Story by Jeff Dodge. Originally published on SOURCE.
When Colorado State University senior journalism major Shawn Wahlmeier walked into base camp at Denver Startup Week last Wednesday morning, he had no idea what the day would hold.
But when ColoradoBiz Digital Editor Gigi Sukin learned that Wahlmeier was a 13-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force, she suggested that he cover a panel titled “The Role of Aerospace Startups in the Innovation Ecosystem.”
Wahlmeier was among the nearly 30 students from the CSU Department of Journalism and Media Communication who got a crash course in working in a real business convention environment at Denver Startup Week, Sept. 24-28. In the process, several of them are collecting a published clip for their portfolios, thanks to ColoradoBiz, which agreed to run the best of the students’ work. Sukin served as a mentor for the CSU students covering Denver Startup Week.Fifteen minutes later, Wahlmeier had crossed Speer Boulevard to Metropolitan State University, arriving just in time for the session’s 10 a.m. start. And a couple of hours after that, he was back at base camp, cranking out a story for ColoradoBiz magazine on his laptop, under the guidance of Sukin and journalism instructor Rob Reuteman.
Armed with tripods, video cameras and microphones, four students from Associate Professor Joe Champ’s Electronic Field Production and Reporting class went roaming with their instructor around the tents and booths at base camp, interviewing vendors, attendees and panelists on camera about their experiences at the weeklong entrepreneurship extravaganza.
“I’ve learned that people want to talk and share their stories, so getting people comfortable and talking has been a great experience,” said senior Haley Dean. “Getting out in the field is the best way to learn.”
“I think this is a very beneficial excursion for students like us, because it lets us do some business networking and gain interviewing skills,” added Annemie Iles, a third-year international student who had just collected a business card from a prospective employer. “It’s good to start networking early and show initiative.”
JMC department head Greg Luft had signed letters excusing the participating students from classes the day they traveled to Denver. For students who needed a ride, journalism faculty took turns driving a university van to Denver and back each day of convention, which is the world’s largest free entrepreneurial event. The seventh annual Denver Startup Week attracted more than 16,000 registered attendees to more than 400 events at 85 venues around the city, including 10 sessions at CSU’s Denver Center Atrium. Six of the week’s presentations included CSU experts.
Outside the ‘comfort zone’
While Dean and Iles collected sound and shots from different angles at a panel called “The Role of Rural in Cultivating a Healthy Statewide Entrepreneurial Ecosystem,” their classmates Marlo Lundak and James Slark were asking complete strangers to define an entrepreneur.
“We’re getting comfortable walking up to people and asking them if they’re willing to be interviewed,” Lundak said. “It’s been a really good experience to talk to real business owners. In student media, I talk to a lot of students, and that’s my comfort zone. This was a real professional setting.”
She added that having Champ accompany them was invaluable.
“Having Joe here too was great, because he gave us a lot of tips on what’s visually appealing for video,” Lundak said. “It was also good to get to Denver and out of Fort Collins. We had a job to do, and we had to get it done, learning as we were going.”
“It was cool to see how these events are covered from the video side,” he said. “You have to find the story and the bits that people want to watch. It’s a great experience to get under our belts. I’m so glad I came.”
Champ said the students got a taste of the kinds of challenges they’d face in a broadcast reporting job, such as bringing the right equipment. This time they wished they’d had additional microphones. But the group got more than enough footage to create the two-minute overview video they envision.
Dean said the trip to Denver Startup Week helped ready her for a career in journalism.
“When the struggles we faced today come up in our future jobs, we’ll be prepared,” she said.
For Air Force veteran Wahlmeier, the aerospace panel he covered on short notice that morning was a good fit because he had worked with aerospace contractors before. But it was still a new test for him.
“That was my first real-world experience,” he said. “I couldn’t have been more excited — it was a great opportunity.”
Luft said the JMC got involved in Denver Startup Week because CSU was a title sponsor of the event and Denver Director of Public Relations and Outreach Tiana Nelson (a JMC alumna) encouraged the department to participate. He credited faculty member Steve Weiss with leading the planning efforts and encouraging faculty to promote student participation in the event. Weiss, along with Champ, Kim Spencer, Rob Reuteman, Kris Kodrich, Donnyale Ambrosine, Michelle Ancell and Luft all spent at least one day in Denver working with students. Journalism student Caroline Araiza was among the first to have an article posted on the ColoradoBiz website.