Columbia college student wants to diversify the entertainment industry

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Shailha Alam of Columbia College. Photo: columbia.edu

Child of Bengali immigrants, Shailha Alam is a 20-year-old junior at Columbia College, studying Computer Science and Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies. She is trying to change the face of the entertainment industry in her role as the programming director at Diverso, a student-run nonprofit organization at Columbia empowering the next generation of underrepresented storytellers.

Born and raised in New York City, Alam was in the first year of college at Columbia Engineering and planning to transfer out to something she actually enjoyed when she saw an advertisement for Diverso.

“I have been obsessed with movies and TV shows since I was arguably too young to watch them, and I am drawn to entertainment for the same reason I was drawn to STEM: both of those spaces have a huge diversity problem, and I want to be the one to fix it. I applied for the programming director position because one of the responsibilities was to work on the website, and I thought that was close enough to computer science for me,” says Alam in her profile by the college.

Now it’s been over two years since she joined the organization and has been collaborating with people in Hollywood. Alam is not yet sure about her career path but thinks if she can continue to amplify marginalized voices and diversify a space that needs it, then she will be on the right track.

Recently her organization launched a six-month long fellowship program, the Minority Report, which is designed to help talented, yet underrepresented writers break into the entertainment industry.

Alam has an extensive selection process that consists of multiple rounds of reading, evaluations from a jury filled with big names in the industry, and interviews conducted by the Diverso team.

“We’re big on building a community—we set up our fellows with mentors, host weekly panels with movie professionals, and send the fellows to general meetings with different production companies and executives,” she said.

Diverso’s newest project, Black Writers in Focus is a 10-week paid internship program for Black student screenwriters in partnership with Rideback and The Writer’s Guild Foundation.

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