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First-person: Communications major finds passion in politics

Editor's note: Senior corporate communications major Erica Stanley shares here her take on the benefits of doing internships and zeroing in on what you want to do.

What in the world would an Elon student be doing at a political event in Raleigh, N.C., on a Saturday night? While rubbing elbows with Gov. Easley, Sen. John Edwards and candidates for the U.S. Senate may be a normal weekend for political science majors, believe it or not, communications majors can benefit immensely from such experiences as well.

Recently, through my work on Erskine Bowles' campaign for U.S. Senate, I had the opportunity to attend North Carolina's annual Jefferson-Jackson event, where the state's Democrats meet for politicking, campaigning and discussion.

Why would a corporate communications major be interested in politics? Until the summer of 2000, I did not have a clue about politics, nor did I have any interest in government or the political system. As a corporate communications major, I had always envisioned working for a public relations firm or in the public relations department of a company, representing anything from blue jeans to Disney World. All that changed when I was an intern with the Institute of Government in Raleigh.

I initially applied for the program simply because it listed communications as one of many majors for whom internships would be offered. However, through my internship with former Gov. Jim Hunt's press office, and my experience with the program's extensive seminars, field trips and the other politically centered students in the program, I developed a keen interest in politics.

While working in the governor's press office, I was given the opportunity to write speeches, plan events, write press releases and travel with Hunt. I had never imagined putting my communication skills to use in the political arena, but found the atmosphere to be extremely exciting and rewarding.

I spent last summer in Washington, D.C., interning in the communications office at the National Education Association. My experience at NEA, a 2.6 million-member teacher's union, gave me the opportunity to learn about and fight for causes related to public education. I wrote press releases and media advisories, responded to press inquiries and attended press conferences at the National Press Club, where I had the chance to meet one of my role models, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

In addition to the glitz and glamour I experienced in D.C., my summer in our nation's capital reaffirmed my interest in and commitment to politics. I have always been a very opinionated person, not afraid to stand up for that in which I believe. However, until my internship experiences in Raleigh and D.C., I did not have a career path that allowed me to channel the passion I have for my convictions.

One of the best pieces of advice I have received about public relations came to me from my adviser, mentor and friend, Brad Hamm. When considering whether or not to apply for an internship with Disney, Dr. Hamm asked me if I was really interested in Disney, and if not, why should I do P.R. for the company? Hamm stressed the importance of doing public relations for something I truly believe in and care about.

My first job after graduation is a position as Rep. Phil Baddour's campaign manager as he runs for re-election to the North Carolina House of Representatives. Baddour represents the state's 11th District, headquartered in his hometown of Goldsboro, where I too will reside until the election. I will do everything from fundraising, organizing volunteers and working with the media to leading grassroots efforts in the community. I am looking forward to the challenges ahead.

I think it is important for all corporate majors to find their passion and the communication opportunities will follow. Completing internships is an excellent way to find out what type of P.R. you are interested in. In order to land a stellar internship, one must be tenacious and aggressive.

Opportunities are out there, but will not simply land on your doorstep. Attending sessions with our advisory board members, contacting alumni working in areas that interest you and going after the job of your dreams by asking those working in the field how they got to where they are is essential to success in this field.



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