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Finding her ‘why’
This is Skylar Andrews. On the exterior, an experienced television and content producer with shows like The Amazing Race, Black Ink Crew, Project Runway, and The Real L Word under her belt. A former D1 Collegiate soccer player. A creative who’s explored, and at times challenged, our most rudimentary stories through the power of storytelling.
Below the surface, though, we find a singular individual who’s been unwilling to sacrifice her sense of self to fit into other’s boxes. An ambitious student that broke into the entertainment industry with persistence and humility. A young woman who discovered a future in television while sitting in a hospital room in support and service to a dear friend. Determined and disciplined, yet imaginative.
Dallas, Texas is where Skylar was born and raised. But in a less literal sense, Skylar emerged from the complex, multi-step journey salient to all college students but unique to each--the journey to discover her interests, her passions, her next steps—and herself.
As an incoming first-year student, Skylar took advantage of the liberal arts education that UM offered, enrolling in classes in everything from economics to algebra. But it was Communications where she found her ‘reason-to-believe’, especially as she took advantage of smaller discussion-based seminars that focused on film.
Still, she was unsure of how a major in Communications could bridge the gap between classroom education and a future career in television and film.
“The focus should be on making sure you’re personally confident in what you’re doing."
“The UM Communications program was more theory-based to me; it felt very structured,” Skylar recalls. “So it was like, ‘what do I do if I continue on this path? I could go into PR, I could be a professor,’ but that stuff wasn’t really interesting to me. What was interesting were these classes that were merging sectors of the liberal arts and then also including media.”
An individual’s career path is influenced by a bevy of factors: aptitudes (what are you good at?), interests (what are you eager to learn more about?), and passions (what do you have an enduring enthusiasm for?).
These are all micro-factors that are internalized but one macro factor—too often overlooked—is: Why do you want to do this work? Why is it important to you? Why is it important to the world? What impact do you want it to have?
At the end of her junior year, Skylar found her ‘why’ in an unlikely place: UM’s Mott’s Children's Hospital.
“My friend was getting cancer treatment,” Skylar remembers. “And I had never experienced anything like that before. So what I would do to lighten the mood and cleanse my mind of everything else that was going on, we would watch America’s Next Top Model. It was an escape.”
Skylar continues,“We would laugh and joke, and I would do my model walk, and we would talk about the shoots and the models and whatever. At some point it clicked—I could work in TV.’”
And so she did.
“Be a good person”
One year later, Skylar graduated from LSA with a plan to work in the entertainment industry. However, she matriculated in the midst of the 2008 recession, one of the worst in living memory. Jobless and with no formal film education, she chose graduate school in documentary filmmaking at Syracuse.
“I didn’t have someone [in the entertainment industry] to provide a roadmap. I didn't have a mentor advising me to move to LA or New York and just start working as a Production Assistant. I didn't know what I didn't know.”
For students still looking to break into the entertainment industry, this is the advice Skylar wishes was imparted to her at the time she needed it the most:
“Go to the city you feel most comfortable in and whatever job in the industry you get—take it,” Skylar instructs. “ Most people go to LA or New York because there are more industry jobs there, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get started in a smaller market.”
Ultimately, her time at grad school proved fruitful: providing a better understanding of the entertainment industry; winning a College Emmy from the Television Academy of Arts & Sciences and landing her an internship at NBC Universal. Skylar quickly made an impression interning in Bravo’s development department, and it wasn’t long before one of the executives offered her a job as a Production Assistant.
“I think that’s how the industry works. If you are willing to put in the work then doors will open,” Skylar reflects. “In grad school, there was one professor who said ‘whatever you do take the first job you get. Don’t gossip, do all the jobs that no one else wants to do and do them really well.’ That’s not glamorous at all, but it's what made me stand apart.”
"That’s how the industry works. People want to hire and work with people they like."
Skylar describes this as her “strategy,” and it’s effectiveness is evident. Over the past decade, Skylar has worked her way up from Production Assistant to Executive Producer, and she now offers advice to students from the perspective of an employer and a former employee.
“People want to hire and work with people they like,” Skylar stresses. “Production days can be 12 to 16 hours long, it’s brutal. So quite simply, that’s it. People want to work with people they like. It’s literally just be a good person.”
Lean into that sh*t
Still, Skylar’s message for students, especially BIPOC students? Be who you are.
“That’s one thing that’s really cool about the entertainment industry that I do think separates it from other industries: it is appreciated if you are different, if you are comfortable with who you are, if you lean into your own thing,” Skylar reflects.
But what does that really mean for a Black woman in a chronically non-diverse industry?
“The [entertainment] industry is a microcosm of society,” Skylar emphasizes. “And the reality is people of color are underrepresented and racism is a systemic problem. But that doesn’t mean you’re not supposed to be here, it just means that we all have to work harder which is nothing new for BIPOC students.”
It’s not just underrepresentation that plagues the entertainment industry. Just like the rest of the nation, bias, ignorance, microaggressions, and blatant racism exist there too.
When asked if she has a strategy she employs when faced with challenges like these in the workplace, Skylar takes a poignant pause, stopping to silently articulate her answer.
“There really isn’t a new answer for an old problem. For students of color entering the industry, they have 20+ years of lived experiences to help them deal with these situations. Trust your intuition.”
Skylar is no stranger to ‘uncomfortable’ questions but she’s often the one posing them from behind the camera. Now as the subject, she responds to these questions with clarity, candor, and conviction--she doesn't hold back.
Skylar recognizes these qualities within herself. But she also realizes that possessing these qualities as a Black woman makes her a target for judgement and misperceptions.
“I’m confident and I speak my mind. So, of course, I’ve been stereotyped as an ‘angry Black girl’ but the reality is that’s not who I am and I know that,” Skylar affirms. “If I feel the energy to address it, then I will, and if I don’t, I’ll just let them go thinking what they think. The people I know in the industry, the people I’ve connected with, know who I am.”
“At the end of the day, you’re still going home, taking a shower, looking in the mirror and seeing yourself. You have to be comfortable with who you are.”
Regardless of how Skylar chooses to respond to a particular situation, her priority is always to be her authentic self.
“The focus should be on making sure you’re personally confident in what you’re doing,” Skylar advises. “If you are mentally at a place where you love who you are, because you actually like your hair, or, love your name, then anything negative directed at you won’t matter, period.”
Skylar reminds us that self acceptance isn’t about others, it’s about knowing who you are, and being comfortable in your own skin.
“At the end of the day, you’re still going home, taking a shower, looking in the mirror and seeing yourself,” Skylar underlines. “That’s why you have to be comfortable with who you are.”
Her final piece of advice to students? “There is literally no one else like you in this world, so be who you are. Lean into that sh*t.”