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Youth Force
Internships: Learning the ropes

By Linda White
Special to The Sun

For students and graduates looking for work experience that will give them the skills needed to jumpstart their career or simply give them the direction they're looking for, an internship can provide all that and more.
Warner Bros. V-P

"Working as an intern redirected my focus," says Holly Nelson-Stewart. She was studying journalism at Carleton University in Ottawa when she landed an internship with Warner Bros. Canada. Her responsibilities included running ads in her campus newspaper and ensuring movie screenings were full.

Paid internship

Nelson-Stewart credits the experience with her decision to round out her education with business courses and opening the door to public relations. Upon graduation, she spent a year working in broadcast media before landing a job at Warner Bros. as Manager of Publicity and Promotions, Theatrical Division.

"It was a paid internship, but it wasn't about the money. It was really about the experience. It was invaluable," says Nelson-Stewart. "I worked on the Teen International Film Festival and was able to gain so much experience ... I found work right out of university, which is almost an anomaly."

Her mentor, Dianne Schwalm, believes strongly in showing young people the ropes. "I hope to instill in kids some direction," says Schwalm. "If they're a little lost, a little insecure or lack confidence, this type of experience will help them. Maybe they'll get some idea about what tickles their fancy. If they have direction or passion, they'll get the tools they need to kick butt or at least take risks and not be afraid to fail."

There were few women in the industry when Schwalm landed a job as secretary at Paramount Pictures in 1970. "I learned and watched and got to know the business. At 18, 19, you're just a sponge," she says. "I stepped up to take on more responsibility ... I thought the best way for me to break through was with the quality of work I could provide."

Schwalm joined 20th Century Fox and soon became Canadian Director of Advertising and Publicity. In 1980, she joined Warner Bros. as Director of Marketing and 10 years later was promoted to her current position as Vice President of Theatrical Advertising and Publicity.

She reached the top of the ladder one rung at a time, breaking new territory and learning important lessons along the way. She was once put on probation for six months and had to file a weekly report just to prove herself in a male-dominated industry.

Early in her career, Schwalm recognized the value of nurturing emerging talent. "The more you challenge them, the better they'll respond," she says. "We have had to say goodbye to a few and some thought the grass was greener on the other side ... but for most, the best experience is learning every day on the job."
  • An internship is a program that allows a student or graduate to work full-time as a junior employee in such workplaces as business/ government offices, banks/financial institutions, international agencies and non-profit or science research organizations.
  • An intern learns by performing hands-on entry-level work and earns additional responsibilities after gaining experience. Some internships are paid, but others are performed for free. -- Information from Human Resources Development Canada

  • Schwalm partnered with Women in Film and Television (WIFT) to create a mentorship program for emerging female filmmakers and was a founding member of Marshall McLuhan Catholic High School's technology and education program. She recently received the Phyllis Switzer Mentorship Award from WIFT Toronto and the 2005 YWCA Women of Distinction Award for Mentorship.

    For McLuhan grad Heidi Vogrin, landing an internship at Warner Bros. is an opportunity to find the direction she's looking for looking for. "I'm taking a year off school because I'm not sure what I want to do," she says. "I'm learning that I really like research and promotions."

    Grade 12 McLuhan student Chloe Rupert has been working as a co-op student at Warner Bros. since October. "I'm making phone calls to retailers to see if they'd like to help promote movies in their stores. I want to see if this is a field I'd want to get into after high school," she says.

    Those are all worthwhile goals that reinforce Schwalm's commitment to internships. "You can't lose. There are little hiccups ... but at the end of the rainbow, there's always a pot of gold," she says. "We have had a couple of interns who've gone on to good positions and been able to help others. I take great pride that they give back to their community."

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