01/03/2012 04:27 pm ET Updated Mar 04, 2012

How The College Television Awards Started My Career in Hollywood

How The College Television Awards Started My Career in Hollywood
By Shirlyn A. Cesar

"I too dream in color and in rhyme" are the words delivered by spoken word artist J-Ivy on Kanye West's 2004 release, The College Dropout. I had never before heard words said so simply, while very honestly capturing how I see the world. As an only child for 10 years, I was always talking to myself or acting out storylines, making them up as I went along. That, coupled with being glued to our family television, helped create this ever-present imagination (an imagination that eventually led me to working with an Oscar winner and the producers of "Mad Men"). I lived in TV and enjoyed growing up alongside my favorite characters.

This passion led me to Syracuse University's Newhouse School of Communications as a graduate student. There, my interests only deepened and I had a better direction that creatively producing television is exactly what I wanted to do. I have since discovered that my goal is to be part of "Black television's" return to primetime. As a child, our TV show casts proved to be more colorful and since then we have lost that in popular American culture. I hope to see that back on television soon and following that desire lead me to an opportunity that I never saw coming.

In 2010, I worked with fellow students on a television series, Limelight, which was born in Television Production class at Syracuse. We challenged ourselves to tell the story of a young Hollywood starlet, her demanding manager and the decisions (right or wrong) that are made on the road to success and self-discovery. Once we completed the project, we sent out an application to the College Television Awards, affectionately referred to by many as the "College Emmys," and wished for the best. A few months later, one short phone call from the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation's manager of education programs changed the outcome of that day and the outcome of starting my career in television.

Welcomed by red carpet, press, and congratulations, the College Television Awards was an evening filled with huge excitement! What I appreciated the most was the spectacle of it all. The ceremony was not shy of any of the great features one would expect for the Primetime EmmyÒ Awards. The presenters who took time out to support and celebrate with us students were indeed incredible and greatly appreciated.

But things really picked up after the ceremony. Receiving recognition from such a prestigious organization like the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation introduces you to a world of game changers that otherwise would take a student, like I was at the time, years to meet. Since I place such a huge value on learning and growing in my craft, the Foundation puts you in touch with entertainment professional with the answers you are looking for.

The College Television Awards also partners mentors with selected winners. My mentor, Andrew J. Sacks, producer of TNT's hit show "The Closer," is one of the most kind and helpful individuals that I remain in touch with even today. To have access to an accomplished producer, and in my case Oscar winner, was a huge open door I ran through without hesitation. I more than appreciate all that he has taught me, so much so, that I have claimed him as a mentor for life, which is well outside of the given mentorship time limitations.

I have been fortunate that since the CTAs, I was also awarded an internship through the Foundation's nationally acclaimed internship program. As an episodic series intern I worked with the talented producers of "Mad Men." There I was given the opportunity to shadow a producer and learn the step-by-step process of making a television show. I have to express how grateful I am to both the makers of "Mad Men" and the Foundation because that experience solidified that this is in fact the industry for me and my goals of becoming a television producer are obtainable. Since then, I have been an office production assistant on "Law & Order: LA" and "The Closer." Currently, I am the assistant to a television producer who creates content that truly inspires me. It has been an interesting ride that was catapulted by the Academy Foundation and I look forward to the journey that is to come!

I would encourage any student to submit to the College Television Awards at the Academy Foundation's official site by the January 11 deadline. You can also create a filmmaker profile and upload your College Television Awards submissions at mtvU's Best Film on Campus, which publishes submissions after the winners are announced. Some of the winning films have even aired on mtvU, reaching more than 9 million college students across the country.

Simply put: being a part of the awards was an awesome opportunity that I am happy happened to me. Many great directors, producers, and television executives are College Television Award winners and I am thrilled to have shared that starting foundation with them.