As 2018 kicks off, I’ve made the realization that so much has changed since initially coming to MECA in 2014. The past four years at MECA have flown by, and yet it feels like yesterday that the journey here started. Four years ago, I, like many, came to this school with hopes that it would be a risk worth taking. Coming out of middle school, my dream career was to be an architect and design skyscrapers, not create briefs - I didn’t even know what a brief was, or any of the terminology so commonly used in the industry. MECA didn’t waste time introducing me to an industry that I’ve grown to love and appreciate. MECA opens doors to places hiding in plain sight and it does this through the Work-Based Learning program, or WBL.
WBL starts as soon as freshman year, laying down the framework for what the coming years have in store. MECA emphasizes the importance of learning and strengthening skills in the classroom that will be beneficial in the workplace, such as time management, public speaking, and the ability to network. These professional soft skills are crucial in today’s workplace environment and, speaking from experience, they are all useful when going out as an intern. Field trips to industry offices and studios give you the opportunity to meet and keep in contact with people who work in the industry; these people can become personal friends and mentors.
You don’t realize how much you know until you’re put in the position. The skills I’ve learned were definitely useful in the world of work. I had the opportunity to intern at The Museum of Art and Design, a place where I put to use the skills that I was being taught at MECA. Thinking critically and collaborating with others was something I was doing daily. It was engaging and rewarding. That was the first time I had a paid internship, and it wasn’t the last. I left the museum with an appreciation for the arts, a thorough understanding of how museums work, and a group of people that will be lifelong friends.
Working at The American Association of Advertising Agencies tested my abilities to work independently and work with hard deadlines. I was the first MECA intern ever and it meant a lot to me that I had the privilege to be there. Working at the 4A’s was the first time I actually saw myself working in the industry; I wanted to be there. I had the opportunity to meet people with decades of experience and people who were just starting off. It was amazing to be exposed to that - to meet individuals who had so much to offer and to be recognized as someone with potential, especially at the age of sixteen. WBL puts you ahead of the curve. That curve influenced my experience at my next internship: Tribal DDB Worldwide.
Working at Tribal was unlike anything I had experienced before. I was working alongside a dozen interns. Aside from a fellow MECA peer, the rest were college students, or recent college graduates in their twenties. It was intimidating because it felt like we were seen as ‘out of place’, like we didn’t belong because we were so young. It can get to you - you can feel out of place in times like these, but I knew I belonged there. The skills that were taught are not always considered common or routine. To be so young and to be able to outperform fresh out of college interns is something extraordinary. WBL does that. That was the first time I had to pitch ideas in meetings, and design content for mockups. I was doing what I had once thought was just a far off thought of a possible career. I was an Account Manager for a summer and I am so thankful I got to do that before I go off to college. Which brings me to the now.
I am a senior at MECA. I am also a member of the Middlebury College class of 2022, which I owe in part to MECA. I was nominated for the Posse Scholarship by the guidance department, and I wholeheartedly believe that what set me apart from the other candidates was the experience that I had, and the skills that I used during the interview process. The first round of the Posse scholarship is roughly one hundred teenagers from the New York City area working together in groups performing activities. The ability to think critically and to communicate, something I learned at MECA, was what essentially allowed me to move on to the second round. Roughly half of 3500 applicants make it to the second round. The second interview is a one-on-one, and so the ability to use your public speaking skills to relate to the interviewers and to express yourself was something that I was able to do with ease. I explained my interest in Middlebury and what made me who I am, and this led to the final interview. From the remaining applicants, each school interviews twenty finalists for the ten spots available. At this point, you’re among the best of the best of the best in the city. Everyone at that interview could have had the scholarship, and I was one of the ten to receive it. I truly believe that everything that I have done led me to this point. All of the internships, all of the exposure I received showed during this final interview. After the final three hour interview, I went home and hoped for the best. I got a phone call at 10:39 that same night, and on the phone was one of the officers of admission welcoming me to the Middlebury class of 2022. The realization still hasn’t fully sunk in; you can never anticipate when the time comes and you’re moving on to your next destination. I knew it would happen, but I just never thought it would happen so soon.
For years, college felt like a far off place, somewhere far from reality, and yet here it is. I’m going to school without the heavy burden of having to figure out how to pay for it. I will forever be thankful for the family I have at MECA, the community that watched me grow for the past four years. The skills taught here helped me, and they will help you - the reader. If you’re a current MECA student, take advantage of it. If you’re an employer, or mentor, or sponsor willing to take part in what we’re doing - thank you. Young people need the chance to do great things and as someone who has benefited greatly, I can only hope others have that opportunity to work at amazing companies and institutions like I have. The last thing I’ll say is don’t just network, build relationships! Shyly asking someone for a business card is nice, but chances are people will forget who you are unless you build and maintain a professional network, make a LinkedIn profile, and add the people you meet along the way - you never know when you’ll need someone you’ve previously met to be that connection to someone you haven’t. To the MECA student reading this, do yourself a favor and make that LinkedIn profile, thoughtfully fill it out, and start adding people to your network. Feel free to add me.
PAUL FLORES-CLAVEL is the Senior class President at The Manhattan Early College school for Advertising. Paul is a recipient of the Posse Scholarship and will be attending Middlebury College in the fall. He will be pursuing a degree in International Politics and Economics.