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Allison Davenport Simmons '86, Freelance television producer

Art & Archaeology

Why I chose art and archaeology

It has been almost 20 years since I graduated from Princeton, but I distinctly remember my worries about choosing a major. It was the mid 1980s, and most of my friends were choosing to be pre-med or pre-law, or to major in the Woodrow Wilson School.

And then there was me. I didn't know what I wanted to do after I graduated, so I figured the safe bet would be to major in something that would help me go to law school, in case everything else failed. I loved history and I had done pretty well in my history classes so I thought, why not? I called my father, and when I told him I was going to major in history, he seemed a bit surprised. Why not art history? he suggested.

Although I had taken several art history classes and loved them, it had never occurred to me to choose art history as a major. What kind of job could I get with a degree in art history? But my father told me I should pick a major I really liked and was going to excel in. The jobs will come later, he assured me. He was right.

Choosing art history was the best decision I could have made. First, the professors were truly outstanding. There were only 30 of us in the department, so we got to know our professors well. In a seminar course I took during senior year, my professor liked my paper so much that he asked me to help him research his next book. I'm sure that happens in other departments, but I felt there was a great benefit for me in forming such close relationships with professors. Second, studying art from different parts of the world and different time periods enabled me to learn a great deal about a variety of topics. Whether I was studying modern Chinese art or the architecture of ancient Greece, each artifact was, in essence, a history lesson, an exploration into the history, culture, and politics of the period. I didn't think of myself as a creative person, but majoring in art history allowed me to explore my creative side, and I found that I really liked it.

Value to my career

Although I loved art history, I did not want to work in a museum. Television seemed like a natural fit with my outgoing personality and my desire to work in a creative industry. My decision to major in art history immediately paid off when I started looking for a job. From my earliest days of interviewing, employers were intrigued by my choice. In the ultra-competitive TV business, you need everything you can to make yourself stand out. In 1986 I moved to New York City to work as a desk assistant at ABC's ''World News Tonight, '' starting my career in television.

For the past 10 years I have been a freelance television producer in Los Angeles, working primarily in news and entertainment programming for Channel One News, E! Entertainment Television, and ''Star Search,'' among others. Currently I am a segment producer for ''Extreme Makeover'' on ABC. I am responsible for every single element of a story, including coming up with the concept, shooting video footage, and writing the script. Then I edit the story, shaping the pictures and the words into a cohesive product ready for broadcast.

The most valuable thing I learned as an art history major was how to analyze something visually, whether it was a painting or a building, and then to communicate those ideas on paper. Because television is a visual medium, I use the critical thinking skills I developed in college almost every day. Television at its best is about storytelling, and being an art history major helped me define my love for telling stories. Instead of standing in front of a canvas, I am standing behind a camera. I credit Princeton and its wonderful art history department for giving me the analytical skills I needed to turn my love of architecture, painting, and sculpture into a successful career.

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