The road to ESPN © Feb. 12, 2008 Norwich University Office of Communications

Outside ESPN corporate headquarters in Bristol, Conn.

photo courtesy of ESPN Outside ESPN corporate headquarters in Bristol, Conn.

Most college students face a quandary as graduation nears—where will I get a job? For many Norwich communications majors, that question already has an answer. Through an innovative partnership with ESPN, these students can be assured of jobs upon graduation as early as their sophomore year.

ESPN begins recruiting Norwich communications majors early in their college career. Amanda Benson, a 2007 graduate, noted that she was recruited as a freshman. During a visit to the ESPN campus in Bristol, Conn., her freshman year, she “met all the production operations supervisors…and we kept in touch until I graduated and I was able to apply,” she said. “The same people that I met when I was a freshman were the same people who gave me my interview.”

What is it about Norwich graduates that appeals to ESPN? According to Prof. William Estill, who teaches television production classes, “the executives at ESPN like the idea of what we instill in our students—the fact that they are citizen soldiers and that they can work within a chain of command, even if they aren’t in the Corps.” Also of note to ESPN is the fact that Norwich students do assignments that air on television, such as last year’s documentary about Vermont soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, Vermont Fallen. Some Norwich student productions have aired on Vermont Public Television, and students are at work now on biographies of the soldiers profiled in Vermont Fallen that will air on local station WCAX this spring.

“Everything we do here will be seen,” said Estill. “That’s not the case in other schools. Students there usually work on their own projects.”

I was basically recruited as a junior while I was still at Norwich by my friend who worked [at ESPN] and [went] two times for interviews and was offered the job officially during my senior year.

~ Cosmo St. John ’05

In 2005, impressed by Norwich students already working at ESPN, a management team from the “Worldwide Leader in Sports” visited campus for a firsthand look at how the communications program prepares students. They found teamwork, up-to-the-minute technological training, and a strong work ethic.

“They came because they hired so many Norwich graduates with the same skill set,” said Estill. All the students that he works with, and that are hired by ESPN, have a concentration in Digital Media Technology. Their training involves using the same equipment and software programs that ESPN and many other stations currently use. “ESPN knows to look for that,” said Estill. “Each of the student’s resumes looks the same.”

Cosmo St. John, a 2005 graduate from Colchester, noted that the class work at Norwich prepared him for his job at ESPN “by getting us used to having deadlines and keeping us accountable for our actions…we were [also] definitely able to stay current with the latest technology in non-linear editing.” Skills learned at Norwich allow them to skip two years of entry-level editing and work directly on final videos.

Every year since 2005, Norwich communications students have made a February trek to the ESPN studios, giving them the opportunity to make connections with other Norwich alumni working at ESPN and to talk with ESPN executives. For many of the students, this is their gateway to employment. “I was basically recruited as a junior while I was still at Norwich by my friend who worked [at ESPN] and [went] two times for interviews and was offered the job officially during my senior year,” said St. John.

Inside an ESPN control room.

photo courtesy of ESPN Inside an ESPN control room.

Constant hands-on experience with current digital editing technology while at Norwich gives students an edge when they go to work at ESPN. Students in digital media classes use two $120,000 editing rooms and work with the same software programs used to produce professional motion pictures. Estill notes that most schools use editing software that costs $250. The costs of this technology are offset by the money the students make from their work. “We earn $40,000 a year from various jobs that we do,” said Estill. This year, an upgrade to HD (high definition) equipment will allow students to produce material for a wider variety of media outlets.

“I spent most of my time at Norwich in the production studio and that totally paid off when I got hired at ESPN,” said Benson. “As a senior producer at Norwich, I was editing almost every day…Norwich had all the equipment necessary for me to succeed here at ESPN. [It was] accessible to me every day, allowing me to keep up on projects.”

Chase Decker, a 2007 graduate, also noted that Norwich prepares students in less technical areas as well. “Professor Estill stresses deadlines, accountability, and quality, which is exactly what ESPN strives for. The mentoring of students in the TV classes is very familiar to the way ESPN works,” he said.

Currently, seven Norwich alumni work at ESPN, and there will likely be more in the future. St. John noted that Norwich graduates appeal to ESPN “because of the standard that those of us already here have set. Norwich’s communications major also does an excellent job of preparing students to work for ESPN. From video editing and business/journalism writing to radio, Norwich covers all things that ESPN looks for in an employee.”

“ESPN doesn’t have to worry about making mistakes with hiring our students,” said Estill. “They will be there for a while and will be able to do 100 percent of the work.”