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Fall 2014
lara
Feeding BuzzFeed

Lara Parker decided on the University of Indianapolis at the last minute, and she began her freshman year undecided on a major.

“I fell in love with UIndy,” Lara says, “which was funny because I never saw myself at a smaller school until I was on campus. I actually changed my mind from a big school to UIndy on the last possible day.”

There was also the question of what to major in, but her roommate soon helped her with that.

“My roommate was an upperclassman, and she was a communication/public relations major. She talked all the time about how much she loved it, so I decided to go and talk to Rebecca Deemer, the head of the department,” Lara says.

“I met with her and decided to enroll in communication classes the next year,” Lara, a native of Morgantown, Indiana, says. She chose to study communication with an emphasis in public relations. Good choice. She graduated in 2013, lives in Los Angeles, California, and is now a staff writer for BuzzFeed.com, the global media company.

But it was at UIndy, as a communication major, that Lara discovered her talent for writing. The communication department is set up so that students can earn a degree in communication with an emphasis in a variety of applied areas, such as public relations. For students choosing to concentrate on public relations, the applied area is Top Dog Communication.

“Top Dog Communication is a student-run PR agency at the center of the curriculum,” Dr. Deemer says. “Students work all semester with nonprofit business clients. They are able to do real-world work under a client, but with direction.”

PR applied: a student agency with a national rep

BuzzFeedAnd it’s hard to beat the experience: Top Dog has twice been named the top student-run public relations agency in the nation. Faculty are able to work one-on-one with students to help them discover their passions and talents.

“I can truly see talents emerge, like Lara’s writing skills,” Dr. Deemer says. “ We do so many different things, and you can see which students rise to the top in certain areas.

“UIndy keeps classes small enough that I’m able to know students, learn about their passions and talents,  and help them connect the two.”

Advice from her professor helped Lara realize she could pursue writing for a living, which eventually led to her career at BuzzFeed.

“Rebecca always told me how good of a writer she thought I was. I had started a blog my senior year, when I studied abroad in Australia. When I got back, I started applying for jobs and went to work for a PR firm. I realized that wasn’t really my passion,” Lara says. “My passion was for creating things, and making people laugh.”

Creating a buzz

“I noticed BuzzFeed had a community section, and I started submitting things I had written. One of my posts made it to the front page, which was really exciting. I realized BuzzFeed was actually a company I could work for, so I applied for a job. I got turned down and was heartbroken,” Lara says. “But the guy who turned me down told me not to give up, so I applied for a travel internship at BuzzFeed and got the job.”

Although Lara’s current job isn’t for a PR firm, she says her degree prepared her to be successful.

“Even though I don’t work in PR now, I never would have realized my talent for writing if I hadn’t been in the PR program,” she says.

Lara has already moved up the BuzzFeed ranks.

“Halfway through the internship they decided the ‘travel vertical’ would become a ‘ghost vertical’—meaning they didn’t need someone to manage it anymore. Then I started to write for BuzzTeam. I actually wrote a post about Target and it was my biggest hit. That’s the reason I got hired as a staff writer,” she says. “Now my job is to come up with different ideas, like about shopping at Target, or being from the Midwest and living in L.A.”

Still in touch

Lara credits her current success to the experiences she had at UIndy.

“When I look back on my decision to go to UIndy, I know there were so many opportunities there that I wouldn’t have had anywhere else. I was able to work one-on-one with both professors and real-life clients, which is something you don’t get at a lot of places,” Lara said. “I also still talk to all my professors, not just one or two of them, and I think that closeness is what really impressed me most about UIndy.”

Rebecca noted that UIndy’s public relations program allows for unique collaboration between students.

“The culture of Top Dog is based on students building each other up. We have a small-enough program that there are enough opportunities to go around,” Dr. Deemer said. “Students want to help each other instead of compete against each other. It really raises the bar for the work they do.”

—Claire Gallman ’17