(Editor's note: This is the 10th in a series of stories about students in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications completing summer internships.)
Since she was younger, Melanie Newton has flipped through National Geographic magazines and taken in the jaw-dropping images and stories.
Over the past couple of years, Newton began to take a deeper look at the company. That’s when she realized it was more than just a company that produced a magazine and a TV channel.
“They’re actually giving grants and funding people to change the world,” Newton said. “That was something that really attracted me. It was always on my radar. I never knew it could happen. It was always a dream of mine. It was almost surreal going there on the first day. I’m really grateful for the opportunity.
“I think this is a company that I’ve realized you can kind of connect your professional goals and things that you’re really passionate about.”
Newton, who is set to graduate this month with a film-video degree from the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications, has spent her summer as a global communications intern with National Geographic in Washington, D.C.
The global communications department specializes in multiple areas, including books, magazine, digital and more. Newton, a native of West Hartford, Connecticut, assists staff members in the department with whatever they need, including events, creating media lists, and working on media pitches and more.
Newton also is the only intern in her department, so she receives countless opportunities. She had the chance to attend the National Geographic Explorers Festival, which brings together scientists, storytellers and conservationists from around the world to share how they are helping to create a more sustainable future.
One of her favorite parts of working for National Geographic is the company’s commitment to activism. Right now, National Geographic is conducting a multiyear effort (Planet or Plastic?) to raise awareness about the global plastic trash crisis in an attempt to end single-use plastic. Newton has had the opportunity to work on that initiative.
“The whole company really commits to what they’re trying to promote around the world,” Newton said. “So, when someone says ‘We want to end single-use plastic,’ everyone in the office is using reusable straws, no one uses water bottles that are plastic.”
Over spring break of 2018, Newton traveled to Lisbon, Portugal, as part of an embedded film-video course through the Bellisario College. While in Lisbon, Newton completed a documentary about the LGBT community. That sparked in her a passion to for activism documentaries.
While she isn’t in a producer role yet, this internship is giving her a look into other aspects of production and communications while working with a top-of-the-line company.
Anita Gabrosek, an assistant teaching professor in the Bellisario College, taught Newton in three classes and was also on the trip to Portugal.
“She has many great qualities that shined in the classroom, but of particular notice was her laid back, unflappable attitude,” Gabrosek said. “In the high stakes, often chaotic world of the film and communications industry that is an invaluable trait to have.
“Melanie also has a strong, instinctive sense of how to tell a story. She understood what was provocative, funny or interesting about a story and she gave keen insight and feedback to her fellow students. She is the kind of person who you would seek out to get their opinion.”
Newton’s instinctive sense of how to tell a story dates back to her childhood and helped shape her future. She has two older siblings who are five and six years older than her. From a young age, she would go to their sporting events and film all of their games with a video camera her parents got her.
That continued through middle school and into high school. When she started applying to colleges, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to major in. That’s when her mom suggested film-video since it was something she had always been passionate about.
“I was like, ‘You know what, I think I’m going to go for it,’” Newton said. “I applied to be a film-video major at Penn State and ended up getting in. I went with it and I loved it.”
In the future, Newton hopes to produce activism documentaries. She said her goal is to create movies that might be able to change how a viewer sees something. She wants to effect change, and the public relations skills she is gaining at National Geographic are helping to make her a more versatile and well-rounded communicator.
“You can’t just make something a documentary because you find something interesting,” Newton said. “You have to make a documentary that people are going to want to watch and they’re going to want to receive and understand your message. A lot of that can be seen through PR because you’re literally trying to get an organization’s message across to the public. I’m learning a lot through that that I wouldn’t have otherwise if I was just filming.”