Ten Florida A&M students Friday toured The White House, met staffers there and explored the media nexus, the White House briefing room. They also met three Capitol Hill communications professionals who graduated from FAMU’s journalism program.
Tiffany K. Bain, 22, Public Relations Graduate, from Miami, Fla.: “The biggest lesson that I learned from the trip to the White House and Capitol Hill was to evaluate my professional network and determine which people are my sponsors (those who connect you to other contacts and opportunities) and which are my mentors (those who offer career advice).
FAMU walked the historic halls of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, on the East Wing, and talked to more than one dozen African-America professionals who staff the building. At one point, during a brief tour of the vaunted West Wing, students were just feet away from the Oval Office, where the president was in meetings.
Brittany Holman, 21, Broadcast Journalism Senior, Leesburg, Fla.: “Everything about the trip was memorable to me. I mean, who gets to just go to forbidden areas of the White House just because? But if I had to choose one I was say it was in between meeting alum who are doing well in their respected fields, meeting White House Press Secretary Jay Carney and speaking with Capitol Hill Communications Staffers.”
Students were whisked from the White House to the U.S. Capitol Rayburn Building and back again, for lunch, just missing the briefing by minutes, but eventually meeting met Press Secretary Jay Carney, a former reporter, who shared his journey from Time Magazine intern to the voice of Obama Administration. They also met several journalists whose jobs are covering The White House.
Denecah Nickerson, 21, Public Relations Senior, from Houston, Tx.: “One of the biggest lessons that I learned during my experience at the White House is how necessary it is to step out of your comfort zone and go after what you want. It was incredible hearing stories from professionals who put everything on the line to make their dreams come true.”
They went to Washington D.C. turn strangers into contacts for future internships and jobs. What they found on this networking trip was that many people linked to The White House were almost family.
Clarece Polke, 20, Newspaper Journalism, Senior, Archer, Fla.: “Life is pretty much one huge Facebook. Everyone is linked to everyone else in some way, and that’s how it seemed to work in the White House. No one got to the position they were in on their own; it was because of a positive connection they had made with someone who believed in them.”
Quintin Haynes, 22, is the Associate Director of Finance for the White House. He graduated from FAMU last year. David Gibson graduated from FAMU’s MBA program in 2008. He is an analyst at the Federal Reserve. Tasha Cole graduated in the 1987. She is a media professional working on Capitol Hill. And the list goes on. Many Rattlers take their career aspirations to the nation’s capitol, and apparently succeed.
Alexandria Collins, 20, Broadcast Journalism Junior, from Tallahassee, Fla.: “My fondest memory was meeting Melanie Roussel (DNC Press Director). I heard about her before and knew that she went to FAMU, but never thought I’d have the chance to meet her. It just goes to show how tight our FAMUly is and that she’s just a phone call away!”
Students learned that making connections is the quickest way to the top – in any profession.
Wandoo Makurdi, 27, Broadcast Journalism, Graduate, from Lagos, Nigeria: “I learned just how valuable networking with alumni is. Meeting so many Rattler alumni, who were willing to extend their resources to help bring more Rattlers into the White House administration was an enlightening experience.”
It was both a chance for networking and for some good life advice from professionals who have faced the uncertainty of college life.
Aria Aaron, 20, Broadcast Journalism Junior; Nashville, Tn.: “I learned that it’s okay to learn as you go… I’m slowly learning to be okay with not being sure. So many people in the White House never imagined being there, but they told me that there may not be a perfect plan but there’s something perfect for that time.”
These students were originally scheduled to cover the dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and then visit The White House, on the last weekend in August. But Hurricane Irene’s rampage through the East Coast cut those plans short.
Nearly two months later, hopes of the trip faded as the dedication, which had also been rescheduled on the eve of the storm, came and went. And then an email from journalism profession and director of SJGC’s Office of Internships and Placement Yanela Gordon resuscitated the students’ hopes.
Instead of battling hurricane-force winds and rain, students traversed wintry weather weeks early.
Jordan Culver, 21, Newspaper Journalism Senior, Philadelphia, Pa.: “This trip reminded my of why I love living above the Mason-Dixon Line. The cold weather, the constant movement of the city and the fast pace of the people will definitely stick with me for a while.”