UWO J-Alumni Panel Session: “How the J-Dept. helped get me from here (Oshkosh) to there (where I am today)”

By Sheng Lee (@shengdanger)

As part of the UW Oshkosh Journalism Department Homecoming 2011 festivities, the department hosted a panel session on Oct. 21 entitled “How the J-Department helped get me from here (Oshkosh) to there (where I am today).”

The panel featured four J-Department alumni: Mike Fredrick ’97, Pat Stiegman ’88, Mary Callen ’95 and Laura Denissen ’99. Set in Sage Hall, the panel discussion covered topics such as internships, jobs, networking and ethics within the media industry.

Fredrick, creative director at Bader Rutter in Milwaukee, was awarded an Outstanding Young Alumni Award by UW Oshkosh’s Alumni Association. When Fredrick came to UWO, he knew that he wanted to go into advertising. He began his college career in the school of business, but figured out quickly that he wasn’t any good at accounting.

Fredrick said that while he was at UWO, he enjoyed his classes with Dr. Tsao, a previous professor in the J-Department. Tsao’s teaching style took students away from the textbook and gave them real hands-on experiences in advertisement.

A former member of ad club, Fredrick was one five students to advance to the NSAC national competition where they placed in the top 10. Four out of the five students who went to this competition later received alumni awards from UWO.

Fredrick gave some useful tips on how to find your dream job. As an advertisement professional, he encouraged students to build a strong portfolio with real-world work. Never having to resort to job postings to find employment, Fredrick told the audience of students, faculty and alumni to be persistent in whatever endeavors they may face. He said that you can’t wait around for opportunity to find you; you have to make it happen yourself.

Another panel member who received an alumni award was Stiegman. He received the Distinguished Alumni Award, the highest honor given out by the Alumni Association.

Stiegman is the vice president and editor-in-chief of ESPN.com in Connecticut. He was born and raised in Madison and always thought he’d attend UW-Madison. However, he knew he wanted to go into journalism and at that time, UW Oshkosh was the only campus with an accredited program. To Stiegman, pursuing a career in journalism was a no-brainer.

Stiegman said that the skills he learned while at UWO are still applicable today in his professional career. As a college student, he worked for the Oshkosh Northwestern, which wet his appetite for more reporting. Stiegman later went on to work for the Wisconsin State Journal and the Milwaukee Journal.

He encouraged students to pursue their dreams and to never give up. Stiegman said that he doesn’t believe in settling for a mediocre position, and he urged students to do the same.

“Find the rhythm of what you want to do,” Stiegman said.

He highly encouraged students to immerse themselves in internships, because it helps “turn theories into practice.” Through internships, you can learn invaluable experiences and build the fundamental skills you need, Stiegman said.

When it comes to landing a job in the journalism field, Stiegman advised students to network aggressively, join clubs and work with professors because they may have contacts in the industry.

Stiegman also touched lightly on the issue of ethics in his career.

“It’s a constant struggle between being first and being right,” he said.

Sitting on the other side of the panel were Callen and Denissen. Callen is the communication director for The Wisconsin Newspaper Association. As a student, she knew she wanted to be a newspaper reporter/editor, but her family discouraged her, saying that she would never find a decent job. Despite their warning, Callen pursued her dream career anyway.

She worked part time at The Oshkosh Northwestern as a stringer for sports reporting. Callen then moved to the newsroom as an intern. During her senior year at UWO, Callen put her classes on hold to work at a small newspaper in Ripon. She also worked part time at UW-Baraboo/Sauk County.

Callen also encouraged students to apply for internships because that’s where “you get the big audience,” she said. When it comes to getting a professional job, she urged students to build a strong portfolio, practice interviewing, do their homework on potential employers and attend industry conferences.

Denissen, who is the marketing product manager at Harley-Davidson, came to UWO wanting to major in journalism. She joined the ad club and The Advance-Titan. After graduating, Denissen got her first job in Chicago in advertising and public relations. She now works for Harley-Davidson where her writing and social networking skills have benefited her greatly.

Denissen stressed the issue of networking when the panel discussion shifted to internships and jobs. She encouraged students to network and find a mentor. Mentors will become your job references, Denissen said. She also urged students not to burn any bridges along their career path and to monitor their social media presence in an age of social networking revolution.

“It’s a small world,” Denissen said.


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