Many students join student organizations not realizing the impact they can have on their college career and beyond.
NMU alumnus Will Burns, who graduated with a degree in communication studies in 2013, said getting involved beyond the classroom really does help more than one might think.
“Classroom lectures only take you so far,” Burns said. “They teach you the basic things, the things you need to know. Student-run organizations make you apply those things you learn.”
Burns is an anchor and reporter for ABC 10 WBUP in Ishpeming, Mich. and the managing editor for cover32 Detroit, an online NFL news website that Burns said covers everything from game reviews, game previews, analysis and other news.
Burns said he attributes his current jobs to the student organizations he was involved in during his time at NMU.
“I haven’t even been writing journalism for a year yet to this date, and I’m a paid journalist,” Burns said. “All three, Public Eye News, Radio X and The North Wind, collectively, really started my career. Without that experience, I wouldn’t have the raw skillset to start my career in journalism and media production.”
Burns said he is glad he eventually got involved in some student organizations despite having negative thoughts at first.
“When I first came to Northern, I had zero interest in the school community around me because every time I switched majors, I knew what I was doing, so to speak,” Burns said. “When I lived in the dorms, I really had no interest with being involved.”
Burns said the first group he eventually joined was the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) but it just was not for him.
“It was terrible, for me,” Burns said. “Nothing personal against the group, but it was an awakening to know that I was not meant for public relations. So in a strange sense, not having a good experience in a student group helped me clear up what I wanted out of my degree.”
Burns said student organizations can make someone realize a particular career field may not exactly be what one would want to do; but Burns said it can help guide someone in the right direction.
“I think that student-run organizations are what really push someone toward a career field,” Burns said. “I have a hard time believing that taking ‘Whatever 101’ is going to make you fall in love with that field. Maybe it does for some, but it didn’t for me.”
But Burns said he always knew he could do something in the realm of broadcasting.
“I was always told I had a face for radio,” Burns said. “I would always play ‘Madden’ and, at first, I got really irritated with the commentators because I heard the same thing all the time so I ended up turning off the commentating and commenting on the games myself, by myself,” Burns said, laughing.
“It was one of those things that people always said I was always good at,” Burns said. “So I figured if I’m gonna be good at it, I might as well do it for a living.”
He said he didn’t get involved until his senior year and that it’s never too late to get involved in a student organization. In addition, the support he received from his peers was rewarding, he said.
“These student organizations played a much bigger part than I had anticipated that they would,” Burns said. “Everyone around me in my student organizations kind of pushed me and said, ‘You’re gonna make it,’ ‘This is what you should be doing,’ ‘You’re very talented at this.’”
Burns said he feels NMU being a smaller school played a large part in that. He compared Public Eye News to Central Michigan University’s WCMU which he said is one of the best schools to attend for broadcasting. He said while CMU is a great school, due to its larger size, it can be more challenging to get involved.
“I believe a smaller school has more hands-on opportunity,” Burns said. “I feel like with Northern, I got my hands so dirty and involved with Public Eye News, Radio X and the North Wind. I essentially didn’t get involved with anything until my senior year and that wouldn’t have happened at a bigger university.”
But he didn’t get the job at ABC right after graduation. He said it’s not just student organizations that help a person land a job, it’s the effort the job seeker puts forth him- or herself.
“I went home and probably applied to 30 different news stations,” Burns said. “The jobs are out there; you just need to be relentless to get those jobs.”
Communications and performance studies (CAPS) professor Dwight Brady said students should take advantage of the resources Northern offers.
“I can’t speak for career services but I know from doing some work with them in the past that they’re a bit underutilized,” Brady said. “Students should learn these skills of how to write a letter of application or prospecting letter. [They shouldn’t] ask their friend for advice about how to write a resume. Go to the source, go to the people that can actually help you do it right.”
Burns said getting involved may aid in obtaining a job after graduation.
“It takes a skill set, it takes God-given talent and a whole lot of luck,” Burns said. “But with those three things combined, you’ll make for a good career.”