By Hannah Stewart (Comm’19)
It’s an early Wednesday morning in July, yet it seems most of Washington, D.C., has already been up for hours.
Riders swarm the Metro on their way to work. Above ground, everyone from power brokers to power couples crowd local coffee shops while runners squeeze in a jog.
Amid the bustle, four students from CU Boulder are headed to their internships, where they are responsible for public relations at The Hill, covering news in real time and managing sound at a multimedia festival.
“This is such a great program because you get professional experience,” said Reede Ottenstein (CritMedia’23). “You’ll feel so much better when you graduate, and you’ll have a better idea of what you want to do.”
Through the support of CMCI in D.C.—a semester-long study abroad-style program in Washington—Ottenstein landed an internship with Capital Fringe. This multiday, multimedia festival was particularly enticing since she focused on sound design as a CMCI student. She even had the chance to work with the audio engineers for the performances.
“In my classes, I was learning sound and audio,” Ottenstein said. “Now that I’ve interned with this festival, I will get to take what I learned and put it in a real-world context.”
Students in this program earn both class and internship credit during a semester or summer session in Washington. In addition to learning from guest speakers—many of whom are program alumni and media professionals—students have the chance to explore the city, both on assignment and for personal enrichment. Along the way, they discover new passions and opportunities for growth while forming close bonds as peers.
“Washington, D.C., is an incredible place to spend a semester,” said Lori Bergen, CMCI founding dean. “The communications, media and information landscape is a laboratory for new ideas about how to inform, influence and inspire people.”
CMCI students on their D.C. experiences
“The Hill has been very eye-opening and has shown me what the real world of PR looks like. Connecting with people is something that really holds true to me.
Intern, The Hill
“You get to experience a new American city and learn from great professors.
Intern, D.C. Witness
CMCI’s partner in delivering the program, the Washington Media Institute, encourages students to develop new skills through practical learning in the field.
For instance, media studies junior Jenna Gainsboro tried her hand at court reporting. An illness in Gainsboro’s youth led to seemingly endless days reading and watching television, inspiring her to pursue a career in media. She spent a previous semester writing for a fashion magazine, but with this new opportunity, she wanted something different.
“They pitched me this internship with D.C. Witness in a social justice kind of way,” Gainsboro said. “I appreciate how individualized it is. They really work with you to find an internship that will give you the experience you need.”
That feature helps the program stand out among other experiential-learning opportunities.
“The fact that internships are hand-selected for our students gives them an advantage in getting settled in this exciting city and building professional and personal relationships that will last a lifetime,” Bergen said.
As part of the application process, staff from WMI interview students to assess their career goals, then identify ideal internships for each student. WMI staff also use their Washington networks to bring in guest lecturers and instructors for classes.
“I know that every time I come to class, we’re going to be doing something that might be challenging in the moment, but is still helpful and a good experience for my growth,” said senior Tessa Stigler, a journalism student who interned at Voice of America.
After graduation, she hopes to be a multimedia journalist. Although she’s had an “overwhelmingly positive experience” in her classes in Boulder, she said this program has helped her see new aspects of the media.
“It’s interesting to see how different everybody’s internships are, and the different skills they’re focusing on,” Stigler said. “CMCI in D.C. encourages you to get career minded, feel set up to graduate and know that you can get something afterward.”