Alum in Profile:
Sharing knowledge with a new generation of Athenians
A filmmaker and social worker, Angela Benveniste ‘09 is also the director of Mount St. Mary’s Health & Human Services Associate in Arts Program. She has been an instructor in the College’s Sociology program for the past four years. It’s a career path she may not have envisioned as a freshman in college, but it’s a life, she says, that she was well prepared for thanks to her time as a student at the Mount.
Where are you from?
I was born and raised, and I lived there until I was 18, in San Francisco.
How long have you been with us at the Mount?
I went here for undergrad, so I have been here a long time. But I have been working at the Mount for four years.
What made you want to come to the Mount for your undergrad?
I was in San Francisco and I wanted to come to Los Angeles because my brother and sister lived here. We all just kind of migrated down. I was going to night college at Santa Monica College and I wanted to transfer to another school and I never even thought of the idea when I was looking up private colleges in Los Angeles. Mount St. Mary’s popped up on the Internet and I really wasn’t sure about it. But I thought, “I don’t want any boys, no distractions, no parties.” I wanted to focus on my studies; that’s why I came to the Mount.
Did you primarily major in the pre-health program?
I was originally a biology major and I took a year off to take care of my great-grandmother until she died. The detours during college, that year taking care of my grandmother and remembering that I had a social worker when I was a young child led me to an epiphany: When I came back, I wanted to be in social work and sociology. I wanted to help people in a different way. Even though I had been a medical assistant and phlebotomist, and I was already studying for the MCATS and I was already set up to go to medical school, I realized that wasn’t the path I wanted.
Did you have a professor who helped steer you toward sociology?
Yes, Dr. Sandra Harte (chair of the Mount’s Sociology department) and Dr. Pam Haldeman (sociology instructor and chair of the Mount’s Film, Media & Communication department). They told me, “You should do sociology. You don’t realize the possibilities.” And I didn’t, I had no idea. (Benveniste went on to study sociology as well as film.) I mixed both of them. I was one of the first students of documentary film here. So I got a Bachelor’s degree in Medical Sociology and a Bachelor’s in Film here at the Mount.
Have you made any documentaries or films?
I made three. One was Socialworks
, a documentary I made while getting my Master of Social Work at USC. It’s about social workers, because people have the misconception that they’re baby snatchers. In the big spectrum, they do a lot of wonderful work and I wanted to make a movie about it. Access All-Stars
was about the alternative education department and the success stories of students coming from gangs. I also made several public service announcements for nonprofits.
What made you want to become a professor of sociology?
I was working for the Orange County Department of Education as a social worker and that’s when I started doing more and more films. I worked for the alternate education department where children had behavioral issues, and we worked with homeless teens. The Mount’s Alumnae Relations office called me often to be a guest speaker. Once they asked, “Why don’t you come teach?” I said, “What?!” But I did and I am glad they asked me. Best thing of my life.
You have a great sense of style. How does that relate professionally for you?
Sometimes if I am not feeling so great, I tend to put myself together because I feel like I will do well all day if I feel good about myself. I can’t remember who told me this a long time ago but I never forgot it: “Everywhere you go, you need to be ready in case you see the president.”
Is that something that was impressed on you while you were growing up?
My family is very Italian, especially my father. He is extremely Italian. He grew up homeless and when he became a businessman, everything was dry-cleaned; everything was starched, and ironed. He wore this gold chain like he was straight out of The Godfather.
I don’t know if it was innate or born in me or if it was just watching him growing up. I think I kind of developed that. Growing up, I always had a fascination with people who dressed nice and could put themselves together.
On the first day of the fall semester, you announced that you had a daughter. Congratulations! What is her name?
Her name is Anastasia and she’s six months old. She doesn’t look like me but she looks like her dad with blonde hair, blue eyes.
How has motherhood changed you?
So much! Look at me: I don’t even wear my fake nails anymore! With everything I do, I think of her first. My work is still very important to me but everything else comes secondary after my child.
What are your greatest accomplishments so far?
Staying up (all night) with Anastasia is a whole other kind of tired, but I wouldn’t change it for the world because she is my greatest accomplishment so far. My second greatest accomplishment is a Congressional Award from Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-37) for community service in Los Angeles. I even feel accomplished when students ask me to go to events or ask me to participate because I love being part of the College.
Interview by Alejandra Hernandez ’15, an intern in the Mount’s Public Relations department. Hernandez is majoring in journalism and new media, and minoring in multimedia communications.