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Exceptional Minds, a not-for-profit professional training academy and studio designed to prepare individuals on the autism spectrum for careers in the digital arts, hosted its eighth annual graduation ceremony June 11. As part of the ceremony, a new honor, the Exceptional Alumni Award, sponsored by Variety, was bestowed on Ryan Oldis, a 2020 graduate.

Oldis, 32, who recently joined Nickelodeon as a production assistant, recalls her mother first heard about the academy through NBC when Oldis was trying to find an artistic outlet. Oldis started on the academy’s two-week course — and ended up in its three-year program.

Oldis had been interested in drawing and graphics, but says she has a love for animation as well. Her time at the academy allowed her to flex those creative muscles.

But the boost from the academy didn’t stop there. “They have connections with various studios, and I thought if I can apply to those, I can network and take what I’ve learned at Exceptional Minds and apply it to the real world,” she says.

Oldis is working on the series “Santiago of the Seas,” where she joins another Exceptional Minds alum, Kate Jorgensen, who is the production coordinator on the show. Jorgensen traveled the same route to the animation studio as Oldis — interning and making connections. “She was the one who told me about this open position that came up, and she recommended that I apply for it,” Oldis says.

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While Oldis spends much of her time managing schedules, files and emails, she still finds time to dedicate to art. “I still practice it outside of work,” she says. “I’m still doing like everything I was doing at Exceptional Minds, except I’m now doing it on my time, keeping my skills sharp and ready for when they will be needed next.”