Q&A with Professor Hammill: The importance of internships in media studies

Professor Geoffrey Hammill’s main focus is Media Literacy, which is the study of how the audience receives and uses media messages.

Professor Geoffrey Hammill has been a professional educator since 1973, focusing on the production and criticism of radio, television and film. Originally from Ohio, Hammill has resided in Michigan since 1987.

Hammill’s main focus is Media Literacy, which is the study of how the audience receives and uses media messages. Hammill has been a member of the Eastern Michigan University faculty since 1987, and a full-time professor since 1997.

He was also the internship coordinator for six years up until this school year, as well as working in just about every professional medium there is. Hammill offers insight to Electronic Media and Film Studies students about internships, their significance and helpful tips on how to snag one.

Since you’ve been the Internship Coordinator for the EMFS major for so long, what do you think is the main reason an internship is required for an EMFS Major?

While we firmly believe that our course work prepares students well, it does not even come close to preparing students well for what they’re going to experience in the field. We believe that the classroom education is augmented by getting into a professional setting and seeing what actually happens. We teach process. Once you know the process, then you can adapt to whatever situation you find yourself in and that’s where the internship becomes very important.

So would you say that education taught at a university, such as Eastern, differs from the education taught at a trade school, such as Specs Howard?

A university is an educational institute; it’s not just about teaching a trade or a skill, it’s about learning. We can give the production student all the knowledge about production that they need to have to work, what we don’t have is state of the art equipment, which is what Specs has. It’s not that going to Specs will get you a better job because of that, it’s just a shorter term and you don’t get the overall education.

So then, I’m guessing you wouldn’t suggest students in this major pursuing a higher education beyond their bachelor’s degree?

It’s quite common that I try and talk people out of grad school unless they ultimately want to be in upper level management. You do not need a masters to do below-the-line work, it’s a waste of time and it’s a waste of money; go out and work and do the internship.

Now I know you’ve been involved in pretty much every medium there is, so what would you say are the qualities in your employees that made them successful and what made them lack success?

The biggest and most important quality of a student in this field is perseverance. They have to get rid of the idea that they’re going to walk out of here with a degree and get a job right away. With perseverance comes patience, but you also have to be knowledgeable about the industry and know the vocabulary of the field. If you can’t speak the language, you’re not going to impress anybody.

Speaking of vocabulary, I know media literacy focuses a lot on speaking the language, and with that being your main focus of study now, why do you think being media literate is so important?

You can’t be media illiterate working in the media world, even though there are a lot of people that are, you just can’t.

Are there any other courses here that you feel play big factors in a student’s success in the real world?

It all depends on what you want to do, however, CTAT 130, History of Electronic Media, is the most important class you’re going to take because it’s going to lay the whole thing out for you and how everything came to be what it is now, it gives you an overview of the whole industry.

Now, there’s been some talk going around that students in the future may possibly get internship credit for writing some pieces in the Eastern Echo, how do you feel about that?

In the long haul, it’s not getting them nearly the experience as someone who’s out working in the field with real professionals. If you’re one of the editors for the Echo, maybe, but if you’re just writing some articles, in my mind, I would write against that. I think you’re not seeing the professional world; it’s not like working in the former Ann Arbor News room where you’re actually seeing people bustling. I won’t go to the wall to oppose it, but I won’t go advocate for it.

Would you say there’s a turnout rate, if any, of students getting hired at the company they interned for?

I’d say less than 5 percent. The internship providers don’t often hire their interns unless they’re just “knock your socks off great.” But mostly it’s because the internship is usually an unpaid position, it’s meant to just break people in. If you’re not that impressive or “knock your socks off great,” then “thanks! We enjoyed our six months!” Don’t expect this to turn into a job.

Now, since this field is so competitive, it’s not just educational courses that can prepare students well, so what else do you suggest students do to prepare themselves for this field?

Do your homework on the company to which you are applying to or are interested in. Whenever you send out a resume, blind shot gunning is not a good idea. Find out all the information you can. If you don’t come in prepared, chances are the person coming in behind you probably did and you’re going to look poor.

Is there any other advice you’d give students pursuing a career in this field?

You have to impress people. There are too many people that want to be in this field.

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