UVU Communications Interns Shine at Sundance Film Festival

Internships provide UVU students a way to focus their studies and determine a more precise path for their education and their lives. Internships come in all shapes and sizes — as several communication students recently discovered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

Alex Christiansen is a public relations major in the UVU Department of Communications, with a minor in Russian. Along with other PR interns from UVU, he helped promote at Sundance the new HBO docuseries “McMillions” produced by noted actor Mark Wahlberg, that exposed improprieties in the McDonald’s-sponsored Monopoly game.

“With people from all over the world descending on Park City, there are a lot of companies competing for folks' attention,” Christiansen said. “As interns for HBO, it was our job to get out onto the streets and meet people, tell them about the unique experience HBO had prepared, and do every honest thing we could to get them to just walk through our door.” Before the week was over, he said, many people recognized the interns as they walked the streets of Park City. “They would recognize us and tell us how excited they were to come back for a second or third time to our location.”

Kelley King, originally from Arkansas, said she’s never felt more welcomed than she has at UVU.  Her internship experience at Sundance was not quite what she expected, describing it as “definitely unique.”

“I wore a costume as the Monopoly man that allowed me to promote the series for HBO in an interesting way that was very unexpected by the visitors,” King said. “People on the streets of Park City loved the marketing we were doing which brought a lot of hype surrounding the series.”

Kolleen Russo, a native of Southern California, will graduate in 2021 in communications with an emphasis in public relations. She’s wanted to attend UVU since a campus tour in 2016 and was determined to do whatever it took to get here.  She said her internship at Sundance was a crowning activity to her classroom learning.

“For the first time in my college career,” Russo said, “it started to feel as if everything I had sacrificed was starting to pay off and everything I was learning in the classroom was finally being applied to the real world. Being there felt as if I was actually living in a movie, and I was inching closer and closer to my dreams. People say that if you love what you're doing you never work a day in your life, and I was loving every single moment.”

She said the HBO team thanked her personally for her efforts and gave her experiences she can't wait to tell her kids someday.

This unique internship opportunity arose thanks to Lisa Barlow, the owner of Luxe Marketing, who has provided internships with the UVU communications department for the past decade. “Lisa has provided outstanding, real-world experience for our students working with global brands and high-end clientele,” said Communication Professor Farah Sanders. “As our students have graduated, several of them have gone on to work for Ms. Barlow, running multiple events at the Sundance Film Festival.”

Christensen said the experience was an incredible opportunity to utilize the skills he’s gained from his communication degree, was a great networking opportunity, and also taught him things about himself.

“For quite some time, I had a hard time nailing down a major; there were just so many things I was interested in, and loved to do!” said Christensen. “Communications offered the ability to attain a degree that I could use anywhere — the broad range of skills that are a valuable asset to employers of all industries. Working at the Sundance Film Festival helped me gain a couple of really valuable things: friends, contacts, and — maybe a little unorthodox — that I don't want to work in experiential marketing. At the end of the day, that is what internships are all about. Overall, I made great friends, learned about myself, and had an amazing time.”

For Russo, whose role involved interacting with guests and managing the line, the most important thing she learned was to give 150% to whatever she’s working on. “I learned so many amazing things, but what I gathered the most from this internship was the importance of attitude and mindset. Life is too short, and these opportunities don’t fall in any 20-year-old’s lap often, so if you show up with a positive attitude and mindset — and you don’t care about making a fool of yourself — and live in the moment, you’ll walk away knowing you gave it your all and you won’t regret a thing.”

Christiansen, who will graduate in May, says involvement is one of the keys to a successful college experience at UVU.

“Get involved. Everyone says it because it is true,” he said. “And don't be silly, you're not too busy. Eighty percent of students at UVU are working, and they still find a way to be involved. It will change your college experience dramatically. If you grab on to the opportunities available on campus, you will make new friends and professional contacts, develop a sense of purpose, and will often be provided with a chance to cover some of your educational expenses. Plus, statistically speaking, you will be more likely to graduate.”

Russo couldn’t agree more. “Don't graduate without taking advantage of all UVU has to offer. Don't graduate wishing you could've done more. Apply for that internship you don't think you will get, put yourself out there, and make the most of this experimental learning process. It is messy, complicated, and very difficult at times, but that is what makes college so worth it.”