Capstones Prepare Journalism, Communications Students for Jobs in the Industry

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What child hasn’t looked up at the clouds and wondered what it would be like to fly?

Derrick Chengery did—as a boy growing up in Pittsburgh, where U.S. Airways had a headquarters. “Sometimes, when you look up and see that big metal bird going across the sky, you say, ‘How does that work?’” Chengery recalled. “It’s something you can’t express.”

A lot of people put away their childhood infatuations, but Chengery never did; and in September he started what surely was a dream job for someone whose twin passions are aviation and communications: Editorial Specialist for Global Engagement at American Airlines’ CR Smith Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. That means he works with programming that explains the carrier’s history to visitors and explores the more complicated question: “What does it take to run an airline?”

How did Chengery—a cheerful 20-something who describes himself as “a complete aviation dork”—land such a well-fitting job? He credits Georgetown University’s graduate program in Integrated Marketing Communications, and especially its final Capstone course, which enables students to work on a project with a company or organization of their choosing.

While researching airlines for his Capstone, Chengery contacted a Public Relations & Corporate Communications alumna at American Airlines, who talked with him about the museum. His Capstone focused on innovative—and interactive—ways the museum could tell its story. And four months after graduation, he had a job.

“It’s something I know never would have happened if it wasn’t for Georgetown,” said Chengery, who also credits faculty members with industry experience.

“They want to help you. They want you to succeed and bring out the best in you.”

Hands-On Experience

The best stories “zig” instead of “zag,” said legendary newspaper editor Gene Roberts. They cover routine events from novel perspectives, and spotlight trends before they become … well, trends.

Georgetown graduate Sarah Sidlow arrived on the journalism scene a few decades after Roberts popularized that statement, but she’s taken that sentiment to heart. When it came time to pick a Capstone topic for her graduate Journalism degree, she chose to write about an up-and-coming esports league that attracts a dedicated cult following but is not well-known to the general public—at least, for now.

“It a burgeoning community” that is starting to come into its own, she said. “I think in the next five years it’s going to be so mainstream that it never seemed weird in the first place.”

Sidlow’s story for the Washington City Paper was specifically about Kyoung Ey Molly Kim, the first female coach in the professional Overwatch League and an assistant coach for the Washington Justice. Kim goes by the moniker AVALLA, which is short for “Iced Vanilla Latte.”

Getting a meaningful interview with, say, the head coach of the Mystics or the Capitals, can be tough. There’s a lot of competition from other reporters and “gatekeepers” who guard the coaches’ time.

“There aren’t as many gatekeepers in esports,” said Sidlow, who served formerly as the Manager of Communications at Georgetown’s School of Continuing Studies, which houses its graduate professional degree programs. “I wanted to talk to AVALLA, and when I contacted her she said, ‘Yes, when can we talk?”

It was a fun story with a serious backdrop. Esports may have a young female coach like AVALLA, Sidlow said, but it still battles an undercurrent of misogyny that has infected parts of the online gaming community from the start.

At Georgetown, Sidlow learned about researching, reporting, and writing from professionals who generally don’t have time to offer that kind of hands-on instruction and mentoring at their day jobs.

“I think that just having a sounding board from real professionals was a big help,” said Sidlow, now a freelance writer in Detroit. “This is really the last chance you’ll have to do this—to really have industry experts to bounce ideas off of.”

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