April 21, 2014
In its 25th year, The Emma L. Bowen Foundation for Minority Interests in Media has been rated among the "Best Overall Internship" programs for 2014, according to a national survey conducted by Vault, an influential provider of information and solutions for professionals and students who are pursuing and managing high-potential careers. The Foundation ranked #11 among overall best internships and #4 among best internships for marketing and communications majors.
In 1989, the organization was established as the Foundation for Minority Interests in Media. Emma L. Bowen, a longtime advocate for fairness and inclusiveness in the public airwaves and founder of Black Citizens for a Fair Media, enlisted her longtime friend and colleague, Dr. Everett C. Parker, Communications Director Emeritus of the United Church of Christ, to join her in this effort. Together, they garnered the support of Capital Cities/ABC’s President and Chief Executive Officer, Daniel Burke and Tom Murphy, former President and CEO of ABC, to provide partnerships between minority students and media organizations in a way that youths could learn, be mentored and develop into highly qualified media professionals. Dan Burke gave the first $50,000 and the organization was formed.
"She felt strongly that in order to change the negative media images that have a profound impact on a sense of value and mental health, and to get a balanced perspective, we had to do something to get people of color inside the industry," said Phylis Eagle-Oldson, president of the Emma Bowen Foundation. "Her commitment was her life’s work. Even when she fell ill she still commanded respect, coming to meetings in a wheelchair."
Bowen died in June 1996, and in her honor, the foundation became known as the Emma L. Bowen Foundation.
Today, Dr. Everett Parker is 101 years old, and has dedicated his life to justice in media. Early in his career he focused on the television station in Jackson, Mississippi that was blocking the voice of African Americans. Parker took this as far as the courts, and then was hired at the station.
Recently, a group of Emma Bowen students attending the annual summer conference in New York witnessed a man come running up to tell Dr. Parker, "I just had to meet you and thank you. Because of what you did, I got my first job in Jackson, Mississippi." That man was Randall Pinkston, reporter, anchor and producer, winner of three Emmy Awards and the RTNDA Edward R. Murrow Award.
Primarily partnered with broadcast stations at first, according to Eagle-Oldson, the cable industry really started to take hold with William J. Bresnan, then president of Bresnan Communications. "He always had a passion for diversity and giving people who needed a leg up," she said.
"In 1999, I was on the Board of the NCTA, when cable really started to get involved, and I was invited to take over as CEO of the Emma Bowen Foundation. It was probably the best thing that ever happened to me," said Eagle-Oldson. "We had about 17 corporate partners. What really helped us grow from then on was the Walter Kaitz Foundation. Their funding allowed us to do more developmental pieces such as the Link Mentoring Program and the annual summer conference in New York."
Today, students come together in one place with top-notch speakers, to engage in professional development, and learn how to network. They are surrounded by other students who are all about excellence, understand the competition and want to step up their game. Arnell Davis is an Associate Manager, Consumer Marketing at HBO. "In my second year of the program, I went to the conference and my mind was blown. I thought to myself, these are all over achievers. There’s no way you can leave an Emma Bowen Conference not feeling inspired and motivated to do more. You just don’t know what you’re applying for until you experience it first-hand," said Davis. "It prepares you so well for your post-graduate life that four years out and I’m still benefitting from the program."
Eagle-Oldson has heard more than once from students that they thought they were special until they got here. But on one occasion she was brought to tears. "Two years ago, a young lady gave me a note as she was leaving the conference. It read: ‘I’ve never had an experience such as this conference. I love my father but he said only rich people get to live their dreams. Michael Powell, President & CEO of the NCTA, told me I could live my dreams.’ That makes everything we do worth every dime and effort," said Eagle-Oldson.
There are many people who have helped to build the Foundation into what it is today. "Thanks to people like Spencer Kaitz, who I remember sitting in the lobby at the Mayflower long ago and talking about funding an organization like this. Our board meetings are SRO. It boggles my mind that we have that kind of support," says Eagle-Oldson.
"Bill Bresnan was probably one of the best men in the industry, he died way too soon. He would ask me to send him the best and brightest that need financial support and mentoring," said Eagle-Oldson. "Every Friday was CEO time for conversations with his mentee. Bill felt that was as important as anything else."
"We couldn’t do a whole lot without David," says Sandra Rice, Senior Vice President, Eastern Region and National Recruitment. She explains that when David Porter, Executive Director of the Foundation, came into Kaitz, he wanted to help smaller start-up networks and operating companies that couldn’t afford internships, take on student interns. In addition, due to the demand in the industry, Porter, Bob Zitter, Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer at HBO, and other CTOs in the industry came together to design a track for students studying computer science or engineering. The New Media and Technology Program have been very successful. One of the first students who came through the program, between her junior and senior year, was in fact offered a full-time job with HBO.
"While the financial support is great, the ROI is the most impactful aspect of the program. The stories of students that have their whole careers tied to the industry both on the broadcast and cable side, is the most valuable aspect of the program," says Eagle-Oldson.
Rice, who has been with the organization since 1998, says "there is no other internship program like this one. It’s the one thing that makes me proud of everything I have accomplished in my life."
"I took this job thinking I would do it for one year, after working for ABC for 20 years. Phylis came in a year later and we reworked the whole program and made it what it is today. We created a full-time scholarship program and an evaluation process. Students must maintain a 3.0 GPA. We collect transcripts every semester, and every student is evaluated every summer," she continued.
"They are miles ahead of their classmates. The average college student can, in no way, compete with an Emma Bowen graduate. We know every student, and when they graduate, we stay in touch. The most impressive piece is our end product of great resumes and great jobs. Most of our alumni, within 6 months, will land their first job. A number of students will already have a job even before they even graduate.
"Deans of colleges call us. They know what kind of program we are. I don’t’ think Emma or Dan even knew what this would become. Where it started is not where it is today,"said Rice.
Among Emma Bowen, testimonials are easy to find from a wide range of success stories. "I’m only 23 and I’m living my dream," said Alex Coppola, Associate Producer at ESPN. "This year, I will get to work on the World Cup, all 32 days of it. Soccer is my passion besides my work as a producer. I’m right where I want to be. This might never have happened without the Emma Bowen Foundation. I thought it was too good to be true when I first heard about the program. Every last promise was kept."
Niija Kykendall, VP of Production, Warner Bros Pictures, oversees the production of film projects and is in charge of finding screenplays, books, and "any type of material that I think can be made into a movie." She has worked on Argo, Gangster Squad, Contagion, The Lego Movie, Predator 2, Magic Mike and after reading a screenplay as a spec with a colleague, bought it, and is now in the trenches working on the Edge of Tomorrow due to release this year. "I was an intern at ABC Entertainment for four summers where Susan Lyon was one of my mentors. The Emma Bowen Foundation taught me to be confident and fearless when going for opportunities. By the time I was ready to enter the workplace, I knew how to conduct myself. When I graduated from Brown University, I sent a letter to the Emma Bowen Foundation board and within days got my first job with King World, CBS International," she said.
In 2013 alone, the Foundation was responsible for twenty-two career placements out of forty-three graduating students. "I wish we could bring in a lot more than we do. Last year, we brought in less than 80, and we will graduate 100 interns," said Rice. "We could certainly do more."
"The industry is in a very different place than when we first started. Looking forward, the program is now an integral part of the cable community and not just the right thing to do. The business case for supporting the program is apparent due to the changing marketplace. There have been great strides made, but if organizations like the Emma Bowen Foundation and NAMIC don’t keep their feet on the gas, we’ll lose ground. Mentoring from people in the right place is important. You won’t see people in the boardrooms. We have to continue these initiatives. You cannot just put in financial resources; you have to put people resources towards it. We are developing the pipeline and providing training but the commitment on the cable side to reaching out is equally important," said Eagle-Oldson.
"With consolidation, we have to expand our network to advertising and social media, and incorporate more opportunities for students going forward. What students are looking for will change to more non-traditional careers. We are tracking opportunities and new skills development in new media and technology to be sure that we are pipe-lining talent for future jobs," Eagle-Oldson continued.
"I can see where this ceiling will be broken. I’m doing this for the alumni who will change the face of television one student at a time," said Rice.
If you have or know a student who might be eligible for the Emma Bowen Foundation internship program, visit www.emmabowenfoundation.com.