Comm Alums Answer the Call for Mentorship

The internship application process can seem daunting at first. It is easy to feel overwhelmed or discouraged. For Communication student Shakinah Starks ’19, like many other students, it was not immediate success. After applying to what she says were more than 200 internship openings for the summer, she realized she needed help.

So, she booked an appointment with Chief Undergraduate Advisor, Allison Butler, for advice. Butler told her she needed a new approach, so they embarked on a plan of action and that meant using the resources available to Starks–UMass alumni.

Starks attended a few Comm alumni networking events held in the Integrative Learning Center Hub, which allowed her to hear different perspectives and make connections.

“It was really interesting to get feedback and advice from people who are in the work force and may not even have similar career goals as me,” said Starks.

(Pictured above: Henri Hebert '94, Comm Alumni Advisory Board Member)

One Comm alumni advisory board member in particular, answered the call for help to coach Starks through the process. Henri Hebert ‘94, has created, produced, cast, directed, and written nonfiction projects for print, syndication, and network and cable television for more than 20 years. Hebert does life and career coaching as well.

“When I hear students like Shakinah grasping then I remember myself wanting and needing help,” said Hebert.

Hebert first reviewed Starks’ cover letter, and then her resume line by line, which she described as confusing, because she had three different career tracks to try to secure an internship in entertainment.

After fine-tuning Starks’ resume, Hebert then reached out to her contacts at several production companies including DiGa Studios in New York City, which was founded by former MTV president Tony DiSanto. Although it was late in the season for finding an internship, Hebert had built up a good working relationship with the company and it just so happens, they were in the final week of accepting resumes.

It was also the same company that Hebert had previously recommended another UMass Comm student, Eden Igielski ’17, for an internship.

“Getting students placed in highly visible companies like DiGa can really benefit not only them but our Comm Department and UMass,” said Hebert. “This makes us more competitive in the marketplace and gives our students a chance.”

And because Igielski had performed well at DiGa and left a great impression, the internship coordinator was happy to interview another UMass student.

“Inexperience can be a great thing. I went in as a blank slate and always gave my best effort to complete my tasks effectively and efficiently,” said Igielski. “Take a chance and use the people and resources available to you because you never know what could come from a simple conversation with someone.”

Comm Alumni Board members take it very seriously when a student reaches out to them for help.As someone who works in the entertainment industry, and does freelance, Hebert interviews quite a lot and has picked up a thing or two over the years, which she has shared with countless students including Starks, whom she prepped for her interview.

“It takes a village and without my contacts and Eden paving the way for other UMass students, Shakinah wouldn't have had that opportunity to intern in New York at DiGa,” said Hebert. “Eden showed that something special is happening at UMass that made the internship coordinator perk up at the thought of another Eden.”

But even after Hebert helped Starks land one of the coveted spots at DiGa, more challenges lay ahead. She had to figure out how she’d make ends meet doing an unpaid internship in New York City, of all places.

Once again, Hebert was there with encouragement and more suggestions.

(Pictured below: Shakinah Starks with Mayor Bill de Blasio and wife Chirlane McCray)

Shakinah Starks with Mayor Bill de Blasio and wife Chirlane McCray“Shakinah was nervous about trying to go to New York City,” recalls Hebert, “but I shared with her my story of how I paid my way through college, worked 3 jobs, and I made my dream of interning in New York possible and that if I could do it, then she could do it!”

Hebert advised her to apply for the Elaine Nord Internship Fund, made available through the generous donation of Comm alum Elaine E. Nord, who graduated from UMass in 1981. The scholarship is designed to offset expenses related to an unpaid summer internship in production or creative communications.

Hebert had also been instrumental in helping Starks and Igielski build their own network, by setting up meetings and lunches for them to meet with fellow UMass students and alums, proving the power of networking.

“It's real life all of a sudden. It can feel confusing, daunting,” said Hebert. “When you have a dream in your heart, it can seem like even more is at stake but putting out a helping hand to guide can be a life changing experience for the mentor and mentee.”

Other Comm students will be able to do their own networking, next month, at the alumni networking event. More details to come.

-- Summer Tuman ’18 contributed to this story