Nicole Flennaugh is rarely seen without a basketball or a camera in her hand.
Whether the 21-year-old Los Angeles resident is stepping on the court in Cal State LA’s University Gym or pulling the viewfinder to her eye, Flennaugh aims to trailblaze a new path as a student-athlete and filmmaker.
Flennaugh graduated from the College of Arts and Letters with a 3.9 GPA and a Bachelor of Arts in Television, Film and Media Studies with an option in production. She is part of Cal State LA’s Class of 2022, who graduated during the university’s 75th anniversary. Flennaugh will return to Cal State LA in the fall to pursue a Master of Fine Arts in Television, Film and Theatre.
Growing up in Portland, Oregon, Flennaugh remembers watching The ’99ers, ESPN’s documentary on the 1999 World-Cup-winning U.S. women’s national soccer team, on repeat. The story of the team and its pathbreaking influence on women’s sports inspired her as a budding young basketball player. But she struggled to find many similar stories about women in sports told by major networks and platforms. It’s a gap she’s determined to play a part in filling as an aspiring filmmaker and storyteller.
For Flennaugh, Cal State LA was the ideal place to continue playing basketball, while also being able to study film in the heart of Los Angeles, a city at the center of the entertainment industry.
“I think that this school is a perfect place to kind of find yourself and discover who you are,” she says.
During her time at Cal State LA, Flennaugh gravitated to coursework that equipped her with the knowledge and skills to tell powerful stories. In the Community Impact Media course, Flennaugh and a pair of classmates had the chance to work with notable producer, writer, director and actor Fanshen Cox. Cox, a Cal State LA alumna, guided Flennaugh and her group with tips on how best to tell others’ stories as well as their own.
Cox’s advice resonated with Flennaugh, who has created videos telling stories like those of friend and WNBA player Sydney Wiese and professional sports trainers, as well as those that depict the joy of being a member of the Cal State LA women’s basketball team.
Flennaugh’s joy has permeated her experience on the court with the Golden Eagles, helping the talented guard become a program standout.
In her first season, Flennaugh was named the California Collegiate Athletic Association’s Freshman of the Year for women’s basketball, becoming only the second player in program history to win the award. She has tied program records for most three-pointers in a season (89) and in a game (9) and scored the second-most career three-pointers (155) in program history—all within the span of two seasons.
“Nicole has been nothing short of magical,” says Cal State LA women’s basketball coach Torino Johnson. “She continues to cement her legacy as one of the best, if not the best-ever, to play collegiate basketball at Cal State LA.”
In 2022, Flennaugh led the Golden Eagles back to the postseason for the first time since the 2017-2018 season, ending an eight-season drought without a playoff win. With two years of athletic eligibility left, and the rapid improvement of the women’s basketball program, Flennaugh envisions the team cutting down basketball nets following a Cal State LA championship in the coming seasons.
When she isn’t knocking down three-pointers against CCAA opponents, Flennaugh flies through her coursework at Cal State LA, diving deep into subject matter and excelling in her classes. Her efforts have allowed the student-athlete to graduate in three years while consistently earning All-Academic and Honor Roll recognition from the conference, and praise from faculty members like Nidhin Patel.
Patel, an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Television, Film and Media Studies in the College of Arts and Letters, had Flennaugh in three different production courses and says she was a standout student.
“Her creative abilities were undeniable, and her work always vouched for her potential as an artist. Her active participation contributed to the success of each class, including the ones taught online during the pandemic,” Patel says. “She has many outstanding qualities as an individual—like her tendency to work hard and her mature demeanor—and I truly believe that she has the potential to be someone of significance.”
Flennaugh’s drive to elevate underrepresented voices stems from her own experience as a young woman of color, and she doesn’t take the responsibility lightly. She believes it is important, and sometimes challenging, to reflect her subjects’ perspectives and voice accurately through her work as a filmmaker. To Flennaugh, success means deeply connecting an audience to a subject through storytelling.
“Getting to show an audience my experience or others’ experiences can be really powerful, because sometimes we aren’t believed in what we tell other people,” Flennaugh says. “Getting to have an impact I know has really hit, it feels empowering.”
Inspired by her early memories watching the documentary on the 1999 World Cup champion women’s soccer team, Flennaugh dreams of working on projects that tell stories like the U.S. women’s national team’s fight for equal pay and Brazil’s history of success developing internationally renowned soccer talent despite funding and facility disparities.
“I just want to find a story that is meaningful to the people I’m documenting, but also to me,” Flennaugh says, “and then to be able to share that story, have it reach a large amount of people and have the audience feel like they’ve been impacted and learned something new.”
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California State University, Los Angeles is the premier comprehensive public university in the heart of Los Angeles. Cal State LA is ranked number one in the United States for the upward mobility of its students. Cal State LA is dedicated to engagement, service, and the public good, offering nationally recognized programs in science, the arts, business, criminal justice, engineering, nursing, education, and the humanities. Founded in 1947, the University serves more than 26,000 students and has more than 250,000 distinguished alumni.
Cal State LA is home to the critically-acclaimed Luckman Fine Arts Complex, Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs, Hertzberg-Davis Forensic Science Center, Hydrogen Research and Fueling Facility, Billie Jean King Sports Complex and the TV, Film and Media Center. For more information, visit www.CalStateLA.edu.