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KNOXVILLE — Twenty-three female students in the College of Communication and Information at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, have been paired with cable telecommunications professionals in a mentoring program.

The program is sponsored by the local chapter of Women in Cable Telecommunications (WICT) and supported by local businesses, including Scripps Networks and RIVR Media.

“The program is designed to provide an opportunity for local women in management positions to work with women in college,” said Sam Swan, professor and the college’s director of internationalization and outreach, who helped recruit the participating students.

The mentors and students got together for the first time late last month. They’ll have two one-on-one sessions each semester and several special events, including workshops on resume building and interviewing skills.

Melissa Sykes, vice president for content diversity at Scripps Networks, said she thinks mentors can provide a listening ear, offer advice and help the students prepare for the work world.

“These are challenging times,” she said. “Having a mentor who can give you some real-world perspective and some feedback… some guidance and help you focus your goals, will put you one step ahead.”

WICT is a national organization, and the local chapter is based in Atlanta. Mentoring programs like the one just launched at UT Knoxville have been started at various colleges and universities around the country, Swan said.

“WICT wants to help young women learn more about the opportunities in the cable field,” he said, adding that the cable industry is flourishing. “Most people now receive their television programming from cable.”

Swan said 50 to 60 female students attended an informational meeting about the mentor program last spring. After reviewing applications, WICT officials chose 23 for the yearlong inaugural program.

The students, all juniors and seniors, represent all four schools in the college — advertising and public relations, journalism and electronic media, information sciences and communication studies. They were paired with professionals with similar interests.

“I signed up for the program because I knew that having a mentor can only help me — especially in the communications field, where there is so much competition,” said Mara Naylor, a senior in public relations from Chattanooga.

Briana Cooper, a senior in journalism and electronic media from Nashville, echoed that: “I want to learn life lessons about this field that I would not learn in the classroom. Ultimately, I hope to gain a genuine friendship with someone who has experience throughout the world of communications, which will give me great connections that could be valuable in the near future.”

Swan agreed that the program could give students more than just a glimpse of the work world; for some, it could be a foot in the door.

“That’s the whole idea,” he said. “While it’s not an internship, it could lead to one.”

C O N T A C T :

Amy Blakely (865-974-5034, amy.blakely@tennessee.edu)