By: Sienna Kossman (@siennamerrittk)
If you are a journalism major, or even minor, I’m sure you’ve heard many times that getting professional experience in the field before graduation is important. As you begin to search for something that satisfies that need, it can be easy to get discouraged by our field’s fluctuating job market and competitiveness. Last spring as I started to focus more on my approaching December graduation, this started happening to me. But then I took a chance and applied for a seemingly out-of-reach summer internship program that in the end not only solidified my career choice and but it gave me an eye-opening look into today’s world of professional journalism in a more positive way than I could have ever hoped.
It all started when I met Joe Starrs, The Fund for American Studies Institute on Political Journalism internship program director at the Associated Collegiate Press Conference in Chicago last fall. He began to explain that if I was accepted into the TFAS IPJ program, I would spend 8 weeks in the heart of Washington D.C., taking nine transferable upper-level courses at George Mason University and interning at a media outlet in the city, it sounded too good to be true.
I began researching the program further as soon as I got back to Oshkosh and discovered that not only was the application process more extensive than applying for college, but my odds of getting into the program seemed pretty slim. So with support from my professors, family and friends, I went for it. Four weeks after submitting my application materials I received an IPJ acceptance letter and an internship placement with U.S. News & World Report.
I arrived in D.C. in late May with the 55 other IPJ program students very excited, but not entirely sure what to expect. Between a 30-35 hour-per-week internship schedule, night classes three days out of the week and countless events, speakers, and seminars in between, the time flew by. At my internship, I rotated among the U.S. News You Can Use sections of Health, Retirement, Personal Finance, and Careers, researching and writing about topics that before this summer were only vague ideas to me. With motivation and guidance from an outstanding team of editors I left D.C. with nearly 20 published pieces under my belt and a more narrowly tailored idea of what I want to do post-graduation.
The classes that were paired with the IPJ program seemed basic at first…economics, ethics, and a journalism discussion seminar…but we soon realized they were so much more. Taught by longtime Georgetown and George Mason University professors, the classes encouraged us to have developed discussions that made sitting in class for three hours after six-hour work days worth it.
Within our internship and class schedule, the program had us attend numerous seminars and speeches, giving us a full D.C. politics and journalism experience. From sitting on the floor of the House of Representatives and meeting David Gregory, the host of NBC’s Meet the Press, to having lunch with Yahoo’s topic political reporter Chris Moody and touring National Journal’s office, it felt like we quite literally did it all.
I have hundreds of pictures and stories that I could share with you about my summer internship experience in D.C., but what I want to get across most is the idea of not being afraid to aim high. Yes, you need professional experience and yes, sometimes that means doing some work that might not always be your favorite, but if you really want something, go after it because you’ve got nothing to lose. It’s easy to settle and tell yourself that field of journalism is dying, or that there aren’t any opportunities out there for young professionals, but those thoughts aren’t true. My experiences in D.C. showed me that the field isn’t disappearing, it’s changing. And with those changes comes the need for people with dreams and a passion, whether it is for reporting, public relations, visual arts, or advertising. The first step to reaching those goals is applying, so find something that interests you and go for it.
If anyone is interested in learning more about The Fund for American Studies Institute on Political Journalism program, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will gladly answer any questions you may have.