In October 2019, ‘19 Newman alumna Madison McCollum was running late for her shift at Space Mountain at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida.
She described it as “the worst possible day.” Beyond the fact that her “spacey” costume was still damp from the dryer, McCollum knew she wasn’t destined to work at Disney forever. She needed to launch her life’s next mission.
She was almost to her station at Space Mountain when her phone buzzed.
“Hey, do you have a minute to talk?”
The text was from Blake, a representative from Pioneer Telephone Cooperative in Kingfisher, Oklahoma, where she applied for a job. As soon as McCollum answered the phone, she was offered a job as a marketing associate with Pioneer.
“I knew instantly that this was where I was being called,” McCollum said.
In a few short weeks, McCollum resigned from her job at Disney, fixed up an RV camper gifted from her grandparents and moved to Oklahoma for the start of a new career.
A new beginning
From day one, McCollum felt at home at Pioneer.
“They took me around campus, my boss, Dean Carter, took me out to lunch and I just felt that the whole team was very family-like,” she said. “They give me so much freedom to grow and they give me the tools to do it.”
McCollum’s initial job duties involved sending out the company’s “tele-topics” each quarter and taking the lead on the company’s first-ever magazine, GoPioneer. The concept behind the co-op’s magazine was “helping move communities forward in a changing world.”
“We have a lot of older members of Pioneer, and we wanted to give them a place where they could find tips to help them navigate technology,” McCollum explained. GoPioneer also features community events, recipes and even local employee spotlights.
“Predominantly we’re just wanting to spread awareness of the great things that some of our businesses do in our small communities,” McCollum said.
Outside of writing for The Vantage student newspaper at Newman, McCollum said she had zero experience with producing a magazine.
“If you look at my first magazine compared to what I released last month, they’re completely different. You would think two different people did it. It’s just crazy to see the growth I experienced over a year.”
Now McCollum’s magazine is sent to 58,000 members and customers in print, as well as online at GoPioneer.com.
“It’s my child,” McCollum joked. “A lot of love, sweat, blood and tears go into it.”
McCollum’s favorite aspect of working at Pioneer Telephone Cooperative is the growth opportunity, both as an employee and as an individual.
“They just really let me run with it. If I say that I want to try something, we talk about it as a team and go from there. That’s what kind of gets me — they’re not bosses, they’re leaders.”
The power of an internship
“It took me a long time to find the communication major, but once I found this path, I felt set in stone,” she said. “The best advice I could offer students is to get involved — do everything you can but also branch outside of your major.”
Her senior year internship provided invaluable experience, McCollumn said. She worked two part-time jobs — one at Aldi and the other as an on-campus resident assistant — in addition to her internship with the Wichita Public Schools USD 259 district.
“Some majors don’t require you to do an internship, but I think it’s so important because it’s just a different world out there,” McCollum said. “They help you learn and grow and give you an inside look. Explore options, find internships and start early.”
In the wise words of McCollum, “adulting is gross, but it’s also rewarding.”
“Definitely try and find an internship that fits what you want to do because I never would have imagined I’d be here,” she added.
Nailing the interview
It was originally the managing editor position that drew McCollum to Pioneer Telephone Cooperative. Even though she didn’t have all the experience necessary for the position, McCollum didn’t let that stop her from applying.
“I remember Dr. (Audrey) Hane pushed in class that you don’t always have to have the experience, you just have to try and get an interview,” McCollum said.
Team members of Pioneer asked McCollum via Skype why she wanted the job. She responded, “Let me be real honest with you. I’m just trying to provide my dog Spork with a good life.”
“They laughed, and of course I gave them a more serious answer after, but you know, it’s important to be fun and creative,” McCollum said. “That’s one of the things they talk about at Newman is be yourself. There’s no point in being someone else in an interview, then getting hired and not meeting the expectations for either you or the employer.”
She followed up her interview by carving out time to write thank-you letters to all of the panelists.
“Letters are the most important thing,” McCollum said. “Write your thank-you letters — that could be the difference between a job and, well, not a job.”
McCollum said she’s grateful for her communication degree because her professors “gave students the tools like no other major could.” Learning to write a stellar cover letter, preparing a stand-out resume and professional online presence through LinkedIn are just a few of the many tools communication majors are equipped with.
“If you lack communication skills, an employer may hire someone else instead,” she added. “The communication degree comes in handy everywhere.”
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