BS 1987 Marketing
Mike DiMaggio decided to go to Drexel to study engineering with the hopes of someday building rollercoasters.
"Drexel is and was one of the best east coast engineering schools so it was the most logical choice to go there," he said.
After a losing battle with calculus, DiMaggio switched his major to marketing. He pledged Tau Kappa Epsilon and joined the student theater group, the Drexel Players.
"I always wanted to be a stuntman or an actor, or in the entertainment industry," he said. "Being a stuntman seemed fun to me and it was always in the back of my mind while I was at Drexel."
DiMaggio played Sir Harry in the Drexel Players' production of "Once Upon a Matress," a role that required him to learn how to sing. Though he recalls his performance as being, 'kind of ridiculous because I had never acted before,' it was the experience that really solidified what he was determined to do after graduation - move to New York and get right into acting.
"I wanted to apply my degree and all that I had learned at Drexel to the business of acting, which is how I treated the entertainment industry - as a business," he said.
As soon as DiMaggio got to New York after graduating, however, life took another turn. Through a friend, he learned of a potential career in trading bonds and decided it was too good an opportunity to pass up.
"So, I traded bonds for about three years after graduation," he said. "Basically, I did exactly what I said I wouldn't do. Then, one day I thought, 'If I don't do this now, I'm never going to,' and I just walked away from the job. I took a chance and I don't have any regrets - not a single one. I got a job waiting tables at Mulholland Drive Café in Manhattan and I started to get into acting."
It was then that DiMaggio hit a major setback and was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. "I had to put everything on hold and go through chemotherapy," he said. "But I've been in remission for 19 years."
After beating cancer, DiMaggio said he was left with a moment where he had to decide again what his future was going to be.
"Luckily, Drexel gave me the ability to have a choice," he said. "I never had a moment where I felt like my life was over. When I was deciding what to do next, my father said to me, 'Continue with your plan and go to California.' He gave me his credit card and told me to use it until it was all used up. So that's what I did."
In 1995, DiMaggio moved to California, bought a car and to sustain himself he got a job working for a funeral home.
"For about three years, I was the guy who picked up the bodies of the deceased," he said. "It paid $50 a body."
With one foot in the death care industry, the other remained firmly planted in the entertainment industry and DiMaggio kept his sights set on his goal. He began collecting gigs including voiceover work, commercials, and roles on popular shows like "Friends," "ER" and "Ally McBeal."
Over time, DiMaggio realized that what he really loved was telling stories and as a producer, that's what he would be able to do. His first foray out of acting and into writing and producing came when he successfully pitched a story idea for a show called "The Bellinis" to ABC Family. "The Bellinis" wasn't picked up for series, but it got him into the Writer's Guild and opened the door for him to pitch other projects.
"The Bellinis" was followed by a dating competition show that he created called "Outback Jack" which aired eight one-hour episodes on TBS.
"I always felt like I had a leg up because of my experiences at Drexel," he said. "Through co-op, one of the things I learned was how to identify who was in a position of power and would be able to get my ideas to the next level. The people behind the camera."
Over time, DiMaggio made more connections, gained more experience, and has been a producer on such shows as ABC's "The Quest" and "Take The Money And Run," NBC's "Minute To Win It," and CBS's "Big Brother" and "The Amazing Race" - the show for which he won an Emmy.
DiMaggio has been able to step into the highly-competitive entertainment industry and excel. And according to him, a lot of his success is thanks to the tools he learned at Drexel.
"When I was a student, I looked at alumni like Chuck Barris (BS '53, Hon. '01) and I wondered, 'How did he find his way from Drexel to the entertainment industry?'" said DiMaggio. "And now I have my own story to share with people who are wondering the same thing. I can encourage people who want to be in this business."
"Drexel gave me a strong foundation to move forward in the industry and I would love to help others do the same."