Communications Fellows experiences highlight possibilities

The Communications Fellows program prevails following two COVID-impacted years to lead trips to Atlanta, Orlando and Tampa, Miami and Washington, D.C.

As part of the Communications Fellows program’s trip to Washington, D.C., in April, members of the sophomore class visited the Lincoln Memorial, the iconic memorial built on the western end of the National Mall. Photo by Al Drago ’15

As Abbie Skladan ’23 headed to Miami in late February with seven of her fellow sport management majors in the Communications Fellows program, she had an objective. Fun, yes. Building camaraderie with classmates, definitely. But there was something else.

During the three-day trip, which was programmed with insightful business meetings, a tour of the Marlins’ stadium and one jam-packed afternoon with both Florida Panthers (NHL) and Miami Heat (NBA) home games, Skladan wanted to know if South Florida fit her — and her professional aspirations.

In November, the Communications Fellows program made its annual media tour in Atlanta. As part of the trip, students toured the World of Coca-Cola Museum, where they met with Alex Ebanks (far right), senior manager of brand and business communications for the iconic soft drink company.

“I went into the trip with the goal of determining if this was a city I could see myself living in post-grad,” she said. “Touring different facilities and following up with some of our guest speakers helped me better define what roles I could see myself working in — in a team, a league or an agency setting.”

For Associate Professor of Sport Management David Bockino, who directs the Communications Fellow program, the inaugural Sport Management Fellows Experience was about fulfilling the three pillars of the program: cohort, experiences and leadership. In fact, much of Bockino’s 2021-22 academic year was spent ensuring that several Fellows cohorts received the professional development and off-campus experiences promised to them as top-flight high school students.

“Unfortunately, COVID really impacted those first two pillars — cohort and experiences,” Bockino said. “So this past year, it was particularly important that we do everything possible to execute not only our normal first-year trips — Atlanta and Florida — but also trips for the other cohorts who missed out on these important bonding experiences.”

With the support of several ElonComm faculty and staff members, Bockino arranged four experiential trips for seven different Fellows cohorts. In November, Bockino and Colin Donohue, director of student engagement and special projects, led the first-year Fellows on the program’s annual Atlanta media trip. The long weekend included visits to the Dalton Agency, College Football Hall of Fame, World of Coca-Cola Museum and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, as well as a Turning 21 dinner with ElonComm alumni working in Georgia’s capital. The visits and meetings left the students with a better understanding of working and succeeding in a big market.

As part of the inaugural Sport Management Fellows Experience in February, Associate Professor David Bockino and students visited LoanDepot Park, the retractable roof stadium that houses the Miami Marlins.

“My experience in Atlanta gave me the opportunity to hear about and see the work that Elon alumni are doing in the real world and in a major city,” recalled Jenna Manderioli ’24. “I appreciated the opportunity to work closely with like-minded students, faculty and staff that are there to support my career endeavors.”

As part of The Fellows Experience, a Winter Term course, first- and second-year Fellows alternated one-week stays touring media outlets and communications organizations in Orlando and Tampa, Florida. The activities were meticulously organized by Alison Doherty, assistant director of career services.

Senior Lecturer Hal Vincent oversaw activities on the ground in Florida, leading in-person visits with Vū Studio, Diamond View, &Barr, Push., Tampa Bay Lightning, Disney Live Entertainment, Nielsen and a writing workshop at the Poynter Institute. Additionally, the cohorts also held virtual sessions with Tupperware Global Headquarters, Digital Brew and WKMG News 6.

On campus, Lecturer in Strategic Communications Laura Lacy led separate in-class sessions, supplementing the experiences the students had in the Sunshine State.

“It was a true team effort, from administration to faculty to staff, and somehow we pulled it off with very few hiccups,” Bockino said.

In February, Bockino led the aforementioned Sport Management Fellows Experience to South Florida, which included sport management majors from three different class years. In addition to tours and games, the Elon cohort gained sport industry insights during meetings with Alfonso Cueto, who works at The Walt Disney Company as head of sports sales in Latin America, and Gustavo Roche, head of business development at Motorsport Games.

“We knew we wanted to provide a similar professional development experience to the one the communications majors get in Florida,” Bockino said. “Luckily, we have connections to the industry, as well as alumni working all over the country in some great sports organizations — MLB, ESPN and prominent Division 1 colleges.”

While two previous sport management Fellows trips had been canceled due to COVID, the students were resilient and appreciated their glimpse into Florida’s professional sport industry. “Many students would have been annoyed at how long it took to make this trip happen — not this group,” Bockino said. “They couldn’t have been more appreciative that Elon never forgot about them. That made the effort well worth it.”

The benefits were obvious to those on the trip. Skladan explained that her stay in Miami was the first time she’d been able to truly connect with other sport management majors in the Fellows program since returning to campus in fall 2020. “It was so fun to get to experience Miami together and get to know each other better,” she said.

Talk about a great backdrop! With the Washington Monument in the background, Al Drago ’15 shares a photography lesson with Communications Fellows on the National Mall.

Lastly, the Fellows program hosted its first-ever trip to Washington, D.C., leveraging the school’s connections in the nation’s capital for its sophomore class. The weekend trip kicked off with a breakfast turned alumni wisdom session featuring Scott McCrary ’00, WUSA-TV executive producer, and Gary Grumbach ’16, NBC News field producer.

The students then divided by interests and separately visited APCO Worldwide and Capital One Arena, home of the Washington Wizards and Capitals. The APCO visit was coordinated by former Fellow Alex Mancuso ’19, an associate with the strategic communications consultancy.

In the afternoon, Washington, D.C.-based photojournalist Al Drago ’15 led the students on a photo walk on the National Mall. Working in pairs, students were tasked with creating a postcard-worthy image highlighting life in the nation’s capital. The D.C. experience concluded with a Turning 21 Celebration in the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

“It’s sort of a tradition that we take the first-year Fellows to Atlanta, but since nothing’s been normal for our sophomore cohort, I gave them the option of Washington, D.C. They were all on board,” Bockino said. “As always, our alums came through in a big way — especially Alex Mancuso and Al Drago — as they were able to organize some amazing experiences. And for the students to see actual Elon alums thriving in our nation’s capital, it’s just so beneficial.”

Additional reporting by Kyra O’Connor ’23

This article was first published in the School of Communications 2021-22 annual report.