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Having graduated with my BA in Journalism from Penn State in May of 2008, there was a dark cloud over kids leaving school. That cloud was the impending housing bubble, that we knew was going to burst but not know when. With this in mind I quickly applied to graduate schools in the hope that I could better myself and the financial ruins would be recovered once I was finished in 2009 or 2010. Hopefully, I could kick the can down the road and I’d be more marketable when I got out.
I felt worried when professors set our class down to tell us about the upcoming economic turmoil that was just shortly coming down the road. There were a lot of nervous eyes in that room and rightfully so. After almost four years of time invested in your education, it was quite possible you’d have to move home to live with your parents and work a minimal wage job you could have had in high school. Try paying back a student loan with minimum wage or an unpaid internship.
Journalism, particularly traditional journalism, has taken a beating over the last 15-20 years. As newspapers get thinner and thinner, the newsrooms that make up a community’s watchdog get more sparse. Now, many people turn to social media for their news and can’t distinguish real news from horribly slanted news from questionable, at best, sources. These questionable online platforms really erode the quality of journalism in the name of timeliness. So many great local stories now go unnoticed, because there aren't enough local journalists to cover them all.
I tested above-average on the GRE score and was a 3.3 student at Penn State. Probably what you would describe as a solid student, but nothing extraordinary. I always felt like I was playing a bit of catch-up to other students throughout all four years. However, I did well enough to scrape together a decent resume for schools. The worst part about the whole thing is that Penn State didn't even offer the GRE's on campus. I didn't have a car, so my parents came down from near Erie to take me to Indiana, PA and the IUP campus to take my test. Talk about inconvenient.
What I always joke about is that I might be the only journalism graduate who tested significantly higher in math than I did on the verbal section of both the SAT's and GRE's. However, I always loved the great story tellers and is why I went into journalism. Personally, I just enjoyed telling stories using numbers. In my time working in tourism, it has been fun to use the numbers to determine what subjects your audience wants you to write on, creating the content and then pushing it out through all of your channels. Once again you return to the numbers to maximize your reach and audience.
If I remember correctly I got in everywhere I applied for a master’s degree in Sport Management: Middle Tennessee State, Southern Miss, Georgia Southern and Old Dominion. I even got recruited to apply by departments at other schools like Tiffin (OH), University of Maryland-Baltimore County and a handful of others. All I knew was I wanted to go somewhere that was warmer than Central Pennsylvania where winters seemingly last for six months. If I had a little more confidence in myself going in I found out I had a good enough resume to attend places like Florida, Texas, Alabama, etc. Looking back on it I should have been more aggressive.
With an impending economic problem on the horizon I was nervous of the prospect of going into student debt. This weighed on me pretty heavily throughout the timeline leading up to leaving for school. I kept in constant contact with all of the departments where I had been accepted that I was very, I mean VERY, open to working as a graduate assistant. This meant my tuition would be paid for me and I’d get a stipend to cover things like books, housing and food.
I spent the summer after my Penn State graduation in May of 2008 living in State College. No offense to my hometown of 400, but State College has much more to do and also stop lights. I had tested the job market a bit, but ultimately a lot of companies had hiring freezes or were laying employees off. What chance did I have as a new graduate with limited experience? Hey, there's always unpaid internships where we pay you in experience. You just have to move to a new city and pay for it. Thanks, but no thanks.
Throughout that summer I worked two jobs: the first being a tour guide at Beaver Stadium at the Penn State All-Sports Museum making $8.50/hour and the second working as an intern at a company called Pro Player Video. I discovered the internship with PPV in Penn State’s Career Services job listings. It was run by a former Penn State Basketball player Tyler Smith. This was a thrill for me, because it was professional sports and Tyler was a starter on one of my all-time favorite teams in all of Penn State sports (2000-2001 PSU Basketball). Over the years I got to meet several of the players from that team.
Although the income from the PPV position was limited, it gave me a good view at the business of sports. I even got a chance to go up to Fordham University to a professional basketball exposure camp offered by EuroBasket. I slept on a couch in Harlem the night before and woke up to spend 10 hours recording basketball games in the dead of summer in a gym that wasn't air conditioned. I drank seven 20 oz bottles of water and never went to the bathroom until that evening. My clothes were soaked through and I didn't even play a second of basketball. I loved every minute of it.
My daily schedule that summer was working at the Penn State All-Sports Museum from 10 AM-4 PM. Most of the time I walked the two miles in each direction to and from work. I can’t tell you how many times I was late because I was stopped by a family for directions or to ask questions about the school. Once I got home from work at about 5 PM I would eat dinner and settle in to edit game film for potential or current professional basketball players from 6-9 or 10 PM.
This was pretty much my life as graduate school crept closer and closer. There was still no word on whether I would get a graduate assistant position, but as my Mom says “The squeaky wheel gets the oil”. I would let the programs know what I was working on and that I was still interested in coming. A few kind of dropped off the map and I was down to Southern Miss, Middle Tennessee State and Old Dominion that were all checking into what was available for me.
Finally, halfway through the summer and only a handful of weeks before I would have to move out of my State College apartment I got a call from Southern Miss. On the line was one of my future professors and ultimately a mentor in Dr. Dennis Phillips. He was offering me a graduate assistant position working with a new professor focused in athletic training. I would also be teaching a couple of classes to earn my keep. That was fine by me, because I finally had a home for the next year and could quit worrying about the future. Shoot, I probably would have mopped the floors, polished the doorknobs and walked their dogs. They probably came up on the short end of the deal.
I really have to thank some mentors and people that helped me out with some letter of recommendation to graduate schools. Chris Ritchie in Penn State's Bellisario College of Communications at Penn State was really patient with me. I was far from a natural writer and was playing catch up in a lot of ways academically. Chris is a really fun guy to learn from and everyone loves his Hawaiian shirt days. Dave Baker from Penn State Athletics served as a professor in Sports Information while I was in the newly formed John Curley Center for Sports Journalism. Dave has a wealth of experiences working in sports and it was a joy to talk with him about behind-the-scenes topics. I also have to thank my boss from the Penn State All-Sports Museum Ken Hickman. It was a lot of fun working there and creating special experiences for fans of Penn State. Something that was just every day to me turned into family or wedding photos that went on family mantles, even if what I did to make those moments might be against company policy.
Even after I had a couple more prestigious schools reach out to me about helping fill out their program class, most notably Stanford, I stuck with Southern Miss. I was headed for the sunny pine belt.
The lessons I took from this period of my life are:
1. Don't assume that there will be a job waiting for you when you graduate. Economic times ebb and flow. Yes, I was dealt a crappy hand in timing, but I went out and created my own breaks.
2. Maximize the opportunities that you have in your current location. That was something I didn't do a good enough job of at Penn State. Yes, it was enough to get me to my next step, but I should have done a better job padding my resume and making connections for down the road.
3. Be open to new locations and opportunities. I had never even been to the state of Mississippi when I applied to the school. That leap of faith paid off.
4. Be willing to put yourself out there with people of all ages and backgrounds. You never know when they'll need someone and you're fresh in their minds.
About the Author
Andy Rupert is a Penn State (B.A. John Curley Center for Sports Journalism 08') and a Southern Miss (M.S. Sport Management 09'). He has spent his whole career working in sports and tourism digital marketing and metrics.