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TA Experience Gives Student Edge

SOC Professor Dotty Lynch and TA Julie Gerdes

"Professor Lynch provides great support and guidance," says Gerdes (right).

Usually, students turn to their professors to help them land internships for real-world experience and networking opportunities. In Julie Gerdes' case, a professional connection resulted in a position working for School of Communication Executive-in-Residence Dotty Lynch as a Teaching Assistant - a move that has paid off in unexpected ways.

Prior to starting classes as a grad student Gerdes had an internship with the Kennedy Center working on large-scale events including President Obama's first visit to the Center. Ann Stock, Gerdes' supervisor and former White House social secretary under the Clintons knew Lynch from her position as a longtime political consultant for CBS News. When Stock learned that Gerdes was going to leave the Kennedy Center to attend school, she immediately thought of Lynch, and connected the two women. 

"I spoke to Ann Stock and she told me that Julie was the 'best intern--by far' that she ever had," said Lynch. 

In taking the graduate teaching and research assistant position in SOC’s Public Communication’s program, "I was focused on the mentoring and networking possibilities, not the money," Gerdes says. 

She was also particularly nervous about her research methods course, as she had little experience in that area. But her position with Lynch gave her an edge. 

"The assistantship gave me access to Professor Lynch even though I am not enrolled in her Graduate research class and made me more comfortable with the curriculum. The research assistant position has been the perfect supplement to my coursework."

"While I was initially unfamiliar with the polling process and data collection, I've learned a lot in the past few months about research," says Gerdes. "In addition to enhancing my knowledge of research methods, I've been able to do research in other areas of personal interest."

Lynch said she’s had a number of terrific teaching and research assistants but what makes Julie stand out is her versatility. "She can move easily from organizing an event to compiling polling data on spreadsheets," said Lynch. "She is also extremely good at juggling assignments and in keeping cool in a crisis."

Gerdes says she thrives on the mix of duties. "I’ve found the graduate assistant position to be very flexible, as it has allowed me to hone my new skills while using my previous work experience."

One of her favorite projects was a book signing and panel discussion featuring author Linda Tarr-Whelan. Tarr-Whelan’s book, Women Lead the Way, focused on the growing need for women in leadership positions in both the public and private sector. The book signing and panel discussion was a joint initiative with the School of Public Affairs Women & Politics Institute and the Women’s Initiative student group. 

"As a female leader in her field, Professor Lynch was the perfect the moderator for the panel discussion," says Gerdes. "Prior to the event, I assisted with the logistics, such as communicating with the panelists, coordinating with the different event sponsors and developing program materials and talking points. I was also able to meet Ms. Tarr-Whelan and read her book. The event was inspiring and informative, particularly because it involved women’s empowerment, which is an area I am very interested in."

A look ahead

This spring, Lynch will be developing a marketing plan for a new MA program in Political Communication, and adapting her Public Communication Research course to an online learning format. "[The marketing campaign] will be a major focus this winter and spring, and keeping up with new developments in political communication for my spring course will be two projects Julie will be very involved in," she said. "But the reason we work well together is that my work is often very spontaneous since I am still involved with day to day breaking political news and Julie's ability to 'roll with the punches' is a quality which I really value. I expect our partnership to grow in a number of directions."