When Shannon Nelson, BA ’16, started her Portland Senior Experience (PDXSX) internship at Portland Center Stage (PCS) last spring, she felt she had a lot to learn. As a senior majoring in public relations in the UO School of Journalism and Communication (SOJC), she had a solid background in the communication skills she’d need as a PR intern. But she knew next to nothing about the theater world.

“Everyone else who worked at PCS was a major theater buff, and many participated in theater productions outside their day jobs,” she said. “I was worried I wouldn’t be able to market a product I was unfamiliar with.”

Fortunately, the PDXSX program — which has placed more than 200 SOJC seniors in internships with Portland businesses since 2006 — is all about learning. Not only did Nelson find her stride in her new position, but she also gained invaluable experience that has helped her transition from the classroom to the real world.

We sat down with Nelson to find out more about her internship and how it’s prepared her for life after graduation.

Shannon NelsonWhat did you do and learn during your internship at Portland Center Stage?

I was responsible for updating all of our social media channels and interacting with customers online. I took photos of anything that might be interesting on social media: dress fittings, building the set, etc. I also assisted the marketing department in archiving all press coverage, helping to plan and set up events for large groups, and researching and creating resource files for the upcoming season’s productions. I also wrote two blog posts for the website and worked with local business to secure contracts for a discount partnership program for season ticket holders.

I learned so much from my time at PCS, as it was my first “real job.” I got used to the way working professionals communicate with each other — like emailing the person next you is completely normal but seems really weird at first. I got to observe as our PR director interacted with press, and I saw how she handled good and not so good reviews. I got to experience event planning and learned what you need to keep in mind based on your clientele.

Did you have to overcome any challenges?

I had attended some plays in high school, but in no way was I a theater buff. Everyone else who worked at PCS, however — aside from me — was a major theater buff, and many participate in theater productions outside their day jobs. I was a little hesitant about that before starting. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to market a product I was unfamiliar with.

But when I started, they had me read the two plays that would be on stage during my time there. This is something that almost everyone in the building does, even the lighting and sound techs. It helped me write tweets and blog posts and get acclimated to the work environment. Of course, it didn’t stop me from asking a million questions or failing to understand some of the theater references my coworkers made.

Shannon NelsonHow did the Staniak Scholarship affect your experience?

The Staniak Scholarship gave me the freedom to not have to take on a second job on top of my internship. That freedom was crucial because I was working 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday and didn’t have time to find an adequate second job.

When I was taking classes in Eugene, I worked part-time at restaurant, but I had to quit when I accepted the job in Portland. I used the money I received from the Staniaks as a replacement for the income I received from working, because my internship at PCS was unpaid, and living in Portland gets expensive quickly.

Betty and Eric Staniak are both such wonderful people. I got to meet them in person during a luncheon with the other scholarship recipients and our supervisors. The scholarships they provided were invaluable for those of us with unpaid internships.

What other experiences did you have at the SOJC that helped prepare you for your career?

I was a public relations major with a business administration minor. I worked for Emerald Media Group’s public relations and event planning team, Pine PR, from the end of my sophomore year until September of my senior year. I learned a lot there. It was the first place I could apply what I learned in the classroom to real life. I took part in social media campaigns, events and tabling on campus.

When looking for a post-grad job, my time at the Emerald demonstrated my understanding of PR as a whole because I did so many different things during my time there. We did all sorts of things, from social media for clients like Ducks Housing to planning events like the Undie Run, which was my main project my junior year.

My work in the Undie Run really made me stand out from others during the job hunting process. It was an event on campus benefitting the local youth homeless shelter Hosea Youth Services. Participants wore clothes they wanted to donate and stripped down to their underwear before running a one-mile loop through campus. At the finish line, there was a DJ and vendors giving away free stuff, such as VooDoo Doughnuts, free temporary tattoos from local tattoo and piecing shop High Priestess, and free photos by the Emerald Photobooth.

What have you been doing since graduation?

After my time at PCS, I accepted a full-time position at The Hoffman Agency in Vancouver, Washington, as a public relations intern. I’m doing a lot of media relations and content creation for blogs. I support clients like Nautilus Inc. (which owns Bowflex), Schwinn and Universal. I write posts for their company blogs as well as press releases and pitches for the media, and I do research to support our strategies. I’ve really put what I learned in the SOJC to the test and used a lot of the things I learned in class, especially in Strategic Writing & Media Relations, which I took with Kathryn Thier.

Do you have any advice for current SOJC students?

Really make sure you grasp the basics of what you’re learning, as small and insignificant as they may seem. I have made countless media lists and environmental scanning reports to support our clients in the few short weeks I have been at Hoffman already!