Connecting Classrooms, Careers & Communities

An advanced communication course led to a transformative 11-week paid summer internship with West Harlem nonprofit, SoHarlem.

Internships often lead to full-time jobs, but can coursework lead to paid internships? For three rising seniors, taking Advanced Advertising Studies (COMM 414) led to a rigorous 11-week paid summer internship, thanks to the creative efforts of well-connected faculty. The experience was more fulfilling than any grade they could ever receive.

When SoHarlem, a non-profit business incubator for apparel brands, was considering rebranding their growing presence in West Harlem, it was the perfect confluence of events for adjunct communication professor Javier Garcia. He had worked with the community-based organization to develop his own activewear brand since early 2017, so when he heard about SoHarlem’s needs in the midst of reviewing his Advanced Advertising syllabus, Garcia saw an opportunity. By retooling the course, he could give his students the unique experience of developing and pitching a campaign for a real business.

The first six weeks served as preparation for the formal client briefing. Students reviewed how to develop a fully structured integrated campaign. Course material included a diverse set of material from case studies, from new research tactics to literature written by industry leaders.

“The combination of these upfront studies helped frame the students thinking before and after they learned who their client was,” Garcia said. “It ensured that these professionals-in-the-making approached their coursework at the same level as they would a real world client of any size, scale or budget.”

Classroom Turns Client-Facing

soharlem-1.jpgAfter being broken into groups by skill set, the class received their client briefing, and learned all about SoHarlem’s efforts to help West Harlem natives achieve economic self-sufficiency and their full potential. They spent the final eight weeks preparing creative and practicing presentations for which they received feedback, week after week. So, when it came time to present to the organization’s leadership, each group was well prepared.

“Everyone went into presentation day looking strong and confident, and they blew their clients away,” Garcia said, noting that founder Janet Rodriquez and board member Turquoise Young deliberated for nearly an hour to identify a winner.

Eager to implement some of the work, SoHarlem offered three students 11-week paid summer internships to work together in evolving the work they had pitched under Garcia’s guidance. Marissa Fox ’18 handled digital strategy, Lauren Kalina ’18 specialized in account strategy, and Patrick Estanbouli ’18 was in charge of creative direction.

“It was great to have the three of us work together — it was just like we were three different entities in a real ad agency,” Estanbouli said.

No Substitute for Experience

soharlem-new-logo.jpgA critical piece of SoHarlem’s rebrand was a new logo that would inform other many other elements of the campaign. Estanbouli created more than 160 logo options before the larger team selected the final design that is now featured on SoHarlem’s website.

In addition to redeveloping the organization’s mission language, promotional materials, online presence and social media pages, the student-interns assisted with social media strategy and developed a toolkit to inform the brand's strategy moving forward. They were also instrumental in planning SoHarlem’s first e-auction.

“We’ve learned a lot from being given projects unlike anything we've never done before and that no one in the space can teach us — we had to figure it out,” Estanbouli said. “It’s taken a lot of research, long hours, and a lot of trial and error. It’s been a great experience for us all.”

As they return to campus for senior year, advertising majors Estanbouli, Fox and Kalina each have a complete portfolio and a proven track record of success — a competitive advantage when it comes to the job market. However, what may prove to be more gratifying is not so easily expressed on the lines of a résumé: the experience of investing in the success of a rapidly changing community.

“The purpose of our efforts was to help this company get off the ground as the community [it serves] deals with the effects of gentrification,” Estanbouli said. “It’s been rewarding to work, not only at SoHarlem, but also in the neighborhood of Harlem — we’ve fallen in love with the area. It feels good to know we helped someone, and were able to contribute something. That's really the culmination of everything.”

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Check out the Estanbouli, Fox and Kalina’s work at http://www.soharlem.org/.

By Sarah Schwartz