Editor’s note: Reprinted from the November issue of GCU Magazine. To read the digital version of the magazine, click here.
By Theresa Smith
Catching the subway in Grand Central Station, working an event amid dozens of bright Times Square billboards, it was a New York City life – at least for the summer. Proving the NYC theory posited by Frank Sinatra, “If I can make it there, I can make it anywhere,” Kelsie Sebreros made it in the Big Apple.
Her journey from shy freshman at Grand Canyon University to accomplished intern at a major New York corporation, Clear Channel Outdoor, was forged through her relentless effort along with the guidance of her GCU professors, College of Humanities and Social Sciences Dean Dr. Sherman Elliott and several CCO employees.
It started with a willingness to deviate from her family’s familiar path.
“My mom and my dad, grandma, uncles and aunts didn’t go to college, so for me coming to GCU was very scary,” Sebreros said softly. “It was new territory for my whole family.”
Encouragement from GCU admissions on a visit to her high school in Huntington Beach, Calif., convinced Sebreros to abandon her plan to attend a local junior college. Between loans and part-time jobs, she figured she could cobble together the tuition, books, room and board each semester.
“I grew up seeing my parents working very hard, so I developed a work ethic,” she said of her mom, Stacy, a cashier, and her dad, Gary, a subpoena server.
As Sebreros moved through her coursework, she developed the increasingly assertive persona she would need for a career in advertising and public relations. But it took time – Dr. Kim Rockley taught Sebreros as a freshman and as a junior and remembers a quiet newcomer in Communications 101.
“She sat in the back, and she didn’t speak up,” Rockley said. “I put it on my radar to help her come out of her shell. The class ended, but I would bump into her on campus, offer to help her out and keep her in my prayers – I pray for all of my students.
“She was on my roster for spring 2018, and she was totally different. She came in with a big smile, and she told me how much the class meant to her during her freshman year. She asked me to keep encouraging her.”
The encouragement was infectious among faculty members, such as Assistant Professor Joshua Danaher and Dr. Matt Nolen. That bolstered Sebreros’ confidence when she applied for the internship with CCO, which produces advertisements at airports, buses, commuter rails, digital billboards and transit shelters.
CCO Senior Vice President of Corporate Communications and Marketing Jason King said Sebreros was selected from a pool of 300 applicants on the strength of her writing portfolio of pitch letters, press releases and creative briefs and a real-world assignment in which she helped strategize a mea culpa campaign for a global corporation. She couldn’t believe it when she got the fateful phone call from CCO a few weeks later.
“My heart dropped and my mouth was open when they told me I was their choice,” Sebreros said. “I was in my dorm room in Encanto, crying and thanking God.”
Before she began working on electronic billboards, CCO shone her smiling face on several of them in the Valley, including one near campus, off Interstate 17 and Indian School Road.
Elliott congratulated her on embracing a pre-graduation challenge.
“In that 21st-century jobs are very competitive to obtain, it is more essential than ever that our learners leave the University with very specific, solid skills,” he said. “Those skills are initially developed at the University, but they don’t reach their true fruition until the learner acquires an internship.”
While the paid internship helped cover some of her meals and a dorm room on the New York University campus, Sebreros scrambled to fill the gaps and pay for airfare.
“It worried me, but I knew in my heart God was going to help me take care of it,” she said. “I knew if I went to New York, it would change the trajectory of how I think the rest of my life goes. I realize that is a dramatic thing to say.”
Yet it was not hype. Although Sebreros pictured herself “watching and listening,” she was tasked with numerous responsibilities, including writing press releases for emergency alert electric billboards unveiled in Albuquerque, N.M., and writing content for various social media platforms, including Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus.
Along with King, she interacted with other CCO leaders, including Wendy Weatherford, the Vice President of Corporate Communications, and Dan Levi, the Chief Marketing Officer.
“We wanted to create a hands-on experience, graduating the interns up with tasks as they proved themselves capable, and Kelsie certainly was proving out her abilities,” King said. “This is the strongest internship program I’ve really ever seen. Not only does it hold the interns’ feet to the fire, it holds the managers’ feet to the fire. They have to deliver on the promise to coach these interns to learn the media business, but also to learn the out-of-home and the Clear Channel business, in particular.”
Moreover, CCO set her up in a storytelling workshop and integrated her into weekly meetings with The Advertising Club of New York, enabling networking with people from Google, Twitter, Facebook, Johannes Leonardo and Man With A Cam. Additionally, leaders from those companies served as judges in an advertising campaign contest that Sebreros’ team won.
“Although it was intimidating, it felt completely natural,” Sebreros said. “The things I learned in class 100 percent mirrored the things I was doing in New York. I am so grateful to GCU and so excited that my comfort zone on campus created such a good foundation that I was OK when I went away, and I know I can go away again and make my own story.”
That confidence also applied to adapting to her summer environment.
“I liked the subway even though it was gross and dirty,” she said. “I would stare at everyone on the subway and wonder where they were going. I was cautious and aware of my surroundings, and I enjoyed the fast pace.”
On phone calls with her grandmother, Sebreros’ accelerated speech pattern did not go unnoticed, and she found herself running to the subway and scurrying to Starbucks lines.
“It tapped into a part of me that is already like that (faster),” she said.
But in the absence of her friend group, her internal clock was occasionally programmed quite differently – on slow.
“I noticed a lot of things,” she said. “I had time for self-reflection and to see God in so many different ways and in so many different people.”
Thanks to finding a dorm room at NYU, her commute – a mixture of walking and riding the subway – took only 12 minutes.
Among interns at CCO and in the advertising club, she became a quasi-GCU ambassador, providing a synopsis to those who had never heard of the Christian university in Phoenix.
“It was humbling,” she said. “Even though they didn’t know what my school was about, I was able to explain what GCU represents to me.”
In King’s mind, the message was delivered.
“How many students get the opportunity to come to the media capital of the world, to New York City, and really immerse themselves in the business?” he asked rhetorically. “She’s already opened doors before she even started her senior year of college.”
The first door to open was at 48 West Agency in Phoenix, which hired Sebreros as a public relations and marketing intern in September. She will balance the internship with her course load en route to graduation in April.
As she applies herself in class, providing real world examples from her NYC experience, her classmates are likely to reap the benefits.
“It is very inspirational for all learners,” Elliott said. “Many of them have a dream that they want to pursue, and in their field of study, this would be it. So as somebody who actually went off to Manhattan to work for the largest billboard company in the country, it is nothing less than inspirational for the faculty and for all learners in our college.”
Contact Theresa Smith at (602) 639-7457 or email@example.com.