Jurassic World Dominion movie actress DeWanda Wise, Comcast senior vice president Marge Jackson and Henry Ong, director of Brand Marketing at Universal Pictures, teamed up for a star-studded kickoff to the Council for Opportunity in Education’s annual conference on Wednesday at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront. COE President Maureen Hoyler asked questions of the three during the opening plenary session, titled “Partnerships and TRIO: Lessons for the Future.”
The three panelists each have enjoyed great career success, but all said they could easily relate to the challenges that low-income, first-generation students face.
Ong said he is the son of refugees and the first in his family to attend college. He said he remembers standing in line as a child to get government surplus cheese and powdered milk to bring home. Jackson described herself as the “daughter of a single mom, brought up in a Philly row house.”
Before Wise was a first-generation student who attended New York University, she attended public school in Baltimore. Wise, who played the helicopter pilot Kayla in Jurassic World Dominion, said, despite challenges growing up, she rarely would admit how difficult they were, even to herself.
“We need to continue uplifting everyone with the resources they need,” Wise said, and nodding to the audience, said, “You are doing God’s work.”
All three panelists discussed the COE-Comcast partnership and how it has evolved to touch the lives of TRIO students. A recent highlight of that partnership was the Jurassic World Rule Your Future STEAM Initiative, through which 35 TRIO pre-college programs continue to pilot curriculum related to the film Jurassic World Dominion that will soon be available to all TRIO programs.
In June, the Jurassic World Rule Your Future STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) Initiative rolled out at Universal Studios when COE and Comcast NBCUniversal brought 350 TRIO students from across the country together to meet the movie stars of Jurassic World Dominion, attend STEAM workshops and tour Universal Studios. For many students, it was a life-changing experience.
Jackson said she understood. “I know what it is like to need access,” she said. “You need access to learn and be in other rooms. [Our work] is all about connecting the unconnected,” Jackson said.
Ong said he spent time pitching the idea of bringing the TRIO students to Universal Studios. He had to make several presentations before different executives to collaborate with other parts of the company. But the weekend of the event was even better than envisioned. “It was like capturing lightning in a bottle,” he said.
“We didn’t just want to screen the movie for a couple of hundred students and call it a day.” He made sure to bring in company executives to see the impact on the students of their experience and the free laptops the company gave them. “They [the officials] said what we were doing was unprecedented,” Ong said.
When Hoyler asked Wise about mentors, the actress replied she would encourage all students to choose mentors and said that educators, in particular, are critical. Wise noted that several teachers at her high school pushed her towards leadership roles and the creative arts. One arranged for an internship at a theater company. Another got her to take her first role in the high school performance of The Music Man instead of detention when she was late to class.
Jackson agreed with the importance of mentors and said it was critical to pick a good one. “I learned that mentors didn’t need to look like me,” she said. “If there is only one of you in the room, it’s likely that not many mentors will look like you…sometimes you have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.”
The ultimate message, she said, was to accept your possibilities. Jackson pointed to the audience, “You are the real power. It’s all of you and the power of all of you who are changing lives.”