Casey Curlin completed an internship at The Washington Times during her senior year, and said it’s that type of experiential learning that enhances a college education.
The University of Tennessee at Martin communications major from Fulton, Ky., graduated Dec. 18 and also received the Paul and Martha Meek Leadership Award, the only award presented during commencement.
In addition to the internship, Curlin combined her college coursework with experience serving as executive editor of The Pacer, the UT Martin student newspaper, and other roles on campus to maximize her career opportunities.
“I decided to become a communications major after my freshman year when I took Frank Leach’s English 111 course,” said Curlin. “With his instruction and support I learned that I had a talent for writing and that I enjoyed it. I realized I wanted to pursue a career that involved writing and found that communications was a perfect fit.”
In addition to her communications professors and coursework, Curlin thinks that courses and professors outside her major helped her become well rounded. “My English, philosophy and political science professors, in particular, have greatly broadened my scope on different world views. This new level of understanding and way of thinking have not only opened my mind to the endless possibilities of learning, but ... also helped me become more of an unbiased thinker. Unbiased thinking is an important part of a career in journalism.”
The Pacer editor’s position also contributed to her preparation for a career. “At the Pacer, we really get the skills we need to enter the workplace, and actually The Times was really impressed with my resume because I’ve had so much experience.”
Curlin said the thing about the Pacer is that the staff gets to learn and practice all the aspects of newspaper production, such as writing and reporting, layout and design, photos and posting content online. “Those are the skills you have to have to really get a job in this field.”
One of the high points of her college career was winning the feature-writing contest at the Southeast Journalism Conference in 2008, but she really considers all the time spent at the Pacer as a bonus. “I just can’t describe how much I appreciate the opportunities it has offered me … .”
Capping her college journalism career with The Times internship cemented the fact that a career that focuses on writing was the best choice. She was accepted into an internship program called the “Fund for American Studies.” As part of the program, Curlin got to choose from a list of internships. “The Washington Times was a national newspaper so I thought that would give me some good experience.”
Curlin was treated as a staffer, not an intern. “I wrote mainly for the nation section and a few politics and culture stories,” she said. “I was in the office a lot, mostly on the phone constantly. It’s really hectic sometimes. I might have three or four hours to get a story done, and so I was immediately on the phone getting sources, trying to get in touch with people.”
Among her stories was one on police brutality and how the more commonplace existence of video recorders today, particularly on cell phones, is changing the playing field in regard to police conduct. “That was a really interesting one.”
Another was a story about Blockbuster, how it was having financial problems and how brick and mortar video stores are not able to keep up with companies such as Netflix and downloadable movies on the Internet.
Living and working in Washington also offers the possibility of meeting and interviewing some interesting people, she said. “One that I thought was really cool was Ron Steinman. He’s a documentary filmmaker. He was nominated for five Emmys, written and produced documentaries for A&E, Discovery Channel, History Channel and TLC.”
She also met Christo, an artist, and interviewed the 2009 Miss Black USA Shayna Rudd. “I did a story on a book series that she’s working on, and that was really cool.”
As a recent graduate, Curlin is keeping her options open. She’d like to enter the workforce, but also is interested in other internship opportunities and graduate school.
“I can see myself staying in the journalism business. I wouldn’t mind trying out magazines, but I’m keeping an open mind for positions that I feel could use my skills to contribute to the betterment of society in some way.” She added, “I think the people skills and writing skills I have developed could be assets across a variety of platforms.”
What’s her advice for communications students? “Don't let all your education come from the classroom.” She added that courses provide a base of the knowledge and skills needed in the workplace. “You have to develop this knowledge yourself by practicing in real-world environments. Communications simply has to be learned through experience. The opportunities to gain that experience are available; you just have to work for them.”