Sean Wilkinson: Video + Film
WFU Class of 2015
Major: Studio Art
Sean Wilkinson came to Wake Forest with a future in medicine in mind. Across his four years of undergrad, his vision transformed entirely. Swapping Studio Art for Bio, Sean developed his skills in many media whilst bringing projects like ‘Forest Folk’ and ‘Inside Out: Wake’ to life on his own time. Now as Assistant Director of Creative Communications, Sean explains his current position and the path that led him there.
DeacLink: What are you up to right now?
Sean Wilkinson: I’m currently working at WFU as Assistant Director of Creative Communications in the CER (Communications and External Relations) office. That’s a mouthful but the creative team I work in is essentially Wake’s in-house design agency. My greatest interest in this role is the exposure to many disciplines, working with designers and writers and the digital team has been awesome. I came right in as a ‘Creative Fellow’ after graduating and found myself doing lots of video and photography as I had when I was a student. About 10 months in, the Assistant Director role opened up so I applied and ended up getting the position. My main responsibilities revolve around video and editing... but the nice thing about working in a smaller office is that there are opportunities to pursue your own initiatives, and the team here is receptive to that.
DL: Did you plan to go straight from undergrad to a fellows program?
SW: I was caught up with honors and a side project outside of class during senior year. On top of that, I still didn’t know what I wanted to do after graduating. I stumbled into my final semester asking myself, ‘What am I doing?’ and had considered a grad degree in design but hadn’t researched it properly despite its appeal. April rolled around I was pitched the idea of a year-long contract within the CER office by Hayes Henderson, the director of Creative Communications at the time. I met him my sophomore year through some of my photography and had kept in touch throughout undergrad. The offer was entirely out of nowhere, it was actually a brand new position within the office, and I didn’t have anything else lined up so naturally it seemed pretty ideal as a next step.
DL: You came to Wake wanting to major in Biology. What caused the shift toward Studio Art instead?
SW: Yes, originally I wanted to go to med school and to me that meant either majoring in Biology or Chemistry. I was three-fourths of the way
through pre med classes by the end of sophomore fall but my heart was elsewhere. I remember having a conversation with an upperclassman majoring in Studio herself, who encouraged me to go where the passion was. It was an uncomfortable conversation with my parents for sure, but I had to go in that direction at the time. Looking back, I’m glad that I did.
DL: How much did your studies or Wake in general drive your career path?
SW: I think as far as my studies, majoring in studio art just kept me going and feeling refreshed. Without it I would have never tried printmaking or sculpture installation or bookmaking, and those were some of the coolest classes I took in undergrad. The new mediums and overall immersion in art was great. In terms of career though, the extracurricular work and projects I did outside of class were the most influential for me.
The environment at Wake and more largely in Winston-Salem definitely helped. There were certain things I wanted to do with my friends, collaborations that were made possible by the small size and enthusiasm of the community. In addition I landed an internship that later turned into a part time job with the local film production company Silent R by striking up a conversation on the lower quad. They were walking into Tribble with their crew and immediately I recognized their equipment was a bit more professional than the stuff I was using. I walked up and asked what they were doing on campus and started contact from there. The experience from working with Silent R has transferred directly to the role I’m in now.
DL: As an art student, did you feel prepared for life after graduation?
SW: In my experience there wasn’t much emphasis on careers when I was taking art classes. If I had really expressed interest I think I could’ve pushed that issue with professors in the department... but for whatever reason I didn’t really consider what I was doing in class as career options.
Luckily I met some great mentors, again Wake’s small size helped me find those connections; and as far as getting behind a camera and learning to shoot and edit, I relied on learning on the go and some previous experience from high school art courses.
DL: How do you like living and working in Winston-Salem? Do you have any advice for students wanting to remain there?
SW: One of the best parts about staying here is the cost of living. It’s also cool to see new spaces like Innovation Quarter developing in the downtown area, I think Wake will continue to expand its presence! In
general the atmosphere is progressive.
Wake’s Fellow program in particular is also a unique opportunity for graduates, working in the offices we once benefited from as students and being able to apply 4 years of experience as a Wake student in daily work has been valuable.
DL: What and where is next for you?
SW: I’ve had this new position as Assistant Director for six months now and I’m really focused on that. Grad school is still of interest for me, I’m just going to try and keep an open mind about what’s out there.
DL: What's the best kernel of advice you can think to pass on, or currently go by?
SW: I’d say have fearlessness when taking on projects and also learning on the fly is super valuable. It’s also fun. Don’t categorize yourself as just one set of skills or say, ‘That’s not part of my job’- I’ve found there are always opportunities pick up unexpected skills and expand yourself as you go.