Karissa LaMont, Senior, Communication Studies

Minnesota State University Moorhead senior Sierra Obioha, a film production major from Sauk Rapids, Minn., had the opportunity of a lifetime this past summer: interning at Lifetime Movie Network. When Obioha applied as one of 2,000 applicants for the Television Academy Foundation Internship, she didn’t expect to be selected. She was pleasantly surprised.

Film professor and 2016 Television Academy Faculty Fellow Kyja Kristjansson-Nelson encouraged Obioha to apply for the internship.

“The Television Academy has one of the largest and most competitive internship programs in the nation, placing approximately 50 interns within 30 different categories,” Kristjansson-Nelson said.

“She talks so highly about it because they put together this community for people who typically don’t have these opportunities,” Obioha said.

Kristjansson-Nelson and four other film professors wrote Obioha letters of recommendation. After three rounds of interviews including questions, video calls and personal statements, Obioha received the news she was accepted to the Television Academy Foundation Internship Program and placed with Lifetime Movie Network. Obioha was amazed and beyond excited, but she wasn’t the only one who was surprised.

“Sierra is the first MSUM student to receive the Television Academy Foundation Internship,” Kristjansson-Nelson said. “I was thrilled when she told me she was awarded the internship, and it didn’t surprise me one bit. She is an amazing person.”

As a small-town girl entering Los Angeles, Calif., there were a lot of unknowns, but Obioha said MSUM prepared her well.

“Being at MSUM has helped me a lot in terms of people skills. Everybody here (Moorhead) is very kind and has great values,” Obioha said. Angelenos don’t always share these values, but Obioha stayed true to herself and what MSUM has taught her. “I know where I come from,” she said.

MSUM’s film program gave Obioha the foundation she needed to be successful at Lifetime Movie Network.

“The film production major provides a wealth of hands-on learning experiences. We put education into practice every day, which makes our students excellent candidates for innovative organizations looking for interns who can hit the ground running. The Television Academy recognized that quality in Sierra,” Kristjansson-Nelson said.

Although Obioha was well-prepared, she still faced her share of challenges.

“The biggest challenge was trying to enjoy my time in LA while also trying to make the best impression I could,” Obioha said. “I was typically one of the first employees in the office and one of the last to leave because I knew they would be watching me. Consistently they told me to go home and fun.”

In addition to the challenges and excitement, Obioha was surprised by the culture of Lifetime Movie Network.

“They are very interested in women, minorities, and African-American women, and they specifically look for that in their actors and directors. It was a great atmosphere to work in,” Obioha said.

“My boss, Tonya Lopez, the VP at Lifetime, brought me to many meetings. I met people I look up to like Aisha Tyler, an African-American director and actor. It’s interesting to see how they make connections with people to get them to want to work with them.”

The eight-week internship did not disappoint. It helped Obioha solidify what she wants to do after graduation.

“It opened my eyes to how large the industry is. I wasn’t on set, I was working more with producers and executives. I was reading a lot of scripts and saw how they decide who they’re going to assign to the movies; how they choose their directors and writers and things like that,” Obioha said.

Going into the internship, Obioha knew she wanted to be a director. However, it furthered her understanding of the producing process. Obioha has stayed in contact with the people she met at Lifetime Movie Network. Since the end of her internship in August, she returned to LA to attend the 70th Primetime Emmy Awards. Her internship helped her feel more prepared for her future and realize the importance of following her dreams.

“I used to think living in LA was kind of a pipe dream, for film anyway. Now there are people in the industry who want to get me a job when I come back. I have more options than I did before,” Obioha said.

To see some of Obioha’s work, check out her most recent short film “Water Lily,” which has been accepted into two film festivals: Fargo Fantastic Film Fest and the South Dakota Film Festival.