Remote Connections: Alumni share knowledge with students in new virtual events

Media Career Night panel
At the first Media Career Night for students on September 23, alumni discussed their experience in crisis communications. The panel was moderated by Katie Clark, senior assistant dean for student services (top left).


In two new initiatives, the College of Media is bringing together alumni to share their wisdom, experiences, and career advice with students. Media Career Nights have been launched as a virtual series and an Alumni Speakers Bureau has been formed to provide guest speakers to Media classrooms.

After the pandemic caused a shutdown of in-person events and the rise of Zoom as an online gathering space last spring, the College of Media decided to use the virtual platform to its advantage. Not only has the convenience of Zoom enabled even more alumni to participate, but those who are geographically dispersed are able to join in on panels for robust conversations.

“Over the course of this year, we are aiming to capture a breadth and depth of virtual opportunities for our students,” said Dean Tracy Sulkin. “The virtual events have received such enthusiasm among students, faculty, and alumni that they will undoubtedly become part of our repertoire going forward.” 

Media Career Nights will feature monthly discussions on topics of interest to students across all majors in the College. The Zoom sessions are recorded so other students can benefit from the conversations.

The first virtual panel addressed crisis communications and featured alumni experts Jack Modzelewski (BS ’76, advertising), chief executive of JackKnifePR, which provides communication advisory services; Jim Schlueter (BS ’80, journalism), who retired from Boeing as director of technology communications; and Angela Sinickas (BS ’75, journalism), CEO of Sinickas Communications, an international management consultancy. 

Students asked about the differences between working for a small ad agency compared to a large firm when dealing with crises, about how the emergence of technology has changed strategies, and what they could do as students to prepare for crisis communications. 

Thinking critically, writing well, and writing quickly are important skills to develop, Modzelewski said. “I’m pretty sure I learned that when I was on campus in Gregory Hall.”

The second Media Career Night panel on October 14, “Getting Started in Film and TV in LA,” will feature alumni Stephen Feder (BS ’02, media studies), a producer at T-Street Productions; Steve Hirsen (BS ’71, radio and TV), original director of America’s Funniest Home Videos and a director for Entertainment Tonight, and currently a professor at Chapman University; Emma Miller (BS ’08, media studies), vice president for scripted development and programming at the AMC Network; Mort Nathan (BS ’75, radio and TV), one of the creators of the Golden Girls; and Frank Sinton (BS ’84, advertising), COO and executive producer at A. Smith and Company Productions and producer of Trading Spaces, America Ninja Warriors, and Hell's Kitchen.

A third Media Career Night panel on November 10 will address science communication with Allan Brettman (BS ’81, journalism), a science writer at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory; Douglas Isbell (MS ’88, journalism), cross-program risk communication coordinator at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory; and Emily Scott (BS ’17, agricultural communications; MS ’19, journalism), public affairs specialist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

In addition to Media Career Nights, the College also established a new Alumni Speakers Bureau, featuring some of our most prominent and accomplished alumni. This program is designed to enrich classes with guest speakers joining in via Zoom to offer Q/A about specific topics, live or recorded lectures, or small group discussions. 

“Fall semester is a pilot program, and we are looking forward to building on its successes and growing the initiative in future semesters,” Sulkin said.

For the month of October, guests in the line-up so far include journalism alumni Angela Sinickas; Andrea Darlas (BS ’94), WGN radio host and UIUC senior director of constituent engagement; David McCraw (BS ’76), deputy general counsel at the New York Times; Kurt Winter (BS ’91), vice president of regional marketing at Allstate Insurance; and Anne Woodward (BS ’91), former vice president of CNN technical operations.

—Holly Rushakoff