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Students Capitalize on Washington Semester

Following a semester at the Washington Media Institute (WMI), Nikki Geiser ’15 can only describe her rich D.C. experience as surreal.

The senior, who joined the Washington Media Insitute experience alongside Bryant McCray ’16, was able to undertake a concurrent internship at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

“My mentor and professor at the Washington Media Institute was Tom Kennedy. We call him TK. He’s a photographer for National Geographic and it was the most amazing thing to work with him. He’d push me so hard,” says Geiser, a native of Kiel, Wis., who’s studying communication and media studies with an individualized art major.

“I took a photo and he was picking it apart, and I thought it was a really good photo. I’m stubborn and he told me, ‘Nikki, your stubbornness is what’s going to make your career or it also might be what breaks it.’ And he said it very serious. Since then, I’ve thought about it and the battles that I need to let go … and the ones I should hold onto. I’m big about defending myself; I’m proud of it. In that program, you’re always giving 100 percent, so when they criticize your work, it hurts, because you’ve put your all into it. But it also helps you grow. If you don’t give 100 percent, you can’t grow,” says Geiser, adding that one of the biggest lessons she learned was choosing her battles. “I should have just let him explain and not fought it.”

At work in the capital
During her internship with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Geiser was able to work on a number of PR campaigns, do the Ivory Challenge (a design challenge to raise awareness about elephant poaching and illegal wildlife trade), designate wetlands of international importance, and design posters and their website. “You don’t get many opportunities like that … to say I worked at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in the place.” Geiser worked in the international affairs section, and met director Richard Ruggiero, who told her of his conservation work in Africa. “It was so neat to meet these passionate people and know they’re behind all that.”

Despite long days, Geiser enjoyed the challenges of working in her internship throughout the day, then attending nighttime classes. “You’d go to classes at night and they’d invigorate you, then you’d take that to your internship and you try to invigorate people there. My boss would say, ‘I never thought about it that way. That’s a really good idea.’  

“It teaches you that, in your everyday work, you’re going to need that spark. You can’t just go with the everyday flow.”

WMI director Amos Gelb, another of Geiser’s mentors, designed its unique educational system.

Geiser explains: “It was only three people in my program, and we sat on one side of the table and the four professors sat on the other side. And you’re having a conversation. It’s very involved teaching.

“Amos said, you never accept things the way they are; you have to keep pushing forward. And sometimes you’re going to fail, but if you’re not failing, you’re not trying.”

Each week in class they’d have a case study. They would have to self-produce a video, do a write-up and create a corresponding website. “It was like designing for a company,” Geiser explains. “Now I have real knowledge about following through with a campaign.”

Her experience took her to CNN, the Washington Post and the White House. Along with her classmates, she met President Obama’s photographers as well as those in the Pentagon. “Just surreal experiences,” says Geiser. “I went to National Geographic and I met this photo editor there and thought, ‘This is a job?’ There are all these people who do this cool stuff that I would never imagine is a job. Then I thought maybe I’m stuck in this box and now I realize that, out here, there’s so much stuff and so many cool jobs. In D.C., I got so many good ideas.”

Geiser took full advantage of her experience, meeting business professionals and entrepreneurs, and talking to them about how they got started in their field.

“Amos asked me some of my business ideas and I was like, ‘I have business ideas?’ so I started listing off the things I’ve thought of.” The three students were asked to do a business analysis of one of their ideas and present it to a panel of business professionals, complete with financials. Geiser had an “aha” moment following her business proposal: “I took a picture of myself afterwards. I walked out and, they don’t know that I heard them, but they said, ‘that girl is going to be a CEO someday. She’s so smart and so poised,’ and it made me feel so good. I thought, I’m taking a picture because this is a moment I’m going to want to remember.

“Just to know that [Amos] thinks that of me, it made me feel really good. My change in confidence, from beginning to end, was just amazing. I didn’t realize when I was there, but when I got back, it was surreal. I’m actually planning to go to graduate school now and have been applying to MBA programs.”

Bryant McCrayMedia focus
Bryant McCray shared the educational experience with Geiser, using the internship opportunity it offers to focus on his own professional goals.

“The Washington Media Institute did a great job understanding what I wanted to do was become a journalist,” says McCray, a communication and media studies major. McCray was partnered with ABC 7 News and sister network News Channel 8 in D.C., along with an internship as a video-journalist for The Downtowner, a newspaper serving the heart of D.C.

“I’ve had several internships before, like at NBC26 here in Green Bay, and also starting Knight Talk here at St. Norbert and I thought I knew everything,” says McCray. “When I got to D.C., my mind was blown, almost. I learned I was just a small fish in a big pond there, and that was very enlightening.”

McCray learned much about deadlines, time-management and having a thick skin in D.C. “I had moments of doubt. … At the same time, I was breathing it all in and taking it all in. I had half of me running a million miles per hour stressing out about stories or deadlines. But I think if you don’t experience what you want to do until you’re in that profession, it may be a little too late. I think you should taste it. I’m happy I got that time to do that in D.C. and that the Media Institute guided me in the right direction. And I found out that this is something I want to do, this is a passion that I have right now.

“I’m a Chicago boy, a city kid, so I’d like being able to go back home maybe six years down the road and report the news back at home in Chicago.”

McCray learned to pick up a newspaper, learn what’s happening around him and be a part of the world that’s happening around him. “I wanted to be an intern that they used and not just saw. I wanted them to use me. They put me undercover in an assignment about the DMV and had me ask questions undercover. So that was a really cool experience.

“I learned a new lesson every single day. I do miss it, but I’m happy to be back at St. Norbert College and share the experience I learned in D.C. with the students here. Just teaching how to shoot video, or edit video, or go out and get stories.”

“I got a lot of experience and a reporter reel out of it. I learned how to shoot and edit my own packages and made a lot of great connections. That’s one thing I learned in D.C. is you have to network and meet people; you have to get outside of your comfort zone and burst that bubble a little bit. It’s all about connections, I believe, and in D.C., I made a lot of them.”

March 3, 2015