How can you understand all the incredible job opportunities out there without seeing them? This was the question that prompted communication professor Thomas Martin to travel with 19 students over Spring Break to Washington D.C., and New York City as part of the College’s Martin Scholars Program.
“We’ve been offering these trips for a decade now. Our first student trip was to Atlanta in February of 2008, and since then close to 300 students have gone on these excrsions,” said Martin, who created the program to offer senior communication students networking and experiential learning opportunities. “I still stay in touch with many of the program’s alumni, and what is most gratifying for me is to see how they are now thriving in places like New York and Washington – places that were just dreams for them when they first went on the trip.”
This year’s group of Martin Scholars spent a few days in each location, visiting a variety of companies within the communications realm. During the trip to Washington D.C., students visited some big names (and places) in the political world beginning with a tour of the Capitol Building with Paul Kane, senior congressional correspondent for The Washington Post. Not only did students get to hear about Kane’s work writing about those involved in government, standing on the top row of the House of Representatives Chambers public gallery, they got to see the government in action as well. Students also met with Mike McCurry, former White House Press Secretary under President Bill Clinton, and Greg Schneiders, who worked as a campaign strategist and then as deputy assistant to the president for communications under President Jimmy Carter.
For many of the students, politics is just something you hear about on the news or read about on social media platforms. But these meetings offered the communication majors firsthand insight into alternative career paths in the field. Communications is more than public relations and journalism, it can be maintaining the reputation for those who have the power to change the country’s legislation.
In a round table discussion students engaged directly with these professionals and learned what the political world was like during their careers, and how the Trump administration’s use of social media has drastically changed the landscape.
“Sitting around a conference table with communications professionals who have worked with such big-name politicians, really brought D.C. politics to life,” said senior Martin Scholar Melanie Wolfertz.
In addition to visiting people directly affiliated with politics, students also saw how politics and public affairs are integrated into corporations and the world of brand strategy. Purple Strategies, an Alexandria, Virginia-based communications firm specializing in reputation management and government affairs, offered insight into how communications professionals with different political backgrounds can merge to create winning campaigns for their clients.
“It was interesting to see the convergence of both political parties, red and blue, which make up companies such this,” Wolfertz said. “[Purple Strategies] offered a unique perspective on how politics works, but from the perspective of communication rather than the traditional polisci outlook.”
After a train ride through the snow, the group was thrown into the bright lights and towering buildings of New York City. The students got an up-close look at the hurried and competitive culture that keeps companies such as Google, Bloomberg, Peppercomm and Fox Business News working around the clock.
Sitting in the Thomson Reuters penthouse conference room with a panoramic view of Central Park, the students were visited by an unexpected visitor: President and Editor-in-Chief Stephen Adler. They were captivated by his personal accounts of the fast-paced and adventurous world of international journalism. Adler shared stories of journalists held prisoner in the Middle East and of some not being allowed into certain regions to report the news – stories that reiterated just how important communicating can be. Having grown from a reporter at the Tampa Bay Times to the president of one of the world’s largest news corporations, Adler emphasized the importance of self-discipline. And he urged the group to make sure they work hard and remain open to new opportunities.
For many students, the trip was eye-opening and inspiring.
Charleston native and Martin Scholar Julius Holmes reflected on the great potential within each city visited.
“I loved D.C. because it is a great city and has a lot more sport’s journalism opportunities for me than Charleston,” Holmes said. “Getting lost in New York was also really fun. While I don’t know if I could see myself there, I really liked all the opportunities that are available.”
And that’s the point of this program: to offer students a springboard from which to jump.
“I was so proud that on our trip this year, eight of the presenters were alumni who actually went on these trips themselves just a few years ago,” Martin said. “It provides compelling evidence to our current students that they can succeed in the same way.”
Featured image: Communication professor Thomas Martin (far left) with the 19 communication students in Washington D.C. during the Spring Break trip in March.
Jonathan Gerstl is a senior communication major from Fort Mill, South Carolina. He is a member of the Martin Scholars program founded by Thomas Martin.