University Communications

Next Level Experience

Next Level Experience: Unparalleled broadcast program prepares camera-ready media pros

For more than five decades St. Cloud State’s Mass Communications program has been preparing in-demand professionals with strong academic and real-world learning opportunities. One of only two nationally-accredited Mass Communications programs in the state, its graduates are generous in their praise and gratitude for the running start the program’s faculty and state-of-the-art facilities have given them.

“Absolutely, 100 percent, the hands-on experience at St. Cloud State is something that set me apart when I started my career,” said Emmy Award-winning broadcaster Natalie Davis ’13. “I was light years ahead of others.”

Davis, who came to St. Cloud State in 2012 after earning a degree in chemistry at St. Olaf and winning the Miss Minnesota competition her senior year, was scooped up by a television station in Topeka, Kansas, after getting her degree in Mass Communications with an emphasis in Television Broadcasting. She interned both at KARE 11 and KSTP in the Twin Cities, but it was her intense experience in every aspect of broadcasting at campus TV station UTVS that prepared her for a career path that has taken her to Kansas City and Wichita, where she is morning anchor at KWCH.

“I was able to go to a top 50 market by the time I was 25 as anchor.”

Coming to St. Cloud State was a good choice, said Davis, who credits UTVS TV Studio Manager and UTVS Advisor Derrick Silvestri with being “the best teacher and toughest critic.” During the time at UTVS she won awards from the Upper Midwest Emmy Chapter as an individual and as part of Husky Magazine and Husky Productions.

The national award-winning UTVS station began operations in 1978 under the leadership of Scott Bryce and provides local programming to more than 33,000 households in the St. Cloud and surrounding areas via Spectrum Channel 180.

A man working the camera during a UTVS broadcastAlong with UTVS, campus radio station KVSC 88.1, which in 1967 began broadcasting a variety of music, news and events; and the University Chronicle, which has been printing news of events, issues and trends on campus and the world for 97 years, offer students the ability to get experience and cross training in all major avenues of media. Most of the students’ work with campus media, including with award-winning Husky Magazine and Husky Productions is done through student-run organizations.

And when they graduate, they are ready to hit the ground running with first-hand experience writing and producing news, using the same technology and facilities that they will use in their professional careers.

“We blow our competitors out of the water on that,” said Dr. Dale Zacher, professor and chair of the Mass Communications Department, referring to how rare it is for a campus to give students such a wide berth in honing their skills in excellent facilities.

“I was so fortunate to get the role of news director at KVSC,” said Chris Duffy ’11, who came to St. Cloud State to get a graduate degree in Broadcast Journalism after graduating from St. John’s University in 2004 and working for five years as a TV reporter in Eau Claire and Green Bay. “The broadcast playground that existed on campus was second to none.”

“It was the first time I had a leadership role, and I got to work with amazingly talented students at KVSC,” said Duffy, vice president of public relations and principal at Goff Public Relations in St. Paul. “I got the perfect combination of classroom learning and experience. I could go to classes where I learned critical thinking and other academic skills and then walk down the hallway to KVSC.”

“I do think it’s one of the under-told stories in Minnesota — that this gem of a school exists,” Duffy said. “Amazing graduates, they’re everywhere and I’m so proud when I see a fellow SCSU grad in the media. There’s so much talent that comes out of that program.”

Duffy credits the excellence of the program to the mentorship and seasoned experience in teaching and mentoring of KVSC general manager Jo McMullen, KVSC technical director Jim Gray and UTVS’s Silvestri. “Without them and their strong leadership these programs don’t exist,” he said.

“It’s all these qualities combined that make St. Cloud State’s Mass Communications program so distinctive,” Zacher said. “Our facilities are second to none, and our academic side has earned its strong reputation for relevance and mentoring.”

A living laboratory

The students and graduates who benefit from the holistic learning experience and living laboratory offered in the program realize it.

They are equipped to excel and make a difference in various communication career fields.

“The thing the university taught me was how things work, how to deal with everything to do with the field of broadcasting,” said 2015 graduate Emilio Ramos, who has been a video journalist with Telemundo NBC Universal first in Orlando, then Dallas and back to Orlando. “The tools, resources, opportunities were all there,” he said of his time at St. Cloud State.

Because of the freedom to be creative and unleash potential that is the hallmark of the broadcast program, Ramos did breakout work at UTVS with stories about the undocumented immigrant community in Minnesota, then started a unique Spanish language broadcast.

A woman doing an interview in a KVSC studio“I created my own workshop,” he said, “It was hard because nobody there spoke Spanish. I won a bunch of awards for Spanish newscast, for breaking news and feature documentaries. It was gratifying as a student to get that trust,” he said.

Ashli Gerdes Overlund ’13 also was a self-proclaimed go-getter, but she had a different path to graduation and working for local news station WJON and Town Square Media. She co-hosts the morning show on Mix 94.9 with her husband and fellow St. Cloud State alumnus, Dave Overlund, and is midday host on 98.1 Minnesota’s New Country.

“I had never thought of myself in radio,” Overlund said. “I was so excited to be part of Mass Comm I would do anything – get their water – anything.” She didn’t end up writing news. “I became a music DJ and had my own show within a few months, then went from assistant program director at KVSC to program director at UTVS.

I anchored the news on Fridays with Alicia Lewis ’12, who’s now morning anchor on KARE 11 and Maghan Reistad ’14, who’s in Madison now.” At the time she also was serving as Student Government senator and chair.
Overlund took on an internship at Town Square media then was offered a job because of her broadcast experience on campus.

“It’s amazing because it’s what you make of it. You can show up with a can-do attitude and immerse yourself in everything; there’s no limit to what you can learn.”

When she was offered a full-time job before graduation and still working at KVSC, Overlund’s mentor McMullen helped guide her.

“Jo was an amazing mentor of mine, even years after my time at SCSU. The radio program is so very lucky to have her,” Overlund said. 

Growing alumni presence

Lori Fisher, an executive producer at KMSP, is a 1999 graduate in Mass Communications with a TV Journalism emphasis.

“My major was supposed to be Business, but that quickly changed to Mass Communications, with a TV Journalism emphasis.” Now, she says: “I am surrounded by several Huskies. Two of my fellow executive producers, our main 9 p.m. newscast producer and morning supervisor director are proud graduates of SCSU. And a bonus! Just last winter I helped hire a producer who recently graduated from SCSU and was a reporter for UTVS.”

2005 graduate Nicole Roddy, an executive producer at KSTP, said she couldn’t even guess how many graduates work in the Twin Cities media.

“I know of four in our newsroom, but I know there are also grads who work in our radio stations,” she said.

Twin Cities newsroom veterans who hail from St. Cloud State agree their fellow graduates make the best hires, with good reason.

“It’s (their) great experience,” Roddy said. “School matters. They have an attitude of wanting to do more, of wanting to learn. People who are driven to want to learn and excited for the job, that’s what we need.”

Brooklyn Park native Bianca Rhodes ’05 chose to come to St. Cloud State in part because it was close, but “far enough to feel like I left home.” She was grateful for the welcome to campus she received through the summer Advanced Preparation Program through Multicultural Student Services that helped her be ready when classes started in the fall.

“SCSU also had a lot of really cool classes in the field that I was interested in at the time,” she said. “I am so very proud of our award-winning Mass Comm department and all of the great students coming out of it,” said Rhodes, who stays connected with the department and has returned to talk with students through “Be the Broadcaster” and other events.

Currently production manager and venue coordinator for the Saint Paul Neighborhood Network, since graduating in 2005 she has held a variety of positions on the technical or producing side of broadcasting and media.

Rhodes no longer works for broadcast news and is in community media, which she said gives the people the tools to tell the stories instead of someone who has no relationship to the issues. Rhodes said her St. Cloud State education prepared her well for the variety of work she has done.

“We learn a little bit of everything at SCSU,” she said. “It is good to have that in the media industry. It makes you an asset. They know that you can adapt and learn pretty quickly because you have already been exposed to a lot of different skills.”

Transferable skills

Tim Johnson ’11 ’13, who earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at St. Cloud State, also took his career in a direction other than broadcasting. While stationed in Anchorage, he had worked as a radio broadcaster at a civilian station, then at a local station when he returned to St. Cloud.

“Then I realized radio wasn’t cutting it for me.” He got a job at Veterans Affairs, but as soon as the GI Bill was available to him, he knew he “had to go to college.”

Knowing his radio background was going to translate best into Mass Communications, he pursued what he really wanted to do, work in public relations. Johnson said that while broadcasting wasn’t his career path, he appreciated the opportunities he had to grow while experimenting with UTVS news.

After a few jobs where he gained good experience, Johnson said, “I landed at CentraCare putting my PR skills to good use in my job as recruiting marketing specialist.”

In his work he uses social mediaplatforms, advertising, writing, developing employee brand in the stages, research, planning, communications and feedback to attract staff to the health system.

“My job is to make people want to work at CentraCare … the right people who are driven to serve,” he said.

Don MacPherson ’92 is another alumnus who has combined his St. Cloud State education with creativity and passion for helping people reach their full potential. He graduated in 1992 with a double major in Mass Communications and History and hasn’t stopped learning and evolving. A five-time entrepreneur, he refers to himself as a “polymath-in-training.” He is the CEO and host of 12 Geniuses, a company based out of the Twin Cities which produces “podcasts for curious and voracious learners”.

For his podcasts MacPherson travels the world to interview renowned leaders and experts about trends shaping the way we live and work – AI, biotechnology, aging, addiction, climate change, to name a few, sharing their knowledge about “dig-deep topics” to help business leaders, volunteers, and others. He started this company
three years ago and has built an audience around the podcasts.

One of the most important things MacPherson learned from his experience at UTVS was meeting deadlines — putting out five shows a week, collaborating with people from different backgrounds. These aspects of his education prepared him to be both a leader and a follower, he said. Working with his fellow students on projects, he learned to focus on quality and the importance of design elements. He also learned that accepting feedback, including criticism that helps him improve, is important.

“Giving and receiving it as gift and not an attack,” he said.

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