Communications Fellows make annual trek to Florida to explore potential career paths

Thirty-four students in Elon University’s Communications Fellows program participated in a 10-day trip in January to the Sunshine State, touring communications companies, meeting with industry professionals, and exploring what their future careers might look like.

Two Elon School of Communications laugh at an anchor desk in Orlando, Florida.
First-year Communications Fellows Colin Dorroh ’27 (left) and Olivia Edwards ’27 share a laugh on Jan. 18 while touring the WESH television studio during the Communications Fellows’ visit to the NBC affiliate.

At the conclusion of this year’s The Fellows Experience course, which led 34 School of Communications students through Florida during Winter Term to visit with media outlets and communications organizations, trip summaries began piling up on LinkedIn news feeds.

“This trip gave me insight into the operations and backends of companies in the media industry,” posted Colin Dorroh ’27. In his note, the cinema and television arts major from Greenville, South Carolina, tagged 10 companies he saw up close.

An Elon School of Communications stands in WESH studio.
Charlotte Pfabe ’27 smiles in front of a digital screen in the WESH television studio.

Miles Hayford ’27, a journalism major from LaGrange, Illinois, recalled how impactful it was meeting renowned writing coach Roy Peter Clark, and how his “perspectives on writing have completed changed,” he said. Hayford also explained that his experiences in Florida have made him more determined to pursue sports journalism and dive deeper into the business behind sports.

Charlotte Pfabe ’27, a journalism major from Annapolis, Maryland, couldn’t wait to celebrate her own hands-on experiences, posting mid-trip about how excited she was to watch the noon broadcast of NBC’s Orlando-based affiliate in the station’s studio and control room.

“As a Communications Fellow at Elon University, the opportunities that the program provides for real-world experiences and hands-on learning always astound me,” she wrote.

Led by School of Communications faculty and staff members Hal Vincent and Alison Doherty, this year’s installation of the Winter Term course included eight company visits, including a writing workshop, led by Clark, at the Poynter Institute. Students also participated in a shadow day, where they divided into smaller groups to visit companies based on their major or interest areas. This included a mix of video production sites, PR/advertising agencies, newspapers/TV stations, as well as a sports organization and an entertainment brand.

These on-site experiences offer a glimpse into what the students can expect post-graduation, Vincent explained. That is the overarching objective of the course.

Two Elon University staffers stand with an Elon alumna in front of Disney sign.
Hal Vincent says one of the highlights each year is encountering Elon alumni succeeding in their professional careers. While visiting Disney Live Entertainment on Jan. 18, Alison Doherty (left) and Vincent (right) reconnected with alumna Catherine Nester ’22, a former Communications Fellow.

“It’s really important for students to see how the things we’re learning in the classroom translate and demonstrate themselves in professional environments,” said the senior lecturer in strategic communications. “That includes all the necessary hard skills. But it’s also important for students to be able to see and learn the soft skills and how to translate knowledge into professional workplaces and professional human interactions.”

Doherty, who serves as assistant director of career services for the School of Communications, sees real value in first-year Fellows taking company visits at an early point in their Elon careers. She reasons that some students might know what respective field they want to work in, but don’t know specifically what they want to do.

“Our employer visits allow students to learn about the kind of physical work environments they want to work in, what the day-to-day looks like for someone working in the field they are studying, and how companies are adapting to new trends and new technologies,” she said. “It also shows them that communications work can be done anywhere, and doesn’t always have to be in places like New York or Los Angeles.”

Two Elon students stand with Roy Peter Clark.
Lilly Molina ’27 (left) and Charlotte Pfabe ’27 share a light-hearted moment with Roy Peter Clark, a celebrated writing coach, following a workshop at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida.

While Vincent said students gained valuable insights from all of their company visits, he personally enjoyed the opportunity to stop by the Tampa Bay Times, where the publication’s leadership team gave honest insights into the news outlet’s role in a changing media landscape. These takeaways are incredibly important given that the course featured 17 journalism majors – more than half the class.

“I really appreciate that they felt comfortable – and were excited – to bring our students into their office, discuss the news business, teach us a few things, and speak candidly about the challenges that face print journalism,” he said.

Another highlight of the course was visiting Disney Live Entertainment, where the Elon contingent heard from representatives working across a variety of departments, learning about their marketing and communications strategies for new Disney experiences and products. Among the Disney personnel on hand was Elon alumna Catherine Nester ’22, a former Communications Fellow who participated in the Florida experience herself a few years ago. Today, Nester is working as a graphic design and communications specialist at Disney.

Two Elon Students in a Tampa Bay Rowdies locker room.
Tyler Strenk ’27 (left) and Eyoel Beyene ’27 pose for a photograph in the locker room of the Tampa Bay Rowdies, a professional soccer team based in St. Petersburg, Florida, during a Jan. 12 stadium tour.

“It was really special for us to meet with her, and it was a full-circle moment for her to speak with us,” Doherty said.

Added Vincent, “It is really incredible for our students to see Catherine working at her dream company. She is the perfect example of what is possible.”

In addition to alumni perspectives, the students also benefited from a view of one of their peers. For the first time, The Fellows Experience course welcomed a teaching assistant, senior Britt Mobley.

Both Vincent and Doherty commended Mobley for bringing a unique viewpoint because, as Vincent said, the senior “is staring graduation down in just a couple of months.” Doherty explained that the first-year students really benefited from the “bus chats” Mobley and Vincent initiated, leading students to reflect and discuss company visits.

But not all of the course’s activities were career focused.

The cohort visited the Pulse Night Club Memorial and volunteered at the Heart of Florida United Way Office, where students made no-sew blankets, sorted and organized boxes, and cleaned a shed. Additionally, the students visited Clearwater Beach and enjoyed a day at the Disney parks.

A photo of Elon students crowding into an elevator in Diamond View Studios.
Let’s caption this photo: ‘It’s not crowded, if you are with friends.’ Students in The Fellows Experience course happily crowd into an elevator during their Jan. 11 visit to Diamond View Studios, an Emmy Award-winning video production company in Tampa, Florida. Photo by Olivia D’Alessandro.

Vincent, who worked professionally in southern Florida, said he enjoys returning to the region and providing students with a look at the market’s communications landscape. He especially enjoys the energy first-year Fellows bring on the course, noting “it is so uplifting for an educator to see how attentive and eager they are at this stage,” he said. “Plus, it is great fun to see them realize what a big world of opportunities there are out there.”

Doherty echoed those sentiments, explaining how the Florida experience opens students’ minds to new possibilities.

“The best part for me is watching students have those ‘aha’ moments by discovering a field or interest area they hadn’t considered before, or learning about something that really excites them,” Doherty said. “Those are the kind of rewarding moments that make all the planning worthwhile and it’s the reason that I love working in career services.”

A special thank you to all the individuals and companies that opened their doors to Elon students, including Vū Technologies, Diamond View, Poynter Institute, Tampa Bay Times, Tampa Bay Rowdies, Digital Brew, WESH 2 CW18, Adrenaline Films, &Barr, WKMG-TV, Push, and Disney Live Entertainment.