THF Internship Program Turns 20: Alumni Spotlight–Shandra McDonald

In 1995, when Shandra McDonald was accepted into the T. Howard Foundation Internship Program‘s inaugural class, she was a graduate student studying film at Howard University. One of just 14 THF interns that year, Shandra went on to have a successful production career, on her own terms.

This is Shandra’s first person account of her journey from intern to production company CEO.

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I learned about the T. Howard Foundation through Howard University. Howard was always aggressive in encouraging its students to gain real world experience through internships. I had several internships throughout college, and Howard professors and career counselors knew me as someone who was always looking for opportunities to learn, so I always had my eyes on the career and internship board.

During my second semester of my three-year MFA degree program, I was hired as an intern at the Discovery Channel in nearby Silver Spring, Maryland through the T. Howard Foundation. I worked in the CD-ROM division, and at that time, Discovery was beginning to expand, so they were doing a lot of cataloging.

As a film student and a filmmaker, I wasn’t initially thrilled with the idea of working in the CD-ROM department, but I ended up loving it. I worked hard and met many individuals, and my manager was impressed with the work I completed.

Elevator Pitch Helps Land Freelance Job
I’m an ambitious person, and I pay attention to everything that is happening around me. While I was a CD-ROM intern, I learned that the Discovery Channel had a stock footage library, and I knew that there were different opportunities for work in that division. I met the division head in the elevator, and introduced myself and asked if I could set up a meeting with him.

As a film student at Howard University, I was learning about traditional narrative-based film editing and directing. But during my internship and freelance work at Discovery, I had learned and experienced first-hand about offline, non-linear editing, which made me more versatile. As a direct result of that internship, I was offered and accepted a freelance editing position in Discovery’s newly launched international division. This work offered me an additional education that I was being paid to receive—although I had to balance activities and my graduate school thesis. At the time, I was also producing projects at Howard, and I was gaining valuable experience that I could translate into a full-time job.

Timing is Everything
As a freelancer in the international division, my manager knew I was preparing to graduate with an MFA. He was seeking a full-time producer, and the timing couldn’t have been better. Because I had worked for Discovery as an intern through the T. Howard Foundation, I was hired as a freelancer, which ultimately led me to a full-time producer position, a job for which I didn’t even need to apply because I was already vetted and in the Discovery system.

I produced programming with the Discovery Channel Foundation for underdeveloped areas in Africa. I directed full segments overseas and edited existing programs to be later aired on the Discovery Channel.

Prestigious Award is Catalyst for Move to L.A.
In 1998, after learning that my Howard University short film thesis won the Directors Guild of America Student Film Award, I was invited to move to Los Angeles to work in post-production for several BET movies that were based on romantic novels. I worked on that project for close to a year before I freelance wrote and produced for reality television production companies.

I moved to Atlanta in 2002 and worked for Paramount Pictures on The Fighting Temptations. As Atlanta was growing as a production city, I began field producing and story editing for Turner and a number of Atlanta-based production companies.

Reach High—But Don’t Go Overboard
In 2005, I formed Kiss the Limit Productions, where we tell stories that transform peoples’ lives. I realized early on in my career that I wanted to present empowering stories, and those that are compelling and artistically based. Kiss the Limit is a reflection of my motto that you have to reach for the greatest heights in this industry, but not go too far. My company produces short and long form content for a variety of clients in television and film.

Through Kiss the Limit, I’ve produced such feature films as The Last Adam, which is now in Redbox, and A Cross to Bear, which aired on ASPiRE, formerly the Gospel Movie Channel. I’ve also directed and produced award-winning documentary projects that have screened in festivals around the world, including the FESPACO Film Festival in Burkina Faso and the Cannes Film Festival in France. My company is currently producing a documentary on an early intervention model for girls who are at risk for prostitution called Voices. Kiss the Limit secured money from investors and a local bank for this project.

Starting this fall, I’m going to be a professor in Clayton State University’s film production department. I’m excited to share my experience in the field with future filmmakers.

This media business requires a great deal hard work, dedication, innovation and strategy. I knew where I wanted to be in a year. I knew which department I wanted to move to. You have to be able to think ahead and to strategize for evolution through a company and career.

Alumni Spotlight: Steven DeShields–Rising Star

Steven DeShields speaks at the 2014 Diversity Awards Dinner

Steven DeShields speaks at the 2014 Diversity Awards Dinner

“My degree in broadcast journalism and marketing from Delaware State University says that I am teachable, but the 10-week journey at Viacom is where I learned how to survive and be successful in this industry; and this is all because of the incredible internship opportunity I had provided by the T. Howard Foundation.”

Steven DeShields, THF ’05, was recognized as a “rising star” at this year’s Diversity Awards Dinner, held March 26 at Cipriani Wall Street in New York.

T. Howard Foundation staff chose Steven as this year’s “Rising Star” because he has shown great promise as a young professional and has remained connected and committed to the Foundation.

We recently spoke with Steven about his journey from being a T. Howard intern to working full-time in the media industry. Here are his thoughts, in his own words.

Steven DeShields and Taylor Adams, VP Affiliate Sales, Showtime Networks at the 2014 Diversity Awards Dinner

Steven DeShields and Taylor Adams, VP Affiliate Sales, Showtime Networks at the 2014 Diversity Awards Dinner

How did you first learn about the T. Howard Foundation?
In 2005, I attended the Howard University job fair. The T. Howard Foundation was at the job fair, so I grabbed information and applications and filled it out over my spring break while I was home in Philadelphia.

What attracted you to the Foundation and the internship program?
Immediately, that it was paid (laughs). But I knew the importance of getting an internship in the industry. My professors and advisors at Delaware State told me that it was crucial to get an internship in the industry; practical experience is a necessity for success. I was also attracted to the Foundation because it is geared toward internships, and ultimately careers, for minorities. Diversity in all industries—especially the media business, is important to me.

What were your career goals before learning about the T. Howard Foundation?
My dream was to work in broadcast journalism—primarily in sports. I continue to hone on that craft and I’m a student of the sports world. I’m a big fan of ESPN and other sports networks— that’s what I entered school for. I decided, however, to pick up another bag of tricks in the industry—and not put all my eggs in one basket.

Where did you intern through T. Howard?
I interned for Viacom, back when it was coined MTV Networks, and I worked specifically for nick@nite and TVLand’s on-air creative group.

I was an intern production assistant. My college advisor told me to act like I worked there because then I’d get the most out of the internship. You won’t learn anything getting coffee, and the Foundation really set the bar. During my 10 weeks as a Viacom intern, I worked with producers an associate producers.

I worked on a package, or a “stunt” for nick@nite, sponsored by Head & Shoulders shampoo to find the “sexiest hair on nick@nite.” I sat through hours of “Full House” episodes trying to find video of John Stamos playing with his hair. I then had to consolidate 40 episodes into 30 seconds.

What was your career journey after your internship?
I made it a point to stay in touch with folks from the Foundation and people I met at my class’s Diversity Awards Dinner.

After my college graduation, I moved to Atlanta and worked in radio promotions and sales for about a year and a half. I then found my way back to Viacom using relationships I had formed during my internship.

I spent 5 years at Viacom in ad sales for Nickelodeon, and then in a group that trained ad sales employees for the entire company. That was from 2008 until December 2012. I continued to work my relationships and caught the eye of people at Showtime to help train and develop for them.

What’s your current position at Showtime Networks?
I’m a manager, point of sale for Showtime Networks. I have one client, Verizon, and my job is to hit the road and visit to Verizon call center environments where people proactively call about their Verizon service, and I make sure call center employees are involved in selling Showtime programming.

How do you currently interact with the Foundation?
I’ve participated in a couple of internship orientations and sat on an alumni panel. Every opportunity I can get to do my part, I do. I do want to see many more male alumni to come back and work with the Foundation. I want to pay it forward.

What was the most memorable aspect of this year’s Diversity Awards Dinner for you?
The interns—hands-down. The Diversity Awards Dinner is about them and you really get the opportunity to see how great the Foundation is in cultivating the interns.

The former interns weren’t just there for the dinner, to look nice and hear their names, but they made it a point to be aggressive and deliberate.

What continues to impress me about T. Howard interns is how they truly want to work in the industry; they are so eager. That’s something that’s always the biggest takeaway from the dinner.

Rosalyn Durant: From Intern to Board of Directors

Rosalyn DurantRosalyn Durant arrived as a freshman at the University of South Carolina in 1995 determined to make her dreams of becoming a television news anchor a reality. She declared broadcast journalism as her major and during her first year of college she began seeking opportunities to gain experience in a newsroom.

As a first year student, Rosalyn was ineligible to earn academic credit for an internship, however she seized the opportunity to shadow staff members at WOLO-TV, Columbia, S.C.’s ABC affiliate. While observing the day-to-day operations at the station, she gained valuable hands-on experience. “I had a chance to go out on stories with reporters, run the teleprompter for the six o’clock news and rewrite AP stories [Associated Press] for broadcast.”

Her strong desire to gain as much experience as possible while in college propelled her into another shadowing opportunity at WYNN-FM, a Florence, S.C. radio station. The station did not have a formal internship program or any open positions, so Rosalyn negotiated an opportunity to shadow the staff, which led to her becoming a trainee and eventually an on-air personality.

During her sophomore year in college, Rosalyn attended the Howard University School of Communications Job and Internships Fair where she met a representative from the T. Howard Foundation. Rosalyn followed through on the opportunity to intern via THF and landed her first official and paid internship at Turner Broadcasting in Atlanta, working for Turner Network Sales during the summer of 1997.

At Turner, her supervisors “invested the time to help me understand the industry by giving me access to different meetings, information and people to help me make sense of all I was being exposed to, ” recalls Rosalyn.

The exposure to the sales division and the business side of the media industry was transformative for Rosalyn. “I knew I loved media, and broadcast is what I knew of [the industry]. One of the best things about the internship at Turner was that it introduced me to the business side; the side that I knew very little of before the internship. It’s hard to want what you don’t know exists, but once I experienced it, I wanted it.”

When Rosalyn returned to school that fall, she added marketing as a minor and economics classes to her schedule to increase her business acumen.

Now focused on the corporate side of the media industry, Rosalyn decided to return to Howard’s job fair the following year and seek out additional internship opportunities, hoping to secure an experience with ESPN. The network was present at the job fair, and so were T. Howard recruiters. Rosalyn shared her résumé with an HR representative from ESPN and again applied for a T. Howard Foundation-sponsored internship expressing her strong interest in working at ESPN. Through THF, Rosalyn received the opportunity to interview with the sports network.

In the summer of 1998, she began her second T. Howard Foundation internship and her second internship at a national network, working in ESPN’s affiliate sales and marketing department.

Rosalyn recounts her ESPN placement as “everything I could have wanted from an internship. I just felt that everyone took an interest in ensuring that my summer was productive and made themselves available to help me get the most out of my time there. That team spirit is what led me to want to return to ESPN.”

Rosalyn maintained contact with the team she worked with at ESPN once she returned to USC for her final year of college. One month before graduating, she received a full-time job offer from ESPN, and began working there as a marketing coordinator in June 1999. Rosalyn has remained with the network for 15 years. During her tenure, she has worked in sales and programming, and was a key figure in the launch of ESPNU and the renewal of the NBA’s agreement with the network. She has risen through the ranks, and in early 2014, Rosalyn became the Vice President of College Sports Programming at ESPN.

Rosalyn has also remained connected to the T. Howard Foundation by mentoring students and says the Foundation has supported her throughout her career. In 2010, she became the first internship program alumnus to become a member of THF’s Board of Directors and was elected to serve as the board’s secretary in 2013.

Rosalyn credits the Foundation with changing the course of her professional life. “The T. Howard Foundation absolutely redirected my career interest for the better. I am extremely indebted to the organization.”  

Through her success and commitment to THF, Rosalyn Durant truly represents the principles of the organization. “I am a product of the Foundation’s mission at work.”

 

The First Class: Torrae Lawrence-Mitchell

“You were not just an intern who got the coffee, but you were that intern with a specific job. The expectations were a lot higher. (Management) looked at (THF interns) as individuals who were there to learn and they wanted to help educate us about the industry.”

Torrae Lawrence-MitchellTorrae Lawrence-Mitchell’s interest in the media industry developed while she was growing up in New York watching the classic NBC sitcoms “The Cosby Show” and “A Different World.”

“The shows were fascinating, but I was more fascinated about the production of the programs.”

Convinced that she wanted to be a director similar to her idol Debbie Allen, Torrae followed in her footsteps and attended Howard University in Washington, DC and minored in theatre, Allen’s major. However, a summer spent as a T. Howard Foundation intern would change the course of her career.

Approaching her senior year at Howard, Torrae became aware of the opportunity to apply for a THF internship from Carol Dudley, Director of the Office of Career Development in the School of Communications. Torrae completed the THF application and interview process and was invited to intern in the Showtime Event Television division of Showtime Networks, now known as Showtime PPV.

During the summer of 1995, the division’s major project was Mike Tyson’s return to boxing after a stint in prison. Torrae described her duties as being responsible for “making sure that all the cable operators across the country were signing up to air the fight as well as tracking the sales.” Her efforts produced $250,000 in incremental revenue. “It was a huge success for that division of Showtime and it was the most that they had ever sold during that time for any event,” she explained.

This experience proved to Torrae that her niche was in not production after all, as she learned something new about corporate America and the field of marketing that she assumed she would not enjoy. “It was the exposure to that side of the business that really helped transition my thought process.”

After the internship, Torrae returned to Howard to complete her degree in communications and prepared to launch her career. She utilized the relationships and great reputation that she built at Showtime to land a job after graduation. Torrae’s career has taken her to positions at Discovery Communications and American Life TV Network. For the past six years she has held positions at Turner Broadcasting System, and currently serves as Director, Brand Revenue and Account Management for Turner Network Sales.

As Torrae continues to rise through the ranks of the cable industry, her ties to the T. Howard Foundation remain strong, by serving on the scholarship committee and as a frequent panelist at the orientation sessions.

Torrae was among that first small group of THF interns who blazed the trail making it possible for the internship program to continue to flourish today. Torrae says of the Foundation’s brand, “I believe that the T. Howard Foundation’s motto is well known throughout the industry as being a platform to help students start their careers versus just an internship that you have over the summer. THF is really there to help individuals get in the door and show what they have to offer to the company.”

From College to Career: Eric Petit-Frere, DIRECTV

“When it came to the orientation and the help I received from THF staff–it really helped fine tune my skills to enter the field properly.”   Eric Petit-Frere
Eric Petit-Frere
took this message from the T. Howard Foundation’s 2012 Summer Internship Orientation in New York to the DIRECTV Broadcast Center in Los Angeles, Calif. As a student studying Radio, Television and Film at Howard University, Eric learned about the opportunity to apply for the Foundation’s summer internship program from a friend and alumnus of THF ’11. After learning about his friend’s experience and being encouraged to apply by one of his professors, Eric conducted research on the Foundation and completed his application in fall 2011.

As Eric was accepted into THF’s Final Talent Pool for summer 2012, he only had intentions of working on the East Coast, in cities such as Philadelphia, New York, Washington, DC and Atlanta.Eric Petit-Frere

That changed when he was made aware of an internship opportunity at DIRECTV in Los Angeles. Eric interviewed and was offered the position, but he had some reservations about going to California. “I didn’t know anyone or even how to go there or how to rent [an apartment] out there.”

Once again, THF was instrumental; he received a housing scholarship, staff offered him suggestions on finding a place to live in Los Angeles and paired him with a mentor, Isaac Ahn, formerly of the Creative Artists Agency.

Ahn and the Foundation taught Eric about developing a succinct “elevator speech” to explain what he hoped to accomplish in his career. He literally put his elevator speech into practice during a chance encounter with John Ward, DIRECTV Senior Vice President of Content Operations, on an elevator. “We ended up finding out that we had attended the same high school in North Carolina, and from that conversation I set up a meeting with him.”

Eric Petit-FrereWhen his summer internship ended in Los Angeles, Eric returned to Howard University to complete his final year of college. At the end of the 2012 fall semester he received an offer to return to the DIRECTV Broadcast Center, but this time as a full-time Production Operator. “Before learning about the T. Howard Foundation, I was thinking about getting my master’s degree in film and going from there to look for a job in a studio.” Instead, Eric graduated in May 2013 and in August of that year, he launched his career in the media industry at the world’s leading provider of digital television services.