Yacine Ndao, M.Ed., is the Director of Student Advising and the ADA Coordinator at The Los Angeles Film School. She is an experienced student mentor with an enthusiasm to inspire students and to expedite progress by introducing new ideas to achieve both student and school objectives. Yacine earned a B.A. in Speech Communications from Monmouth College in Monmouth, Illinois, and a Master of Education in Instructional Technology from American InterContinental University in Los Angeles, California. She is multilingual in French, Wolof, English, Italian, and Spanish. In addition to her passion of guiding and mentoring international students, she has also mentored US Army soldiers in Vicenza, Italy. Yacine has 16 brothers and sisters, along with an enthusiastic weakness for French pastries.
What are some advantages of studying in a film school? What career opportunities come up for graduates?
The L.A. Film School has a number of exciting industry partnerships and connections with recognizable companies, production studios and guilds. One of the biggest internship opportunities for students and graduates is through the Academy Gold Rising Program. The L.A. Film School has been a higher-education partner with the Academy since the program began in 2017. This is a unique, DEIJ-focused experience for participants to make connections with A-level Hollywood talent and get exposure to all sorts of real-world, working and networking scenarios. Students also have the opportunity to receive one-to-one mentoring once they graduate from the Gold Rising Program.
Our instructors at The L.A. Film School are highly collaborative and have connections with Netflix, FOX, NBC, and more. Students can establish themselves in the industry while still in school by building a foundation of collaborators with fellow classmates and many industry-active instructors. These connections open up new opportunities for our students and graduates once they enter the entertainment industry.
How has the pandemic affected the way students see their future and career? Has there been a shift in thinking and attitude?
Life as a college student is not easy – even sans-pandemic. With the common struggles of the average student, the pandemic added food, well-being, shelter, and mental health insecurities. Hope gave way to uncertainty, which, in turn, created an imbalance in many students’ educational goals. The perceived roadblocks made the path to academic success highly challenging. Some students described the experience as a black cloud looming over their dreams.
However, because the pandemic was a universal experience that impacted everyone around the globe, it also allowed students and staff alike to view the devastation through the same lens. The empathy toward our students grew naturally, compelling us to transcend the limits of academic advising as we embraced the roles of a social worker, a friend, a guide, a mentor.
The omnipresent mental health struggles were exacerbated by the long-term isolation during the lockdown and, as academic coaches, we had to educate ourselves on new strategies and coping mechanisms to support our students.
Thanks to the leadership of The L.A. Film School’s educational team supported by the expertise of our staff, we achieved a seamless transition to remote classes. A student’s mind is very supple. With proper communication and support, we were able to reorient our students to an alternative learning platform that yielded much of the same benefits as the original instruction method. Since campus was closed for health and safety measures, The L.A. Film School developed a curbside pick-up program that allowed students to access the equipment required for classes. For students who had left the state, we offered a TechKit shipment option that turned into a massive logistical operation. The heavily hands-on courses were restructured to allow students to remotely participate in synchronous learning-conducive classes. In these classes, the instructor lectured from a studio or production set, keeping the instructional delivery as authentic as possible. With all these programs in place, The L.A. Film School quickly closed the gap between the in-person experience and remote instruction. In doing so, we gave our students the possibility to keep their dream of a future in the entertainment industry alive. That gut-wrenching feeling of uncertainty at the inception of the pandemic once again gave way to hope. But we did not stop there: L.A. Film School graduates are now invited to participate in a post-graduate course audit program tailored to give them the brick-and-mortar classroom experience they did not have access to during the pandemic.
But there is no denying that the post-Covid era has yielded different expectations from college students who are now looking for greater flexibility in their educational programs and future careers. With the realization that hybrid courses have the added benefits of a more flexible schedule and the ability to do work remotely, students do not want to return to the traditional way of residential campus programs. Current advanced technology provides a level of interaction and communication comparable to the classroom experience, so students have the expectation that schools will adopt a more innovative approach to education; one that includes shifting to hybrid models. During the pandemic, both instruction and student support were delivered remotely. So, students have also adapted to accessing support remotely, with most indicating a preference for this new model. Unlike in-person services, which sometimes require planning, remote services offer the flexibility of instant access including late and weekend hours. Students now prefer to have both options.
What are some ways to motivate students to have a positive outlook on life? What advice would you give a student who is struggling?
The L.A. Film School’s approach to academic advising encompasses diverse strategies to respond to our students’ needs. When the pandemic hit and many processes were being shifted around to accommodate “the new normal,” we were well-prepared to align our
services with the needs of our students. The vast majority of our students have indubitably enrolled at The L.A. Film School out of passion for the entertainment industry. Whether it be a love for music production, animation, film production or the entertainment business, it is our focus at L.A. Film School to cultivate that passion. Yet, it comes with numerous sacrifices.
In L.A. Film School’s Student Advising department, we accompany students throughout their enrollment to ensure that their academic experiences nourish their career dreams. Our extra-curricular programs encourage students to feel that they are a part of something akin to a community. Transformative solutions to everyday challenges are not only discussed with students individually, but also in group settings. We have developed student activities that foster interdisciplinary collaboration and, together, students from different academic programs engage in complex discussions surrounding extraordinary life circumstances and explore experiential problem solving. At L.A. Film School, intrinsic motivation is encouraged through every interaction with students. One universal piece of advice to students who face hardships is to allow themselves to be vulnerable and to rely on the support systems in place. Higher education is not a race to the finish line, but an experience to endure, enjoy, nurture and mold with the help of a supportive and sustainable roadmap.
What does your role as the Director of Student Advising and the ADA Coordinator at The Los Angeles Film School entail?
As the ADA Coordinator at The L.A. Film School, I manage our Student Disability Services by providing guidance and services to students with disabilities.
In my role as the Director of Student Advising at The L.A. Film School, I oversee a team of senior academic coaches, military academic coaches, and peer engagement specialists. Academic coaches are trained to provide students with completion coaching, assistance, and guidance on overcoming barriers to success. Those barriers are constantly shifting, but they mainly revolve around issues with housing and transportation, mental and physical wellness, time management, and behavioral concerns. We provide individual student advisement on study plans and skills, time and stress management, and other student success skills and strategies. Finally, we motivate students to develop positive and effective study habits for long-term academic success. In other words, we empower students to think critically and make impactful decisions.
What motivated you to help students?
As a child, I quickly became aware of the beauty of diversity and global exchange. At the age of 11, I spent a summer in Belgium with the Children’s International Summer Villages, better known as C.I.S.V. It is a global summer camp created in the 1970s by Doris Day, a psychologist who through her reflections on wars and extreme nationalism amongst other evils, developed the concept of a place where children from around the world would come together and break the barriers of misunderstanding by learning about each other. Those children would build a new world where everyone would have a place.
That experience changed me forever and the once sheltered 11-year-old turned into a critical thinker with a very broad view of the world. A decade later, when my plans to work for the United Nations failed to materialize, I reoriented my focus on academic advisement as a means to empower young men and women, similar to how I was inspired by my own academic advisor back in the day. That’s when I decided to pursue higher education support services with a focus on international students.
Being a Film School, The Los Angeles Film School has creativity bursting at every corner. What benefits do students enjoy in such an environment?
It doesn’t get much cooler than being in the center of the Entertainment Capital of the World. The L.A. Film School campus is centrally located on Sunset Blvd., one of the most iconic boulevards in Los Angeles. With an expansive, four-building urban campus, L.A. Film School students can experience the magic of Hollywood and soak up all things the entertainment industry has to offer while they earn their degrees. The programs at L.A. Film School are focused on training students in real-world working environments, using technology and software that the professionals use every day. We encourage our students from different programs to cross-collaborate with each other and help with thesis projects and creative assignments throughout their time in the program.
The L.A. Film School is a unique place for students of all backgrounds and abilities to immerse themselves in the study of film and entertainment. International students are welcome to study on campus, and we have a robust International Admissions Department to help students looking to enroll in one of our degree programs.
Can you tell us about a moment in your career that is dear to you and why?
I could share a plethora of moment that keep me going, but today, I will share an anecdote that keeps me smiling every day. During one of our monthly team bonding events, one of the academic coaches shared a very personal sentiment with the rest of the team. With a genuine sentiment of appreciation, this employee explained that – despite commuting 2 hours to work – she was grateful for the opportunity to work with such a diverse and dynamic team. This employee candidly pointed out that she drew much inspiration from this team, which – to her – personified high standards of humanity. A shared, irreproachable work ethic that transcends our diverse backgrounds has created a strong invisible bond between us.
Coming from such a large family, how did it prepare you for the world at large? What is it like to have a big family?
My parents have done a stellar job at instilling the notion of family values in all of us. I am still reaping the benefits of growing up in a family of 17 children which instilled the aptitude to strive as a teammate, the readiness to advocate for myself, the ability to empathize with others, and the awareness of belonging to a community. Being raised in such a large family has made me a selfless person; there was the constant reminder to be the best version of myself by competing only with myself because, in my household, we all quickly learned that there was always someone better at something.
Being from different cultural backgrounds, many face an identity crisis. As a person from such a diverse culture, what is your take on this issue? How can we find a solution to this crisis?
Authenticity is key. I have always refused to fit a mold defined by people who have never walked in my shoes. I embrace and celebrate all cultures. To me, there is no such thing as culture appropriation, only culture appreciation. The holidays I choose to celebrate are not based on the culture of the land, but on my values and beliefs. I am an all-American woman who celebrates the Italian Carnevale, the Abene Festival from Senegal, the French Mardi-Gras, in addition to many American holidays. My multicultural son is not “half Italian” or “half American”, or “half Senegalese”; he is Italian, American, and Senegalese. Archetypal descriptions of a people can be dangerously restrictive and discriminatory, potentially resulting in the prejudicial treatment of those who do not fit them.
Apart from students, you have also mentored US Soldiers. How was that experience for you?
That experience was eye-opening, but nonetheless very rewarding. Being such a small community, we all knew one another. We ate together, socialized together, and respected each other without losing sight of the internal hierarchy. I was quite young at the time, but almost everyone called me Ms. Yacine!
Working with service members was an experience that had no parallel and one that supports my view on the importance of having academic advisors dedicated to working with military and veteran students, like the ones I oversee now at The L.A. Film School. The amount of support available to U.S. service members is hard to compete with, but there is no trade-off for their sacrifices. The least we can do is to support their academic success.
What was your takeaway from working with US Soldiers in Italy?
Regardless of individual circumstances, motivators, cultural background, or social status, what makes a student successful is the drive to learn, the hunger for knowledge, and the dream of success that dwells internally. As school officials, it is our responsibility to help them keep that dream alive. The U.S. soldiers and their families that I served in Italy pledged allegiance to a country that they loved and, in the name of that allegiance, they made sacrifices beyond words. I am honored to have walked that short stretch of their journey by their side. In doing so, I hopefully helped them achieve their dreams of success.
That experience has taught me that every blessing should be met with gratitude and every tribulation with patience.
When it comes to giving advice, many times, people do not take it positively. What strategy do you use to communicate with students in the best way possible?
Students do not want to feel marginalized. Often, they just want a listening ear. I always advice our academic coaches at L.A. Film School to position themselves as student advocates. To meaningfully engage with our students in hopes of creating a connection with them. With that connection in place, they are then able to create individualized support plans to match their unique needs. They give advice when asked and, when appropriate, make suggestions based on an intensive assessment of our students’ essential needs.