New program pairs students with alumni mentors, helping them thrive in their future careers

Madi Kimball and Bill Harper in LA

Madi Kimball knew she wanted a career in film; she just didn’t know where to start. 

Lost and overwhelmed as her graduation approached, she applied to the Lumberjacks Thrive Externship Program in hopes of finding a mentor who could help guide her.  

Facilitated by NAU’s Office of Alumni Engagement and thanks to NAU alumni Greg and Nancy Wilson, whose donation to the NAU Foundation brought this program to life, the Lumberjacks Thrive Program aims to help students apply their learning beyond the classroom and build meaningful relationships in their desired field. The semester-long mentorship pairs an NAU student with an NAU alum and business professional. Students virtually meet with their mentor once a month where they can ask questions, learn about the industry and get familiar with what a career in their field of study is like. Then, thanks to a series of grants and donations, the student gets to meet their mentor and spend multiple days shadowing them in their industry of work. 

Kimball was accepted into the program and paired with alumnus Bill Harper, a 1991 graduate of NAU’s theatre program who works in the TV and film industry—the last 11 years of which as an executive producer and writer for Grey’s Anatomy 

“Over the course of the semester, I worked with Bill, asked questions and learned so much about the film industry,” Kimball said. “As someone familiar with the logistical side of the industry—producing, assistant directing, production coordinating—this experience opened my eyes to television, screenwriting and how the whole pre-production side of things even works.” 

Not only did she have the opportunity to formally pitch her capstone film script to Harper, but he walked her through a pitch of his own. 

“I had a little bit of practice pitching in my classes, but getting to see exactly how it works in the real world with a real professional who does this for a living was such an incredible experience.” 

After months of bonding via Zoom, in May, the program covered the travel and lodging expenses so Kimball could fly to Los Angeles and meet Harper face-to-face. 

There she visited studio lots, production offices and sets, sat in a writer’s room and met industry professionals she would otherwise have never had the opportunity to meet. 

Kimball now spends her days reliving that once-in-a-lifetime experience, reminiscing about her time on sets, networking with bigwigs and growing in friendship with Harper.  

“It was genuinely the best weekend ever, and I just wish I could go back.” 

After graduating earlier this year, Kimball is still figuring out what her future holds. But one thing is certain: When she gets to Hollywood, whether it be two months or a year from now, it’ll be thanks in part to the Lumberjacks Thrive Externship Program and Harper, her biggest supporter. 

“I am so thankful and grateful for this opportunity because I really don’t know where I’d be without it. It truly was life changing.”  

If you or someone you know might be interested in an externship opportunity, applications are now open for the Spring 2023 cohort of externs. Majors related to marketing, forestry and the environment, computer science, engineering and studio art are encouraged to apply by Dec. 9. Visit the Lumberjacks Thrive Externship webpage for more information. 

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Carly Banks | NAU Communications
(928) 523-5582 |

NAU Communications