been your proudest moment in the past year?

Directing my first short film this semester was one of the most surreal moments of my college career. I’ve written a few scripts, so that part of the process was familiar. But as I watched actors bring the characters I created to life, heard people laugh at these jokes I wrote from my bed at 3 a.m., and witnessed an entire crew devote their many precious hours to execute my story — I felt a type of unbridled joy and gratitude that I had never experienced in a collaborative environment. I’ll chase that feeling and those people for as long as I create. 

(Bonus full-circle moment: The film is about student journalism!)

What are you planning to do after graduation?

Lots of soul-searching, a bit of traveling, and hopefully some revelatory experiences — but first, the Cannes Film Festival.

A behind the scenes look at Liang’s short film directorial debut (Photo: Jaida Green).
What is the best piece of advice you’ve received from an instructor, mentor or family member?

Coming in as a beginner, I was intimidated by EMST before even setting foot in a classroom. But over the last two years, I’ve never had a professor who expected us to know everything. Professor Evans taught my first screenwriting class, and from day one, he emphasized improvement above all else. Your work doesn’t have to be perfect, it might never be, but you just have to do and improve. I’ve always had some level of performance anxiety, and reminding myself of that philosophy has been liberating. As a chronic procrastinating perfectionist, it’s what motivated me 24 hours before the deadline to write my first TV pilot that became a BEA Festival finalist. It wasn’t a perfect script — one judge’s comments made that very clear — but that’s one script (and an award) more than I had before I started. 

Who is your professional hero?

I have so many. UGA alumnae Kendall Trammell, Elaine Reyes, Samira Jafari, Alex Laughlin and Amanda Mull are just a handful of the journalists who inspire me. Editors at CNN and The Red & Black have shaped my confidence and voice as a journalist. The writer-director in me also looks up to the power-duo of Lulu Wang and Barry Jenkins (who share a dog-child with a hyphenated last name — talk about life goals). 

What would people be surprised to know about you?

I talk to myself a lot, entire conversations. Sometimes I’ll mute my podcast in the car just to hear myself talk … to myself. Most of these answers came from me talking to myself. 

Where is your favorite place on campus and why?

My body is actually solar-powered. Give me some sun, a few trees, maybe a sprinkling of fall foliage or spring flowers, and I’m there. I frequent Herty Field or the MLC stone benches for napping, and outside the PAF for a solid four-legged table to do some work. You can also find me gazing off into the sunset at Lake Herrick to inspire an aforementioned revelatory experience … been doing a lot of that lately.



#ProfilesOfTenacity: Jillian Smalls

Why did you choose Grady and your course of study?

I decided to come to UGA specifically to attend Grady College. Among all the colleges I was interested in, none of them offered a major that was as comprehensive of my interests as the entertainment & media studies major. I grew up writing stories and watching classic movies, so I’ve had a passion for storytelling for as long as I can remember. I loved that the EMST major encompassed so many different aspects of the entertainment industry beyond film production, so I knew Grady would be the place where I could grow and continue to hone my passion for storytelling. 

What does the word “tenacity” mean to you?

Tenacity means believing in yourself every step of the way towards achieving a goal. I believe that by having self-confidence, you can transcend the impossible. You can achieve anything you want in life if you believe you can achieve it. 

What is your most memorable Grady experience?

My most memorable Grady experience would have to be when I took my first production class in the fall of 2020. I will never forget making a short film documentary from start to finish during a pandemic. The process was challenging and stressful, but I think it was a valuable experience that taught us the importance of work ethic and perseverance to complete a project under unfavorable circumstances. Our documentary was about an art school student and how the pandemic and online school affected their creative process. It was inspiring seeing the positive impact storytelling can have on a situation like the pandemic. I was also grateful for the time I got to have with my teammates as we bonded over our experiences as college students in a pandemic. 

Headshot of Smalls
Smalls, an EMST major, is also pursuing a marketing degree and the New Media Certificate.
What are you passionate about?

I have a passion for serving others. I am a former site leader for IMPACT and that was probably the most fulfilling experience of my life. However, I believe that service can manifest itself in many ways beyond volunteering. I think storytelling is a form of service in some ways because stories that amplify marginalized voices, for example, are a form of service to audiences. 

What is an example of a time you used your studies and skills in a real-world experience?

Last summer, I was a digital marketing intern for Verint, a customer engagement software company. Even though this was a marketing position, I felt like my storytelling background through EMST is why I stood out from other candidates for the position. During the internship, I was tasked with many projects, but for one of them, I had to write and produce a series of promotional videos for one of their products. I worked in collaboration with animators to write a script and storyboard videos that showcased the features of the software. It was an awesome experience seeing my courses of study work together in the real world. 

What is the best piece of advice you’ve received from an instructor, mentor or family member?

My favorite piece of advice is “stay curious.” It’s a short and vague piece of advice, but that is why I like it. I think it can be applied to pretty much any situation. For me, it means avoiding becoming complacent. I think that in school, work or even relationships we can get too comfortable in a routine. By staying curious and being inquisitive, you will learn new things and open your mind to different points of view. 

What are you planning to do after graduation?
Smalls and a fellow Grady Ambassador checking students in
Smalls, a Grady Ambassador, assists incoming Grady students at the Spring 2022 New Admit Fair.

I will be working full-time at Cox Enterprises in the LEAD Program after graduation. I am excited to bring the skills I acquired from experiences in Grady to LEAD.

What is your favorite app or social media channel and why?

TikTok has been my favorite app lately. I enjoy both music and video, so the way the app fuses the two together is fun and interesting to me. I love that TikTok is showing people the endless possibilities of what they can create with just their smartphone. It’s been inspiring seeing that you don’t need an expensive camera to create successful video projects.

What would people be surprised to know about you?

I am a huge foodie. I love cooking or baking new recipes in my free time. I also love trying new restaurants and cuisines. Tlaloc and The World Famous are my favorite places to eat and hang out in Athens.

Where is your favorite place on campus and why?

My favorite place on campus is the area outside of the Peabody Archive on the third floor of the Grady building. I love the view of Sanford Stadium and Hooper Street from there. It is the perfect spot to take phone calls and wander around when the weather is nice. I think of it as one of Grady’s hidden gems.

 

#ProfilesOfTenacity: Jane Congfei Lian

What does the word “tenacity” mean to you?

For me, tenacity means always staying positive when facing tough circumstances or situations. The most important difference I found between human beings and animals is that we are born to be adaptable. I came to the U.S. two years ago across the Pacific Ocean with two suitcases. Studying abroad during college is like uprooting a tree to an entirely new field. Tough times came, with everything being unfamiliar, strange, unexpected and different from what I used to. However, I always reminded myself why I came here. I tried to build connections with new people, get involved in organizations and learn different cultures. I strived to adapt to the new environment and improve my personal development skills. The biggest takeaways from my college experience is to never be afraid of stepping out of your comfort zone, to explore all opportunities and to not underestimate how strongly adaptable we can be. 

What is your most memorable Grady experience?

I have countless memorable Grady experiences. My favorite one was the moment I was awarded the New Media Certificate. Standing on the stage with my fellows and professors, I finally became a certificate alumni. This was the first degree I finished at UGA. This certificate not only proves the skills I’ve learned, but also represents the effort I invested in paving my career path.   

What are you passionate about?

Serving people. I have a strong desire to serve as a bridge for everything I’m working on. In Grady activities, I aim to connect juniors who are pursuing media with people in professional industries. As a world leader for International Student Orientation, I aspire to help them make UGA feel like coming home and to connect cultures. When it comes to serving my clients, I want to help them to build relationships with their target customers. To put it briefly, I believe credibility builds relationships.  

Lian pictured with Women in Media executive board
Lian (front row, right) is the social media manager for Women in Media at UGA.
What or who has had the biggest impact on your life during your time at UGA?

Serving as the social media manager at Women in Media has left a deep impact throughout my UGA life. WIM’s mission is to motivate creative women in all forms of media. Through WIM, I have learned we can not only grow ourselves, but also help our peers grow. That is true women’s power.  

What would people be surprised to know about you?

I’ve been a big fan of Taylor Swift since I was 10 years old. I have TS on my wall, my clock, my ruler and my blanket at my home in China.

Where is your favorite place on campus and why?

The first floor study area near Studio 100 inside Grady. That’s where I spent most of my time to complete my schoolwork. It’s quiet and easy to find a spot. You can see outside from the door and eat snacks from the vending machine when you are hungry. 

What is an example of a time you used your studies and skills in a real-world experience?

Take an example of when I was serving as a Junior Research Strategist in the Talking Dog Agency. Our client JT Hanna is a family run screen-printing business. My job was to craft a survey on Qualtrics in order to help our client gauge the Atlanta market’s awareness as well as customers’ screen printing preferences. Although I have no previous knowledge on using Qualtrics or creating insightful research, I reached out to other colleagues to gain ideas about what questions I should set up in my survey to reach our client’s goal. Finally, I drafted the survey along with another strategist and got 215 responses. This ultimately helped our client to improve their brand position. 

Lian (pictured second from right) is a former Junior Fetch Strategist for Talking Dog.
What are you planning to do after graduation?

I wish I could land on a job or internship with a structured advertising & marketing agency to enhance my skills. My dream job is to be a brand strategist because I believe brand storytelling is the future of marketing. 

What has been your proudest moment in the past year?

Last year I was unable to see my friends or go back home to see my parents. I cannot describe how much I missed home and I cannot see what comes next in the future. But I did not choose to stop, instead, I utilized the gap year to improve my resume, cover letter and portfolio to strengthen myself. I also started to use LinkedIn to build connections with alumni and reach out which helped me find many great school organizations that alumni are involved in. I began to apply to different organizations such as Talking Dog and Women in Media to find opportunities to grow. I couldn’t have reached where I am without the Covid year because it gave me more time to think about what I want to pursue and what skills I should develop to arrive there.   

What is the best piece of advice you’ve received from an instructor, mentor or family member?

My father has influenced me in many aspects. He is the one who has strongly supported me to study abroad and pursue what I love. “Go and see the big world, and you will find yourself and who you want to be,” he always tells me. “You learn to be critical by immersing yourself in different places and hearing from a variety of people’s perspectives.”  

 

#ProfilesOfTenacity: Nicole García Sánchez

What is your most memorable Grady experience?

Before I got into Grady, I was planning an event called Orgullo Hispano for HSA. I had a very specific vision of what I wanted for it and I knew I wanted the location to be in Grady. When I asked Parker Middleton to help me with the event and allow me to do it in Grady, she went above and beyond. The event was a success and it wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the college. Even before I was a Grady student, they were extremely supportive and helping me make one of my goals possible. 

What is an example of a time you used your studies and skills in a real-world experience? 

It has been interesting having an internship at the same time I have classes. I use most of the skills I have learned in class. This summer, my boss asked me to do a media list and I was like, “Perfect, I can do this. I literally learned how to do it a month ago.” 

What is your favorite app or social media channel and why? 

I’m between Instagram and TikTok. I think Instagram is what you make out of it, so I follow a lot of accounts that either fulfill me or bring me joy, and TikTok is hilarious and keeps me entertained. When I first started at my internship I was doing content for TikTok, so it holds a special place in my heart. 

What is the best piece of advice you’ve received from an instructor, mentor or family member? 

When I took Career Explorations with Dean Davis and Parker Middleton, I remember they encouraged us to get as much experience in the real world as we can while we are in college. So for a few months of my freshman year, I started looking for an internship, and I got one for that summer. As I am an international student, I have to get permission to have an internship, and Immigration Services told me I couldn’t do an internship because I was not a Grady student yet. I got mad and told them “students are supposed to get internships to be competitive” and they told me that didn’t apply for me. So instead of dwelling on that, I decided to get as involved on campus as I could, because that does count as real-world experience. Even though my situation might be different than other students, I am thankful for that advice because it pushed me to do the best I could with the circumstances I was in. 

What does the word “tenacity” mean to you?

I think tenacity is knowing what you want and having a plan on how to get there. 

What or who has had the biggest impact on your life during your time at UGA?

My friends and the Hispanic Student Association. My friends became my home away from home, and I couldn’t have survived all these years without them. And the community in HSA has made my college experience the best it could be. 

Where is your favorite place on campus and why?

Lake Herrick. It is super relaxing and I like to go watch the sunset there. 

Who is your professional hero?

My dad – he worked really hard to get to where he is today. 

What has been your proudest moment in the past year?

Getting my internship. I really wanted to work for this company because I really believe in what they do; I even wrote it in the things I wanted for my new year, and it happened!