SCAD’s annual Out to Launch (O2L) event functions as a reverse career fair for graduating SCAD students. Businesses make their rounds from table to table and the students do the presenting. The event represents all of SCAD Atlanta’s major programs and features students exclusively selected by their department.

Although this may sound like artistic nepotism, it’s actually an interesting jump-starter for students to connect with their professors. It is also motivation to revamp their portfolios and do their best, just as “senioritis” kicks in. On the day of the event, students need a digital presentation like a website or a PowerPoint presentation, and a take-away with their contact information, like a business card or branded pen.

At the 2017 O2L, students had the option to suggest companies they would like SCAD to invite on their behalf, which happened to be a particularly necessary feature for the photography students this year. There has been a notorious lack of photography-related companies represented at O2L in the past.

I agreed to participate at this year’s event out of sheer curiosity. I was also looking forward to getting some interviewing practice, gauging the Atlanta market and having a great excuse to buy business casual outfits. Unfortunately, that was almost all that was gained during this fair.

We were scheduled to meet at the Digital Media Center (DMC) early in the morning to prepare our individual stations. Hours later, we were provided a boxed lunch and a pep talk from an industry professional. This year’s speaker was former Nike executive and Philadelphia 76ers trainer, Kevin Carroll. He spoke and we laughed and got a little tingly/excited for our unknown futures.

Then the event began, and we waited. The computer rooms were categorized by concentration, so my room was predominantly photography majors. We waited for an entire hour after the official start of O2L before our first prospect entered the room. Meanwhile, we could hear the roar of networking and lives changing in the other rooms. When the representatives finally did pay us a visit, we all perked up in hopes of starting a conversation, only to find that he was just looking. Eventually, some other companies made their rounds and business cards were exchanged. It was all very cordial. I was impressed by some of the companies on the roster, but most of them were not looking for photographers.

Most of us had exchanges with representatives from reputable places interested in positions for social media or low-paying assistant positions. There were niche local companies searching for a freelance photographer or looking to collaborate, which is code for unpaid labor. It is very difficult to call it all a waste, because even just one connection with the right person in the right moment has the potential to change the trajectory of one’s career.

At least, that is the hope for myself and my photography colleagues after hours of people passing by, SCAD faculty and administrators checking in and small companies looking for unpaid interns. It is safe to say I was glad I did not spend hundreds on takeaways or wear heels. So instead of putting all of my hope in a handout, I will continue to make my own connections, build my own network, consult with professors and scrounge for jobs like many photographers simply have to do.