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Making their mark

At Northeastern University’s College of Arts, Media and Design, students pursue their passions in and outside of the classroom, studio, and lab–and often end up changing the world.

Communication Studies major and Boston native CHRISTINE UMEH always dreamed of being in film and TV, but experiences abroad showed her that she also wanted to use her talents for social good. Belgium native ELIE LAMAZEROLLES’s passion for music started at his grandfather’s knee, and his persistence—along with Northeastern’s co-op program—brought him to one of the biggest record labels in the world. And NABILA ABULJADAYEL, from Saudi Arabia, defied expectations that she study business in the United States, instead pursuing the arts and breaking barriers as a woman in her field.

These three students from around the globe, with unique goals and radically diverse backgrounds, have each made the most of what CAMD offers. Forging their own paths with a creative and entrepreneurial spirit, they each are making their mark on the world.

Christine Umeh

When Christine Umeh, AMD’14, was a little girl growing up in Boston, she spent a considerable amount of time in front of the bathroom mirror imitating what she saw on television. She practiced her Diane Sawyer interviews for when she got famous and she mimicked soda commercials, scrutinizing the way she sipped for the imaginary camera.

All that rehearsal paid off. While on study abroad in Ghana last year, the communication studies major appeared in a Coca-Cola television ad that aired worldwide. Her work in that ad led to various roles in music videos.

“Media is my love,” Umeh said. “I love to be in front of the camera.”

But in fulfilling her lifelong dream of visiting Africa, her parents’ native continent, she found herself asking, “Is that what Ghana really needs?”

“You can’t minimize someone’s passion, but it’s a matter of thinking beyond it,” she said. She then began asking herself “What purpose will you fulfill in helping Ghana?”

Like a true entrepreneur, Umeh discovered a need and sought to fill it using her talents. While studying at the University of Ghana-Legon, Umeh was dismayed by the rampant unemployment rate coupled with what she saw as poor business practices and scarce opportunities for young people to get a leg up in starting their careers.

Umeh returned to Ghana almost immediately after study abroad on a co-op as a public relations assistant at a recruiting firm. Inspired by Northeastern’s co-op program, she pitched the idea of creating an internship program. Her boss liked the idea, but the logistical difficulties and cultural roadblocks were prohibitive.

She also found a more racialized culture than she had anticipated: giant billboards for skin lightening cream loomed and Umeh herself was regularly stopped and searched at police check points because she had dread locks, which are associated with Rastafarian culture and the use of marijuana.

But these experiences only further ignited her passion to, in her words, “be part of the change.” And despite the many challenges, Umeh remains determined to return to Ghana on a one-way ticket after she graduates and gains more experience in her field.

“I will find a way” she said. “Because if done correctly that could be major, starting an entire internship culture for Ghana.”

Elie Lamazerolles

Elie Lamazerolles, AMD’15, started his DJ career in Europe when he was 13. He bought his first turntables with money from his Bar Mitzvah, and at 15 he started spinning at parties in his hometown of Brussels, Belgium.

Music was central to the music industry major and music recording minor’s childhood, largely because his grandfather had been a blues and jazz radio host and had an enviable collection of more than 500 vinyl records. “He gave me the basis of starting to learn to love jazz. You can hear jazz in pretty much anything,” Lamazerolles said.

His grandfather’s record collection contrasted with his mother’s love of ‘80s and ‘90s pop and the electronic music Lamazerolles played as a DJ, but it helped him appreciate a variety of music. “I listened to all kinds of genres. In the music industry you have to not necessarily like all genres, but be able to respect them,” he said.

Lamazerolles got an insider’s perspective on the music industry last fall when he landed a six-month paid co-op with Island Def Jam Music Group (part of Universal Music Group) in New York. During the internship he did everything from statistical research to helping find new talent to attending Avicii, Kanye West, and Fall Out Boy shows as a VIP to running up Broadway to fetch coffee at Starbucks. And every task convinced him he was exactly where he wanted to be.

“I hadn’t been 100 percent sure, but after this co-op it really solidified—this is what I want to do after college,” he said. “I know a lot more about the industry now. At first I wanted to be a producer or a tour manager because I love live music, but then I thought to myself ‘I’m very down to earth. Do I really want to do that when I’m 40 years old and I have a family? Do I want to be touring and not have a steady home?’ The answer is ‘no.’”

Lamazerolles was always interested in the full spectrum of the music industry, though he realized early that being a musician wasn’t his path. He played a little piano, and guitar “wasn’t my thing,” he said. But entrepreneurship came naturally from the start. “I didn’t just DJ. I created my own business making money. I was my own manager in Belgium. We don’t have all these great internships there, so I just started doing what I loved and finding a business aspect to it.”

He brought that instinct to CAMD, where he learned fundamentals about music, theory, and the industry, all of which prepared him for his work at Island Def Jam. Now that he’s back on campus, he is infusing his classwork with hands-on experience, and as the Council for University Programs’ executive vice president, Lamazerolles is heading up Springfest at Northeastern. “I’m in charge of the big concert. It’s finding who you want to have play, headliners, openers, and organizing the entire event,” he said. “With the knowledge I’ve had from the record label I can see how it all connects.”

Having made those connections, Lamazerolles is eager to get back to work. Unlike other students who do various co-ops to gain experience and try different possibilities in the field, his focus is precise. Ideally he’d like to return to Island Def Jam after he graduates in May 2015.

“I want to get back into it as soon as I can,” he said.

Nabila Abuljadayel

When she was young, Nabila Abuljadayel, AMD’16, and her siblings regularly read books together while listening to Chopin at their mother’s behest.

At the time she thought, “No, mama. Mariah Carey. Black Eyed Peas! But it was a great balance. I know everything classic and everything hip,” said the digital arts major with minors in cinema studies and graphic design. “It was very strange that someone at my age knew all these things in Saudi Arabia. It was like I was an alien.”

When Abuljadayel expressed interest in photography as a child, her mother found her a camera. “It was a passion of mine from family vacations,” she said. “Some of the images were really bad because I was just a little girl, but as I grew up they got better and better.”

And when her mother brought a piano into the house, Abuljadayel taught herself to play by watching YouTube videos. By the time she arrived at Northeastern and took piano lessons, she was critiquing Bach, so her instructor encouraged her to compose her own music.

Inspired by her mother’s example, Abuljadayel from an early age has cultivated an utter disregard for obstacle. Or, as she calls it, “an entrepreneurial approach to life.”

“When I hear about something I want to be involved. I try every way possible. I find my way. There’s always no harm in asking. When you don’t ask, when you don’t approach things, nothing comes to you,” she said. “They say no? Build a better portfolio. They say no again? You build the best portfolio. You find a way.”

Though just 21, Abuljadayel has already manifested some of her greatest desires with this approach. Though she first came to Northeastern on a scholarship tied to a major in business, she found a way to change majors to pursue her passion. And it has paid off—last fall she landed a gig as the official event photographer for Harvard Arab Weekend, the largest pan-Arab conference in North America.

But her determination is about far more than just getting what she wants. It’s about changing the world.

“How do you change the world? By doing something that has never been done before. And that’s what I want,” she said. “People who change the world are the only people who did that in their society at the time. If you want to be one of those leaders, you have to be one of the few.”

Abduljadayel has already proven herself as a leader. After years of persistence, she recently broke ground as the first female cartoonist for the Arab newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat, the Middle East’s equivalent of The New York Times, and The Majalla, the leading political affairs magazine and one of the most popular magazines in the Arab world.

While the people she knows in Saudia Arabia are happy for her success, they don’t fully understand because it’s so new, she said. “So in some ways I’m alone in this journey.”

But she is driven and shows no signs of easing up. Her remaining goals include getting an Oscar and becoming the team photographer for Real Madrid, the Spanish football club she has been obsessed with since she was a kid. “It would be like an Oscar. I think I’ll be the first female photographer as well,” she said. “I can’t emphasize how much I love this team. It’s excessive love.” She is trying to get a co-op with the team this summer.

And no doubt she’ll find a way to make it happen, because she’s prepared for luck to strike.

“You always need to be ready because luck comes. Luck always comes. Everyone is lucky, but the difference is the successful ones actually exploit the fact that luck came to them,” she said. “For the other ones, luck passed them by and they didn’t even realize it was an opportunity.”

Nabila Abuljadayel with Princess Ameerah Al-Taweel of Saudi Arabia at Harvard Arab Weekend

Nabila Abuljadayel with Princess Ameerah Al-Taweel of Saudi Arabia at Harvard Arab Weekend