Media Industry Pros Share Insights and Advice with Students

Author Hillary Thilavong ’23 is a Media & Communication major and works as a student assistant at JWU, contributing to JWU News, video content and social media. 

At one point in your life, you were likely asked, “So, what do you want do next?” To any students who are doubtful, panicked or stressed, I truly feel you. But when you’re a student at JWU, you get the opportunity to explore different industries and discover career paths you may not have considered.

At a recent media industries career panel hosted by the John Hazen White College of Arts & Sciences, guests shared personal insights on career-building and self-branding while answering questions such as “Do you think AI limits creativity?” and “How much of a jack-of-all-trades should I be?”

Leaders from Verizon, iHeart Media, Animus Studios, Flickers’ Rhode Island International Film Festival (RIIFF) and the Boston Globe sat with students at a Media Industries Panel, which I had the pleasure of co-moderating with fellow Media and Communication major Aaron Aguilar ’24.

Hillary Thilavong '23 and Aaaron Auguilar '24 sit together to co-moderate the panel.
Hillary Thilavong '23 and Aaron Auguilar '24 co-moderate the media industries career panel.

Adriana Dawson, director of community engagement at Verizon, reflected on work culture and how women of color may talk themselves out of taking room. “Sometimes you're going to be in spaces where you might be the only one. There’ll be a lot outside of just thinking about your career roadmap, so just be mindful of that navigation and what your code switching needs to look like when you get into the world of work,” she shared. Keeping cultural identity can clash with one’s desire to fit in. As a first-generation Lao American student, I find reassurance in Dawson’s advice on separating downplaying your achievements from a culture that’s dependent on humility.

Self-expression in a work space can be challenging, but Justin Andrews, co-founder, executive producer and creative strategist of Animus Studios, is all for it: “I think someone with a personality is more interesting than someone trying to be super technical around something they did with the company,” he expressed. To Andrews, doubling down on soft skills matters, especially in advertising where it calls for collaborative efforts. He feels people are often too razor-focused on perfecting their technical skills, which can get in the way of learning and connecting with others. That was helpful advice to hear as a perfectionist myself!

Media industry professionals sit along a table at the panel.
Rhonda Lapham of iHeart Media, Justin Andrews of Animus Studios, Shawn Quirk of the Rhode Island International Film Festival and Veronica Chao of the Boston Globe.

Nonetheless, learning as many skills as you can enables you to find your path. With how rapidly the media and communications industry is evolving, multi-faceted professionals are essential to every organization. Veronica Chao, deputy managing editor Living/Arts of the Boston Globe, shared how employers only give opportunities to those who show their talents or willingness to learn new skills. “Use skills! When looking at student résumés, I would always choose someone with video skills,” she shared. The storytelling world can often call for professionals to wear multiple hats, and some might hide their abilities out of the light. “I think folks don’t tend to tell us that they have experience making things like videos,” Chao said, which can result in missed opportunities.

Building off that, Shawn Quirk, program director of RIIFF, believes those exuding passion are the ones who find success the quickest. “Just having that enthusiasm, curiosity and the idea that you want to be part of something bigger — that drive is really palpable when we feel and see if it’s somebody that we want to have on the team because you know that’s energy we need.”

When applying for jobs and scheduling interviews, Rhonda Lapham, marketing manager of iHeartMedia, spoke to the importance of researching companies and the individual prior to the meeting. “Not in a stalker sense, like, ‘Oh, I saw that you went fishing with your son,’” she joked, “but breaking the ice will set you apart from other folks.” Just when we think hanging up will suffice, Lapham encourages young professionals to be personal. “Sending a thank you note is super important. Make your ‘thank you’ note unique. Make it memorable.”

Post-panel, I felt truly relieved to connect with industry professionals who were honest and personal about navigating the job-searching journey. It’s no easy feat to find yourself and a stable career along the way, but co-moderating the panel opened me to new perspectives.

Below: Watch Hillary’s day-in-the-life of a JWU student, which she filmed the day she moderated the Media Industries career panel.

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