Melissa Holzberg: SMPA students need more specialized career resources and advice

Last week, GW held its spring career fair. And I didn’t attend.

On the surface, that may seem like an odd decision, since I’m a sophomore still in search of a summer internship. However, it would not have made sense for me to go to the fair when only two companies at the event had ties to journalism: Bloomberg BNA and Politico. And both of their summer internship application deadlines have long since passed.

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo
Melissa Holzberg

Last semester, the School of Media and Public Affairs launched the Career Action Network, a program meant to link students to alumni to help them network. Unfortunately, SMPA CAN hasn’t lived up to its promise, and students like me are largely left to their own devices to secure an internship, and eventually a job.

GW was just named the No. 1 school in the country for internships for the second year in a row. In a city like D.C., it’s surprising that journalism and political communication students don’t have a career coach with a background in journalism or politics. Something like this – either through Career Services or through SMPA CAN – would give us the networking program we were promised, and wouldn’t limit students to two companies at a large-scale career fair.

If I were able to work with professionals in my chosen field while at GW, I’m sure I would have fewer headaches and meltdowns over what I’m going to do with my life. SMPA and Career Services should work together to provide more job postings – especially ones outside the public relations sphere. If officials could plan more networking fairs with potential employers, provide information on alumni at various news organizations and bring someone into Career Services who can help students tailor resumes for media jobs, I know SMPA students like me would benefit.

Currently, SMPA CAN’s website doesn’t work effectively, which makes it harder for SMPA students to find the resources they need. If SMPA CAN were iCloud, I’m Cameron Diaz in the movie “Sex Tape” wondering what the cloud is, how to get into the cloud and how to get things out of it. Alas, like Cameron, I spent two hours trying to understand it, and came up with nothing.

When you log into the SMPA CAN system, you’re brought to the main GW career advisor network, or to SMPA’s fundraising page. After being redirected, you can’t even register as an SMPA student. Rather, you have to log in as a student in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences. While this is technically accurate, it doesn’t allow for any specialization in job searches or alumni networking.

Director of SMPA Frank Sesno did not return a request for comment.

This can’t all be blamed on SMPA. Journalism and political communication students suffered a huge loss in the Career Services center this year. Last semester, Lonnie Woods, a career coach for arts, design, media and communication students left GW.

I started receiving emails from Woods last June, and from that point on he sent weekly email newsletters with tons of journalism and strategic communication opportunities. He also helped coordinate the Communication & Design Career Month this past October, which included a specialized media career and networking fair and a speaker series. It was the first time since coming to GW that I felt like Career Services understood what I needed as a student who isn’t looking for a job with a government organization or political campaign.

However, since Woods left, Career Services has filled his place with two existing staffers, who don’t provide the same level of specialization. The opportunities now sent to students are almost all for PR firms, and the application periods are often already closed. And just last week the email newsletter included broken or expired links. It feels like SMPA students aren’t being prioritized, which just doesn’t make sense when there are so many people with real-life journalism experience in our area.

My decision to come to GW relied heavily on my desire to intern at places that interested me, and I’ve done my part. I’ve applied to more than 30 internships for the summer and worked on my resume and cover letter with Career Services. My work in my classes is reflected in my GPA, and I’ve gotten involved in student organizations that encourage my passions. I’ve also had two internships since I’ve started school in August 2014.

It’s not the University’s job to get me an internship. But if GW wants to market itself as a school with an internship focus, no group of students should be left behind in that campaign.

Melissa Holzberg, a sophomore majoring in political communication, is The Hatchet’s contributing opinions editor. Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.

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