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After a Shift In Major, Student Now Sees Directing and Producing in Her Future

By Betsy Hnath

When Rachel Fening began her college career, she imagined a future in medicine. But after some soul-searching, she decided she'd rather be on movie sets than in exam rooms.

Fening, who will receive her bachelor's degree in communication with a cinema and TV production concentration, couldn't be happier with her choice.

One of six children born to parents who are both nurses, Fening envisioned working in a similar field. She began online classes at ODU in health sciences in 2012 while living at home in Dumfries, Virginia.

It didn't take long before Fening realized she'd had a change of heart and felt the pull to be more creative. Knowing medicine "wasn't the right fit," she decided to take a break altogether and work.

Two years later, Fening was ready to try college again, albeit with a different major in mind: film studies.

Though initially skeptical, her parents embraced her decision.

"When I switched gears, they were wary. About five seconds later, they were like 'You should have done that the whole time.' They've been very supportive," she said. "And ODU made the transition so easy for me."

Fening completed her first two-and-a-half years' worth of classes online, allowing her to work full time and develop her time-management skills. But she eventually moved to Norfolk to take courses in person.

"I thought I could get away with doing it all online, but in my industry, you have to interact with people personally," she said. "You have to make connections and shake people's hands."

In addition to her coursework, Fening served as an intern on local film sets, including "American Dreamer," starring comic Jim Gaffigan. The movie shot scenes across Norfolk - including on ODU's campus -- in 2017.

Her favorite part of the experience?

"The whole thing," Fening said. "Being on set, getting my hands dirty and solving problems was such a high."

Fening ultimately sees herself directing, but she knows she's "a little green for that." For now, she's focusing on graduation and getting work.

"It's scary because I'm being thrown into not just any industry -- the film industry," Fening said. "But I'm so excited to graduate. I already have two producer's assistant gigs lined up after this: A feature film in D.C. and one here in the summer."

Fening credits ODU with her employment success.

"ODU is the only reason I broke into this industry and got these jobs," Fening said. "The professors are on your side; you matter to them, and they want you to win. Thanks to them, I'm not at some lifeless desk job that I'm settling for. I couldn't recommend this program more."

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