When the COVID-19 pandemic closed the elementary school where Cortney Hill '17 worked as a teaching assistant, he knew he would need to get creative about finding new job opportunities. That inspired him to start his own business—the Jr Film Academy, a summer program for fourth- through eighth-graders interested in digital storytelling.
An alum of Knox’s Startup Term program, Cortney’s diverse and flexible skill set allowed him to work in many fields. Though he studied political science and business at Knox, his experience as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Malaysia pushed him towards teaching. “Coming back after teaching English for that year, being around kids, doing so many different activities, it was an easy transition for me,” he said.
When his teaching assistant job was disrupted by the pandemic, Cortney had to adapt. Filmmaking has long been one of Cortney’s passions. Before departing for Malaysia, he did a post-baccalaureate fellowship as a videographer in the College's Office of Communications. When he returned to Chicago at the conclusion of his Fulbright assistantship, he enrolled in a filmmaking workshop at the University of Chicago and continued to work as a freelancer.
“I’ve been teaching fourth grade and keeping up with my video production as much as possible,” he said. “Recently, I've been working with a branding company, and have been going on shoots with them as their clients start to reach back out for more work since [the beginning of the pandemic], they've been bringing me on board with their assignments.”
Cortney expressed that his experiences teaching and freelancing as a videographer led naturally to the development of the Jr Film Academy. “I took my passions—what I do outside of school and then what I do in school—and just combined them,” he said. “I had to be creative."
“Look back to your Knox experience—what did you do? Those things separate you from everyone else.” He didn’t end up exactly where he thought he would when he was at Knox, he said, but the changes in his path came from places of creativity, necessity, and self-discovery, skills that he developed while studying and working at Knox. “I'm where I'm supposed to be to get to where I want to be. Everyone does it differently.”
Detailed information about Cortney’s work and his Jr Film Academy can be found on his website.
Photo at top of page: Cortney Hill '17 explores Chinatown with two students while documenting street photography and videography.