Featured Alumni

Christiana Marjakangas, Class of 2014

Photo of Christiana Marjakangas

Recent PR grad begins career with local job that benefits community

By Alex Pistole  (photo by Stephen Blake Jackson)

For some people, those first steps off the graduation stage are hesitantly taken. Of course it’s an exciting moment to wrap up your college career, but if your only prospects are to go back home or stay in Radford hunting for jobs, you may not feel ready for college to be over. This wasn’t the case for Christiana Marjakangas. When she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in communications with a concentration in public relations in May of 2014, she not only had a job lined up, she was already working in her field part time.

Thanks to her work with career services and PRSSA, and a lucky turn of events at one of the job fairs on campus, she had landed a part-time position with the Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce a few weeks before the end of the school year. Only a week or two after graduation, Marjakangas was made the communication director of the Chamber, and had her first full-time job in the PR field.

“I’ve gained a lot of responsibilities in the year and a half that I’ve been there,” she says, looking back at her first few weeks on the job. “I’ve just learned a ton, and I really like the work environment.”

Coming straight out of college and into the work force was a bit of a challenge at first, she admits. But the benefits of not having to wait in limbo for weeks or months to find a job no doubt made things easier. She barely even had time to put her book bag away before she picked up a briefcase. 

“With my job in particular there’s a lot going on at any given moment,” she says. “When I first came in I kind of struggled knowing exactly who everyone was talking about and what specific project they were referencing.”

Working for the Chamber of Commerce, an organization that manages the needs of the Pulaski community and local businesses, can get hectic at times. She says she often has to balance multiple ongoing projects in a day, and be able to switch from one to another with little warning. The Pulaski Chamber has a staff of only three employees, including Marjakangas.

Getting the job wasn’t a stroke of luck, or a last minute thought for her. She started her search in the fall semester of her senior year, applying to multiple positions at PR firms and fashion companies, in an attempt to find that dream job that crosses style and entertainment with public relations.

“You know I didn’t get any of those jobs, but it definitely helped me hone down my cover letters and my resume,” she recalls. “I would highly recommend starting early. If you think it’s excessive, then you’re probably right on target.”

One of her most memorable and helpful classes at Radford turned out to be PR Campaigns with Dr. Courtney Bosworth during her senior year.

“I’ve worked with him, with the Chamber, on opposite sides now.” She says of a joint publicity campaign project between the school and Pulaski County. “I literally worked with the exact same PR class that I was in the year before. That was pretty cool.”

 The job in Pulaski has opened up opportunities for her, and it doesn’t hurt that she’s still so close to campus. Marjakangas was invited back, and spoke at the Radford Alumni Panel in September, after Dr. Lisa Baker Webster reached out to her.

“You can get by being average in college, but you can’t move forward in life if you’re just average,” she explains of her work ethic. One of the Chamber’s projects that she has been giving that extra effort to is something she started on almost a year and a half ago.

Marjakangas is now project manager for the Young Entrepreneurs Academy, or YEA! for short.

Working with her boss, Peggy White, the executive director of the Chamber, they are now almost to a stage where they can start providing classes to local high school kids who wish to start their own business or develop a product. But the program goes much further than that; it will actually see these students through the process of writing a business plan, registering their companies with the county clerk’s office, consulting with lawyers, and eventually bringing their projects before a board of investors, ready to spend real money to get these fledgling entrepreneurs off and running.

“It’s absolutely been a long process,” says Marjakangas, but helping the 13 students who are signed up will be something she can take more than a paycheck away from at the end of the day. According to YEAusa.org, the program, which is partnered with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and available all over the country, has helped more than 3,000 students between the grades of 6 and 12 launch their own companies. It has also proved to be an unerring indicator of high school graduates and college enrollees.

 “If you become invested in something, and you care how it turns out, that’s important,” she says. “It wasn’t my dream job, but it’s turned out to be a great job.”

Colony Brown, Class of 1991

photo of Colony Brown

“I never had a big plan for my career, nor did I have everything mapped out.  Each job has been a leap of faith.  Yet, there has been a common theme of building and growing organizations and taking some risks,” says Colony Brown ’91.

Brown is currently the Vice President of Marketing and Communications at ZERO—The End of Prostate Cancer.  “Our mission is in our name, we want to end prostate cancer.  We plan to achieve our mission through advancing research, encouraging action, providing education and supporting men and their families.

As a student at Radford University, Brown majored in communication.  “At that time, no one really knew what jobs were available with a communication degree.  I just knew I wanted it to be my major.  I’m a firm believer that strong communication skills are the key to achieving success both professionally and personally,” she says.

Read the rest of this article at the following site: Office of Alumni Relations

Shay Onorio, Class of 1999

photo of Shay Onorio

“Radford University was a game changer in my life. I was at a fork in the road -- by deciding to turn down Tyler Ave, I knew my life was about to change,” said Shay Carson Onorio ’99.

Onorio was a media studies and communications major at Radford University. “I have such a passion for my alma mater and the underlying belief it has in students and their futures.”

Onorio is the co-owner and president of Red Thinking LLC, an all virtual privately held digital, branding, and creative firm.

View the rest of this arfticle at the following site: Office of Alumni Relations

Peter Mason, Class of 2012

Journalism Graduate Says Experience Beyond the Classroom is Critical, by Alex Winfrie, '13

Peter Mason just graduated from Radford University in 2012, yet he has already interviewed Logan Thomas, one of the biggest names in college football.

He didn’t get the opportunity to interview Thomas by being lazy.  He worked hard as an undergraduate to succeed in the classroom, but he also took advantage of student media.  “If you are a graduating senior and you don’t have experience outside the classroom, you’re going to have a really hard time getting anyone interested in you.”

Mason, 22, discovered his love for writing while he was in elementary school.  It was then that he received recognition for a science fiction essay he wrote.

“When I was in fourth grade, I entered a writing contest and won second place.  For a while I wanted to pursue a career as an author or movie writer; however, I eventually realized that being a news writer would be a much easier and much more suitable career path for me, so I chose journalism.”

Upon graduation from Hidden Valley High School in Roanoke, Mason decided to attend Radford University. “I chose Radford because of the fact I lived in Roanoke.  I wanted to go away from home, but at the same time, I didn’t want to be too far away. I wanted to be able to go home and see my family whenever I wanted.”

Mason majored in media studies with a concentration in print journalism.  He spoke very highly of his experience in the program.  “Radford has a great journalism program and a great school newspaper. I really enjoyed being a part of it.”

Mason also picked up a minor in art.  He took a lot of photography and graphic design classes. “It’s definitely great to be a good writer, but I figured it would give me an advantage, pursuing a career in media, if I had photography and graphic design skills as well.  That way I could do more for a newspaper than just write.”

While at Radford, Mason was heavily involved in student media. He covered sports for The Tartan throughout most of his time at Radford. “I really wanted to be a sports writer, but there weren’t any specific classes on being a sports journalist, so it was the best way to teach myself how to do good interviews with players and coaches and what to look for at games.”

He also worked with Whim, Radford University’s student-run online magazine.  At first, he worked as editor of the “Ritz” section, which reviews movies and music.  Eventually he was promoted to the “Life” section, the Whim’s main news section.  “I was in charge of writing, editing, and basically putting together the content that went into the articles in that section, and each section needed five articles per week.”

Radford journalism instructor, Leigh Kelley, praised Mason’s creativeness with the sports beat while he was in her reporting class. The semester he took her class, cold weather affected many sports schedules. “Instead of reporting on cancelled events, he came up with the idea of writing about how athletic teams manage practices when fields are covered with snow and ice,” Kelley said.

During his senior year, Mason worked for Radford Athletics.  “That was quite possibly the best experience I had while I was at R.U.  I worked with athletic communications under Patrick Reed, the athletics media director. We did filming and broadcasting of Radford’s home games, we put highlights up on the website, and I got to do on-camera interviews with coaches and players after games.”

He was grateful for the opportunity.  “Athletic communications was one of the most fun and best jobs I could have asked for. I did not want to give it up when I graduated.”

Mason’s involvement with student media helped him prepare for life after graduation. “Radford’s journalism classes will do as much as they can to give you experience, but if you really want to know what it’s like to be a reporter in the real world and have a good portfolio, you have to go out and do things for yourself, and being in student media really helped me do that.”

He worked as a paid intern his senior year with the Southwest Times in Pulaski. Since graduating from Radford, Mason has been involved with several media outlets.  He has worked as a freelance writer for NRV Magazine. He did an editing and customer service job with Montgomery Publishing for about a month and he still remains on staff as a writer.

Montgomery Publishing owns seven small newspapers.  He worked for the office in Christiansburg with the Radford News Journal and the Christiansburg News Messenger.

The highlight of Mason’s time there was his interview with Logan Thomas.  Thomas, Virginia Tech’s starting quarterback, was talked about as a possible first-round NFL draft pick in 2013. He instead chose to return for his senior year at Virginia Tech.

“Tech’s football program is one of the hardest to get near at all, and the fact that I got to stand face-to-face with their lead football star and interview him was a privilege, and an honor.”  He added, “I have so many friends who are Tech fans; two of my best friends from childhood go to Tech and are die- hard football fans. You can only imagine how jealous they were when they found out I got to meet Tech’s quarterback.”

He loves journalism because every day brings a new story. “Journalism is a career where you get to go out and get involved with all kinds of different things, and since I love writing, I knew it was the right career for me.”

Mason would like to write for the sports section of a Boston-based newspaper in the near future. “I’m a huge Boston fan – Patriots, Celtics, Red Sox, and Bruins. I want to move to Boston. It’s a goal I want to reach soon, but right now that kind of move with the money I have is definitely not possible. I’ve applied to jobs there, I have not, however, gotten any responses yet.”

He continually spoke of the importance of experience outside the classroom.  “When you’re looking for a job, they won’t care what your GPA was. They want to know how much experience you’ve had. They want to know how good you are at being able to go out and get the story.”

He has advice for other Radford journalism students: “Do as much as you can before you graduate, so your resume and portfolio will be something that an employer won’t just look at for two seconds and move on to the next.  Make yourself stand out among the rest of the people in your class.”

Bryan Moore, Class of 1988

Bryan Moore, '88

Bryan Moore, '88

Bryan Moore, a 1988 Radford University graduate who majored in media studies with a concentration in production, has lent his radio worthy voice to commercials and business phone recordings.

However, his real passion is for radio and television. While some students may struggle to decide where to go to make their dreams a reality, Moore said he knew right away that Radford University was right for him. Moore saw that the communication program was “more advanced and hands-on than most communication departments at other schools.” “RU gave me the chance to get a head start in the radio and television business by offering me opportunities at the campus radio and TV station,” he said. His work in special events has allowed him to meet some exciting people, such as former President George H.W. Bush, as well first lady Michelle Obama. “Radford helped me grow up. As a smaller school, it helped me develop relationships with friends and professors that allowed me to get the experience that has gotten me where I am today,” he said.

Justin Ward, Class of 2010

Justin Ward, '10

Justin Ward, '10

Justin Ward ('10) always knew he would be a reporter. His interest in journalism grew during his years at Christiansburg High School.

While at Radford University he majored in media studies and political science. He didn’t limit his work to just the classroom. He participated in the student-published paper, The Tartan and was an announcer on the school radio station, WVRU 88.9. During his college years, he took on many interning opportunities, giving up student breaks to get experience. While on a trip to Washington, D.C., Ward found a network that would allow him to do job shadowing for a few days instead of interning. Ward now reports for WDBJ Channel 7. His advice to students, “Never give up, that’s one thing I was often told...Set some goals for yourself and look out to accomplish them. It’s always one phone call away or one email away,” Ward says.