After numerous emails and a Skype interview, two students from The University of Texas-Pan American finally got the call they had been waiting for two weeks before spring break.
"I have one more question for you Amanda," said Marla Hunt, director of Agency Resources and Operations at Mitchell Communications Group, in her phone call to me. "Would you like to spend your spring break as an intern with us in Fayetteville, Arkansas?"
In an instant I said, "I would love to," feeling the excitement build up for my last spring break as an undergraduate. I posted my good news on Facebook, only to find out, when she commented on my post, "Me too," that UTPA junior Lilli Lopez had also been selected. I was so happy that two UTPA students would experience this internship March 15-19.
For me, it was hard to believe we were going to intern with an award-winning agency that represents companies such as Wal-mart, Tyson, JB Hunt and Southwestern Energy Company. We knew this was going to be a learning experience that would help shape our career paths and futures.
This was the first year Mitchell Communications Group, PR Week's 2011 Small PR Agency of the Year, hosted "Big Break," a five-day, all-expense-paid internship to give students from various universities who are interested in a career in public relations, the opportunity of gaining real-world experience at a PR agency.
"With Big Break we want to increase awareness of our agency as a premier employer among graduating seniors from top-notch communications programs at universities nationwide who can bring diverse perspectives and innovative thinking to help us serve our clients' needs," Hunt said. "So after considerable review, we selected nine participants, all of whom were high-achieving, articulate individuals who would make the most out of this special experience."
Those who made up the first cohort of "Big Break" interns were: Whitney Puckett, a senior at Abilene Christian University; Rianna Felder, a senior at Howard University in Washington, D.C.; University of Arkansas seniors Gina Saulsbury, Liz Rogers, Katie Duke and Brady Holzhauer; University of Arkansas graduate Jamie Dunn; and from UTPA Lopez and I. There was an instant connection between all of the interns even though we had never met before.
"I like to meet new people and just listen to their stories and it was great getting to know other students who are of the same mindset and don't shy away from taking charge and sharing their opinions," Lopez said. "We were all working toward a goal and we all contributed immensely to the outcome."
Elise Mitchell, president and CEO of Mitchell Communications Group, kicked off our internship with a welcome, and immediately put us to work. From the start we could tell this was going to be an internship like no other.
We were entrusted with the task of working with two clients - Life Source, a non-profit organization located in Fayetteville that provides free-of-charge essentials such as food and clothes, and services such as adult education and counseling and the Northwest Arkansas Association of Latino Professionals in Finance and Accounting (ALPFA) , an organization that provides leadership, networking and scholarship opportunities to business students and professionals. We were responsible for developing communication plans, media kits, public services announcements and website ideas. We were entrusted with the reputations of our clients and Mitchell Communications Group.
"The leadership at Mitchell trusted nine undergrads with real clients and expected us to produce actual communications plans and deliverables in four days," Lopez said. "The fact that they even believed we were capable of doing this is the biggest compliment and greatest encouragement a student could receive. Gaining first-hand experience in such a short amount of time isn't common as an intern."
To ensure we had a firm understanding of what was expected, we met with each client and the management team at Mitchell Communications Group held sessions in research, planning, implementation, evaluation, key message development, creative briefs, communication plan and website writing, and presentation training. The most impressive aspect of our experience was the amount of time and attention we received from the management team. They took the time to talk to us, advise us, answer our questions and simply just get to know us; they became mentors and friends.
"We received favorable feedback from participants on the quality of their experience and what they gained through their interaction with our senior staff and real clients," Hunt said. "Based on our success this year, we plan to offer 'Big Break' next spring."
Working in two teams, we put everything we have learned at school and from the management team into practice. In a presentation on our fourth day, we had the opportunity of communicating to our clients our teams' ideas that would help others understand their organizations and put their groups on the map.
We were relieved when our presentations were complete and we witnessed the outcome of our efforts and received countless praise from our clients and the staff at Mitchell Communications Group. My group and I worked with ALPFA and we were glad to hear representatives from that organization tell us we had exceeded their expectations and they were impressed with our work and presentation delivery, and that they could not wait to share our ideas with their national board and start implementing our proposals.
This experience was made possible for Lilli and I through a new partnership between Mitchell Communications Group and UTPA's Department of Communication. The agency was introduced to UTPA by one of their clients, Theresa Barrera, vice president of supplier diversity for Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. and UTPA Foundation Board vice chair. Through this alliance future students will also have the opportunity to gain real-world experience in public relations outside the classroom.
"We look forward to future opportunities to continue building our relationship with UTPA's communications department faculty and staff," Hunt said.
I could not have asked for a better spring break experience my senior year. I am glad that the UTPA Department of Communications and Mitchell Communications Group have formed a partnership, and I hope that it continues to touch the lives of students like it has for Lilli and me. Everything we learned has prepared us to move forward from college and work toward achieving our goals as professionals.