“What Have You Accomplished?”
Courtney Leopold sat in a room with the producers of Fox News.
She was interviewing for a production assistant position she’d been chasing.
One of the interviewers cut to the chase with that question.
Leopold broke into a smile. If there’s one thing HPU’s Nido R. Qubein School of Communication had given her, it was a well-built portfolio — one that rivals and reflects the experience that takes industry professionals years to acquire.
And that long list of experience began her freshman year. It was 2014. The setting was Dr. BobbyHayes’ office.
A Media Mentor
Leopold came to HPU from New Canaan, Connecticut.
“The journalism program was small enough to be tailored and personal, but big enough to offer the resources that would allow me to make things happen,” says Leopold.
Hayes, assistant professor of communication, remembers the day Leopold first asked him for guidance.
She came in seeking more ways to build her resume. He told her about the school’s Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) chapter.
He emphasized the opportunities to network with other aspiring journalists and told her about national conferences that the group attends each year. She was sold.
In the years that followed, Hayes helped Leopold land internships with NBC Sports covering the 2016 Rio Olympics, NBC Sports in Boston the following year, and Raycom Sports after that.
“When Dr. Hayes took us to an SPJ conference, I met recruiters from ESPN and Fox News,” says Leopold. “By keeping in touch with those people and with the support of HPU, I was able to interview with both companies at the end of my senior year.”
Fox News was amazed at Leopold’s freedom to produce her own work during her time at HPU. They were impressed enough to offer her the role of production assistant on the primetime Fox News show “Kennedy.”
She was in the final round of interviews with ESPN when Fox News made her the job offer.
“Two weeks before graduation, I’m deciding between ESPN and Fox News,” says Leopold. “That’s a pretty great place to find yourself.”
Just days after crossing the stage at Commencement, Leopold headed to Sixth Avenue in New York City to begin her role with Fox News. And she credits Hayes with her success.
“Any crazy idea I had, any dream, any odd request or new idea for our weekly news show, I was able to pull off thanks to Dr. Hayes and the school’s support system,” says Leopold. “That was huge for my growth.”
To do the interview with Fox News, Leopold had to reschedule a final exam with Hayes. She felt bad about making the special request, but Hayes just laughed.
“I’m pretty sure this is what we’ve been working toward for four years,” Hayes told her. “I think we’ll be able to work something out.”
That’s what Leopold loves about HPU’s School of Communication. Her mentors were always there showing her what she was capable of.
“The School of Communication is always investing in ‘better,’” says Leopold. “Better curriculum, better equipment, the latest technology and the best faculty. They’re putting students out in the community, in the middle of stories and coaching us through real-world experiences. It’s formed my classmates and I into standout candidates when going for
A Time Before
Hayes remembers life at HPU before the School of Communication.
One small suite in the English department — that’s where the communication track was housed. Hayes was one of three professors who taught journalism.
When HPU President Nido Qubein took the helm in 2005, he came with the intent of taking the institution to a higher level. The one thing he felt HPU needed upfront was the discipline of communication. Qubein knew that if the university built a School of Communication, students would thrive there.
He was right.
Ten years ago, the school opened its doors and became the first new academic school added under Qubein’s leadership.
Today, the School of Communication has grown into a community of 800 scholars and producers in eight different disciplines.
“I knew that once it started, it was going to grow quickly and branch out into several fields of communication,” Hayes says.
Hayes teaches courses in feature writing, copy editing, sports reporting and a course in the B.A. to M.A. fifth-year strategic communication program.
Downstairs from his office, you can find Dr. Stefan Hall, co-chair of the communication department, inside his classroom — a state-of-the-art game design lab. From there, you can also peek inside a completely revamped TV studio that serves as home to student producers, news anchors and talk show hosts.
The school is versatile, catering to an array of interests. And the best part? The school is ever-evolving.
“In this school, we are always looking ahead to the next goal and the next vision,” says Hayes. “In many ways, we’re just getting started. No one can say what the world of media and journalism is going to look like in another 10 years, but in this school, we are always looking ahead and tailoring our classes to meet the coming industry needs.”
And it’s not just the curriculum that’s evolved; it’s also the physical environment.
Like the TV studio. It received a $1 million makeover last year that included new 4K camera equipment, lighting and switchboards.
Students like senior Mitch Rissmiller are appreciative of the updates.
Joe Michaels knows Rissmiller.
As a freshman, Rissmiller worked as an anchor for HPU’s Triad News but found he didn’t pair well with hard news. He wanted to do more lifestyle and entertainment reporting.
So, as a sophomore, he approached Michaels.
Michaels knows a thing or two about talk shows. He’s a 44-year veteran of NBC who has won eight Emmy awards, and for more than two decades, directed the “TODAY” show.
Rissmiller dropped by Michaels’ office and asked about producing a campus talk show.
He made his pitch, Michaels listened, and right away, he knew.
“Whatever you want to do, bud,” Michaels told him, “I’m behind you.”
He helped Rissmiller create “Let’s Talk,” and in doing so, Michaels discovered a student who possessed the skills needed to program, lead people, put a show together and interview well on camera.
The next summer, Michaels ran the pool feed for major news networks at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, and he knew he could bring in student interns to help. He knew who to approach. Rissmiller jumped at the chance.
Michaels watched what Rissmiller did in Philadelphia and with “Let’s Talk.” And Michaels was there when Rissmiller asked for advice about how many internships he should apply to his sophomore year. Michaels told Rissmiller to go after as many as he could.
Since then, Rissmiller has interned for Madison Square Garden, assisting with marketing and digital strategy for MSG brands like The Rockettes. He’s worked as a digital marketing intern with Warner Bros. Pictures and as a production assistant on “Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen” in Los Angeles.
This past summer, leading up to the start of his senior year at HPU, he served as a production intern with NBC’s “TODAY” Show.
HPU faculty like Michaels keep Rissmiller motivated.
“The internships I’ve gotten and the people I’ve met are because of my professors,” Rissmiller says. “That’s a hallmark of HPU, and they do it insanely well. You’re around talented people willing to help, and you don’t feel like a number. They know you.
“I wouldn’t be the person I am today without them.”