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Photo by Leon Dupree.

“Voting is lit.” That was the slogan Chazni Darden of Nashville, gave her older sister Kelby to use for The Equality Alliance, a Nashville-based nonprofit focused on voting rights advocacy and increasing civic engagement in communities of color. The organization incorporated the phrase into its 2019 voter registration campaign.

“At the time, lit was trending. The organization was trying to get young people to go vote. I suggested she say ‘Voting is lit,’ and she ran with it. It was on T-shirts, posters, everywhere.”

This campaign was Darden’s first venture into advertising techniques. Just two years earlier, she began her college experience at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, undecided about her future career path.

Staring at a logo in her freshman graphic design course—it clicked. Like the slogan, she wanted to be able to creatively drive business toward organizations. She pursued an advertising major through the College of Communication and Information.

Darden began to stand out from her classmates during her junior professional seminar, a course that offers advertising students the opportunity to refine their resume and discover their fit in the industry.

“I noticed that Chazni had high career aspirations,” said Eric Haley, DeForrest Jackson Professor in the School of Advertising and Public Relations, who taught Darden’s course. “She wasn’t afraid to think about going into a market like New York City, which of course is the advertising capital of the world. I’m always behind a student to fulfill their dreams, so when Chazni mentioned wanting to break into a larger market, I just knew an experience like MAIP was going to be pretty important in making her competitive in her job search.”

MAIP, the Multicultural Advertising Intern Program offered by the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4As), annually connects more than 100 diverse, aspiring entry-level advertising professionals with prestigious advertising agencies across the nation.

Interested in the opportunity, Darden immediately investigated the application, only to see she had just missed the deadline. The program quickly dissipated from her memory.

Group photo of advertising club students on a rooftop during the 2020 New York City trip.
Group photo of advertising club students on a rooftop during the 2020 New York City trip.
Darden poses on a bridge with the New York City skyline behind her
Darden poses on a bridge with the New York City skyline behind her

A few weeks later, Darden traveled to New York City to tour the city’s advertising agencies as a part of UT Advertising Club’s annual trip. The trip offers club members the opportunity to visit top agencies, network with field experts, and engage with alumni in the area. For students interested in major markets, like Darden, it can be an invaluable experience. Agencies put together presentations, and often panel discussions, for the UT group.

“Every agency we went to, every person of color was telling me, personally, ‘do MAIP,’” Darden said. “I was like, I can’t miss it this time.” She pulled up the program’s Instagram page and turned on the alerts. She wouldn’t miss the opportunity a second time.

Excited by the potential of working in the field and feeling prepared from her coursework, Darden began searching for internship opportunities just as the COVID-19 pandemic changed the status of in-person internships.

At the same time, the UT New York City Alumni Chapter had quickly organized a pilot virtual internship program that paired rising seniors and recent graduates with nonprofit organizations around the country. “We’re always trying to think about how we can level the playing field for students who are first-generation college students, from minority backgrounds, people of color, or come from lower-income communities,” said chapter president Jaime Lonie (’10). “How can we provide them opportunities as an alumni chapter?”

Given that all the students would be working with nonprofits dedicated to diversity, equity, and inclusion, each student was asked how diversity inclusion played a role in nonprofit work. Darden stood out during her interview for her view on the role advertisers play in organizations promoting social justice and equity. She was selected as one of five students to pilot the internship program and began working as social media intern with Teach for America Houston.

The opportunity allowed Darden to flex her social skills to improve the organization’s engagement and followers. Conversely, it enhanced her knowledge of social scheduling platforms that she had not had the opportunity to experience through courses. Most importantly, it prepared her for her MAIP application.

In a series of strenuous interviews, Darden began the process with the general selection, along with thousands of other applicants. Darden was selected to be a fellow for Movers+Shakers, a Santa Monica, California, based award-winning advertising agency.

“Because of the pandemic, the internship will be virtual this summer,” Darden said. “I’m sad I can’t go, but I’m still happy for the experience.” She began training with 4As to prepare her for work with Movers+Shakers in May following her graduation.

“My time here at UT truly pushed me out of my comfort zone, and not only prepared me for the work force but for life in general. I’m so proud to call myself a UT alum!”

This spring, the university will award approximately 4,825 degrees—3,548 undergraduate degrees, 1,065 graduate degrees and certificates, 121 law degrees, and 91 veterinary medicine degrees. Additionally, 17 Air Force ROTC cadets will be commissioned along with 22 Army ROTC cadets. Five socially distanced commencement ceremonies will take place in Neyland Stadium. See the commencement website for details.

CONTACT:

Lindsey Owen (865-974-6375, lowen8@utk.edu)

Amanda Pruitt (865-974-6727, akpruitt@utk.edu)