UNC Hussman Career Services’ virtual internship fair delivers real-world advice

By Beth Hatcher

Even in a virtual environment, the career services staff at the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media is still connecting students to the real-world experiences that lead them to job opportunities and career success.

This fall, UNC Hussman Career Services held its annual student-to-student internship fair virtually with a panel of students who shared their internship experiences and answered questions about the ins and outs of finding internships, as well as navigating the unique challenges of interning remotely.

How do you network when everyone is online? What is good workplace Zoom etiquette? These questions and more were answered at the event.

UNC Hussman students Giulia Heyward `21 (M.A.), a Roy H. Park Fellow, and Valentina Arismendi `21, as well as alumna Vanessa Agunobi `20, served as the event’s keynote speakers. They were joined by 14 other student panelists with internship experiences at companies such as SAS, NBC, Ogilvy and others. Over 40 students attended the event.

The event kicked off with the keynote speakers answering questions about daily duties of their internships, their internship search strategies and the advice they’d give current students looking for internships. Then, the speakers and panelists each spent time answering student questions in their own breakout rooms.

“There is so much great internship knowledge and advice that students can share from their experiences that can help inform and shape those of their peers,” said Jenn Sipe, the school’s assistant director of career services.

While the panelists’ internship experiences were diverse, common threads of advice emerged from them, such as the importance of networking, utilizing UNC Hussman resources and staying focused when working from home.

Heyward, who has worked news internships at CNN (fall 2020),  Washington Monthly (summer 2020) and currently at Politico, explained how she utilized listservs and social media to virtually network when looking for internships. She also creates a distraction-free “office” space at home by popping in her AirPods to block out background noise.

“Try to have more than one source of finding opportunities,” Heyward said.

 Agunobi, a former UNC Hussman Ambassadors program manager, served as a marketing intern at Sephora during summer 2020. She advised students to keep their social media updated as they searched for internships.

“Be very, very active on LinkedIn — it’s a great place to build your digital portfolio,” Agunobi said.

Arismendi, who worked a product marketing internship at Adobe in summer 2020, suggested looking to professors for networking opportunities.

Arismendi has been attending and presenting at Adobe conferences throughout her time at UNC Hussman, thanks in part to UNC Hussman-based scholarships like the Don and Barbara Curtis Excellence Fund for Extracurricular Activities.

At those Adobe conferences, UNC Hussman’s Walter Spearman Distinguished Professor Terence Oliver would introduce Arismendi to various Adobe staffers, which set the stage for her 2020 summer internship with Karen McCavitt, the senior group manager in education marketing at Adobe Systems. McCavitt hired Arismendi as an intern after seeing her present at Adobe events. Arismendi also has a job opportunity with Adobe after graduation. She’ll start working as an educational marketing specialist for Adobe in June.

“Network and utilize the resources at your disposal,” Arismendi said.

“In my 20-plus years of teaching, it has always been rewarding to help students like Valentina get real-world experience that helps with their eventual career. She is one of many prime examples, and I am proud of her, although I know this is just the beginning of so much more to come,” Oliver said.

John Ratkowiak is a sophomore and Hussman School Ambassador who attended the internship fair. “All the students had phenomenal experiences,” he said. “It was inspiring to see them taking their foundation from UNC Hussman and marketing themselves to these companies.”

Ratkowiak, who hopes to find an internship — and job one day — in the creative field of advertising, said a piece of advice that struck him came from Agunobi. She said that a colleague at Sephora advised her to speak up within five minutes in a meeting, whether it was adding an insight or asking a question.

“That colleague said that speaking during the first five minutes of a meeting was one of the best ways to combat the anxiety one may feel during an internal team meeting with executives,” said Agunobi, who recalled Ratkowiak — whom she worked with as an ambassador — as a star student. “(He) is never afraid to put himself out there and chase his dreams,” she said. “He is very charismatic and intelligent, which I’m sure will help him go far in his career.”

Sipe noted this was UNC Hussman Career Services first virtual internship fair, and the first internship fair planned in the inaugural year of the Career Peers program. Career Peers are students working with the Hussman Careers staff to support other students during the job and internship search process. This year’s Career Peers are seniors Isabel Hewgley, Alice Lim and Niki Suchy.

“We really wanted the internship fair’s panelists to represent the different fields of study across UNC Hussman,” Hewgley said. “We got really positive feedback and had some really honest, candid conversations at the internship fair.”

Heyward cited UNC Hussman Associate Professor Paul Cuadros, her academic adviser and thesis chair as a mentor in her internship search. “Internships recreate the pressures of a work environment that are often difficult to create in a classroom. Internships discipline you to do your best work,” Cuadros said.

“Internships help students see what type of work fits them best,” said Farnosh Mazandarani, a Roy H. Park Fellow Ph.D. student who Agunobi cites as an internship mentor. Agunobi took “MEJO 141: Media Ethics” from Mazandarani, and the pair bonded over their love of the entertainment industry — Mazandarani worked for companies like Disney and MTV before coming to UNC Hussman. Mazandarani has advised Agunobi on everything from resume building to networking.

Jay Eubank, director of career services, called the internship fair one of his favorite events of the year.

“It embodies something really important – being willing to pay it forward. Having current students share their experience with their peers is super helpful.”