Career Kickstart: Coming to You Live, From Coast to Coast

University of Washington Communication students have access to a dynamic set of mentors in their own proverbial backyard. Whether hosting an event in their workspace, or sharing their expertise via classroom presentations, Seattle-based alumni are an integral part of what makes the Department successful.

However, twice every year, the advising team takes a select group of Dawgs out on a walk (read: flight) to media Meccas beyond Washington state.  Through the generous support of alumni, including the Christopher Rauch Meyer Endowed Fund and the Endowment for Leadership in Communication Fund, the Department gives students an opportunity to learn far outside of the classroom during annual Career Kickstart Exploration Trips to Los Angeles and New York City.

Career Kickstart is a series of programs that helps students prepare for “what’s next” after they finish their undergraduate studies, as well as providing an avenue for alumni to stay engaged with the Department. For students, Career Kickstart is a unique way to explore opportunities within the industry, make connections, and develop their personal, targeted interests. The program is one of many examples of ongoing collaborations between the University and a diverse set of professional partners.

As a key component of Career Kickstart, Career Exploration trips present students with the opportunity to go out into the world and meet with leading communication professionals in TV production, journalism, public relations, and more. This is a chance for them to expand their networks in Los Angeles and New York City.

Every year, the Department of Communication takes a select group of students to these cities to tour facilities and meet with an array of industry professionals. By visiting with alumni who work for organizations like The Los Angeles Times, Facebook, Sony Picture Studios, Marie Claire, NBC News, and Deutsch advertising agency, students have a unique chance to learn about how their UW experiences can lead them to positions that will reward their ingenuity, “moxie,” and dedication.

“This trip was the best experience I have had at the UW, and exceeded my expectations,” one Los Angeles-bound communication student reported, “I truly feel that I grew so much from this, both academically and emotionally.”

In addition to meeting with an incredible group of Department alumni, the trips are also a unique opportunity for students to connect with each other.

“I honestly enjoyed every aspect of the trip. It is hard to pick just one part,” one student mused.  “As cheesy as it sounds, I loved the long (and hot) car rides. I feel as though that was when I bonded the most with my peers and got to know everyone best.”

Christy Choi (B.A. 2013), who served as one of the hosts to the 2017 Los Angeles group, said that it is always “fun and equally inspiring for her to be in the midst of so many ambitious, talented students.”  She added that being a part of the Career Exploration trips is meaningful to her because she has fond memories of traveling with the Department shortly before graduating with her Communication degree.

“It is really interesting for me to come back year after and notice the changes in what I share and talk about with the students,” Choi noted.

From the palm tree-lined boulevards of Beverly Hills, to the glittering lights of the Big Apple, the Career Exploration program gives students intimate access to Department alumni who have taken what they learned at the University of Washington and gone on to thriving communication careers.

“I loved the visit to Democracy Now!, where we got to tour the facilities and engage in meaningful discussions,” one New York City exploration participant noted. “We also got to talk to Bryce [Ellis, B.A. 2015] about his move from Seattle to New York, which was very helpful.”

“I also really liked seeing places like The New York Times,” another undergraduate added, “it was really cool to see places that have had a huge impact in media and journalism.”

For the students who travel with the advising team on these trips, each visit offers a variety of perspectives that are enlightening in different ways.

“Personally, I particularly liked the visit with Jessica Heinmiller (B.A. 2013) [of ELLE Magazine] in Hearst Tower,” one student shared. “She spoke of taking risks; her story reminded me that I, too, can go out on a limb every once in a while.”

New York and Los Angeles Career Exploration hosts agree that mentoring students interested in working in ‘their’ cities helps them stay connected with the University of Washington, even from 2,000+ miles away. “When the Department told me about the career exploration project, I was excited to be involved in furthering the opportunity,” explained Tinamarie Feil (B.A. 1984), a 2016 Hall of Fame inductee and recipient of the Department Alumni Mentor Award that same year. “To help students experience New York at a pivotal point in career planning is a no-brainer.” Feil also added that when young people actively seek to explore and improve themselves, she wants to help in any way she can, partially in recognition of those who helped her along her own way.

“The first stop with Tina was a great way to begin the trip,” one graduating senior proclaimed. “She clearly cared about the Communication department and was passionate about expressing the value of a communication major. She also eased us into the networking aspect of the trip. At one point she asked, ‘Do you want to be successful? If you do not reach out to me, I will assume not.’ That was encouraging to an undergrad who is nervous about reaching out. Starting with Tina should be the standard!”

A champion of the Los Angeles exploration trips, alumni Peter Chiarelli (B.A. 1996) advises students to be prepared to change course, even if they think they already have everything mapped out. He cites his own experience of becoming a Hollywood screenwriter as “a marathon, not a sprint;” when Chiarelli first moved to L.A., he planned to become a producer, but discovered that his strengths and talent landed him squarely on the storytelling side of film.

“That is what I was good at; it was like my superpower,” Chiarelli said. “I realized that in order to be happy and have a job that would sustain me and I would love – it had to be screenwriting. I set myself up in a way that it was an option that I had and it was a choice that I could make.”

In appreciation for his leadership as a mentor, the Department honored Chiarelli with the inaugural 2014 Alumni Award for Excellence in Mentoring.

“I think back to my 20-year-old self who had absolutely no idea how any of it worked, and I would have killed to go on a trip like that [Career Exploration] to know what I was getting myself into to make the move a little less terrifying,” Chiarelli said.

The next Career Exploration Trip to New York City will take place during Fall Quarter 2017.  All interested communication students are encouraged to apply! If students have questions about the Exploration trips or want to learn more about Career Kickstart programs, they should email Troy Bonnes at or stop by the Communication Commons in Room 118 of the Communications Building. Also, if you are a New York City or Los Angeles alumni interested in hosting Communication students on future Career Exploration trips, please contact Junko Sakuma at