Alumni spotlight: Juan Steck (BS ‘19/H&S)
What have you been up to since graduation? What projects are you working on or have planned?
During my last semester, I got booked for a few months at Spang TV. I started off as an assistant editor but after a month or so, they had me edit and animate a spot for Discover. After that, I got booked by Arts & Letters Creative Co. where I had the chance to work on projects for brands like Google and ESPN. I still freelance for both Spang and A&L, but lately, I've been mainly focused on learning about virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). I believe they're the future of the media. I've created some AR content for local businesses like Loose Screw, a tattoo shop owned by international artist Jesse Smith, and I'm starting to make the jump to more complex experiences.
What are your ambitions for your career? Do you have certain projects you would like to be involved in or a certain story you want to tell? Do you want to work with clients or a particular organization or do you have a particular issue or interest you would like to work on?
I've dived deep into AR and VR. I think they are a great format for storytelling that’s becoming increasingly popular. Emotions are much stronger when visuals are all around you. But whatever the format, what I love the most is storytelling and, if I had to choose, I would really love to work as a videographer for VICE News. I love what they represent and the values they stand for.
Has COVID or the racial protests changed your focus or work at all?
Right before COVID, I received very interesting job offers for full time positions from two different places here in Richmond. A week after that, all hiring was frozen because of the pandemic. I like to think everything happens for a reason. I still get booked remotely so I can’t complain. At the same time, I’ve been trying to learn as much as possible about new media and how to develop content that pushes the boundaries of what's conventional. So COVID in a way, has been an opportunity.
It’s definitely been an interesting last couple of months. As an immigrant, I'm not a stranger to racism and xenophobia and advertising and production are predominantly white industries. Most of the time, I need to excel, to like, wow people, just to compensate for any bias people have. Many people get a leg up because they knew someone from high school or they have a cousin here and there, but I had to really work my way up.
I've been to a few of the protests and for me, personally, they have asserted the idea that equality should be a pillar for each and every decision we make, whether it's in our professional or personal lives. It's great to raise your voice and support a noble cause. It's great to bring attention to an issue that we need to solve. Black lives matter and, as a Richmond resident and a human being, I’m really proud of what’s happened here in the last couple of months. However, I also think that real long term change will be achieved when we go beyond a hashtag, as powerful as it is, and really make that principle a part of our everyday lives, outside of social media, on the streets, and in the workplace.
"Scholarships helped me have more time to worry about school and my career. They allowed me to develop those extra skills that ended up giving me an edge so I could jump right into working for a production company or an agency. It would have been really tough without that extra help."
Tell us about a mentor or peer or experience that helped develop your talents while you were a student.
There are so many. I was lucky enough to encounter lots of inspiring people on my path. Off of the top of my head, professors like Kirk Richardson, Scott Sherman, Jessica Collins, Peyton Rowe or Bizhan Khodabandeh, all faculty whose passion for making you better pushes you forward. A big inspiration for me was also Gary Garbett, whom I worked for at VCU Technology services. He is such a great guy, boss and now a friend. I’m really grateful for the great people I’ve come across at VCU.
Tell me about any surprising connections you made or experiences you got to have as a result of your time at VCU.
After my first semester in VCU, I went through the VCU job board and found a videography internship for CVLAS, a local non-profit. We ended making a short documentary/promotional video about farmworkers in Virginia and their struggle. This experience totally changed me and the way I looked at the media. I discovered the power of video to tell stories that matter and, honestly, I don't think I would be where I am, doing what I do if it wasn't for finding that post on the VCU job board.
You were awarded with scholarship support in your time as a student. How did receiving that support help you accomplish what you set out to do when you arrived at VCU?
You need practice to develop your craft. And to practice, you need time. Scholarships helped me have more time to worry about school and my career. They allowed me to develop those extra skills that ended up giving me an edge so I could jump right into working for a production company or an agency. It would have been really tough without that extra help.