Industry Experience—Early and Often—Pays Off

Author: Gene Stowe

Film, Television, and Theatre (FTT) majors who concentrate in television get significant help with internships and other practical experience critical to professional advancement after graduation.

Long-standing connections that the faculty and the Notre Dame’s Career Center have cultivated in the local community and around the country open opportunities for students to find internships and networking with people working in the industry.

“We encourage our students to do as many internships as they can,” says Karen Heisler, an adjunct assistant professional specialist and the department’s internship coordinator. “It’s not your GPA or your degree that’s going to get you the job. You have to have experience as a student or you’re not going to get the interview. You have to do something to set yourself apart.

“Most of our students who have gotten jobs in this field have had lots of internships,” she continues. “You can’t expect to find a job in television or film unless you’ve done something.”

The last two years, a special arrangement with NBC-Universal provides summer internships with the network for up to three FTT students—and the two who participated last summer were then accepted into NBC-Universal’s page program after graduation.

Heisler says she encourages students to take semester internships with local broadcasters and related companies as well as summer internships, perhaps even in the student’s hometown. Each semester, there are usually five to 10 students interning during the academic year, while in the summer the number jumps to between 20 and 30.

“We have some really good internship opportunities here in South Bend,” Heisler says, listing not only broadcasters but also ND Sports Properties and local production companies where students can learn important skills. Students can earn up to three credit hours, usually for working 150 hours a semester.

Doing a local internship during the school year can also give students a competitive edge getting prestigious summer internships. After a semester with WSBT doing a production internship, Heisler says, one student landed a summer internship at The Late Show with David Letterman.

Adjunct instructor Gary Sieber, who graduated from Notre Dame in 1981 with a major in American Studies and still does radio and TV work in addition to teaching at Notre Dame, says students need to learn practical skills in the classroom as well as in internships to prepare to enter the profession after graduation.

The preparation is vital, he notes, because television stations do not have training programs and expect new employees to be ready to produce immediately.

He and Heisler, who worked at WNDU from 1984 to 2002, also offer students practical advice on how to make the most of the opportunities an internship can bring, from asking for additional assignments to networking with everyone they can meet.

“That networking is in some respects even more important than the things you have on paper,” he says. “Those materials go further if you know the people you’re sending them to and they know you.”


Originally published by Gene Stowe at on June 13, 2010.