Experiential learning propels Vu to award-winning work

Thursday, May 18, 2023 - 1:45pm

Mai Vu poses for a photo in the College of Journalism and Mass Communications' Experience Lab

Editor’s Note — This Q&A is part of a weekly conversation series celebrating Asian and Pacific Islander Desi American Heritage Month on the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Medium page. The series will feature Huskers who are making impacts on campus and look to maintain that momentum in future careers. Learn more about APIDA Heritage Month coverage in Nebraska Today.

Meet Mai Vu, an advertising and public relations major from Hai Phong, Vietnam. Through internships and hands-on experiences on campus, Vu has explored the power of writing.

What originally drew you to your major?

I chose to major in advertising and public relations because a lot of my friends in high school decided to go into marketing and advertising majors for college as well. Although I was initially confused at the beginning of college, I gradually developed a passion for the profession and aspired to become a copywriter within the advertising industry as I gained more knowledge and work experience.

You’re the lead copywriter at Jacht and were the lead writer for the PRSSA Bateman team last year. What has it been like to get more hands-on experience outside of the traditional classroom?

I think it is crucial to have hands-on experiences in your profession outside of the traditional classroom. Being a lead writer for the UNL Bateman team and a copywriter at Jacht equipped me with fundamental skills of being a copywriter in the real world, with both technical and soft skills. These experiences helped me better understand how advertising concepts are applied in practice and can provide insights into the industry that are difficult to gain in a classroom setting. Furthermore, gaining more experience as a copywriter helped me refine my writing skills, so I can be confident to step out into the real world and start contributing my ideas.

Last year — for the first time in school history — the Bateman team won first place in the country for a communications campaign surrounding cancer in young adults. Can you speak a little more to the role marketing can play in advocacy and talk about the work that went into the Bateman campaign?

Last year, in the Bateman Case Study Competition, our team of six was tasked with raising awareness about lymphoma on behalf of the Lymphoma Research Foundation among young adults. Upon research, we found out that there was a bigger issue to focus on, which was there is not enough funding for young adults’ cancer research and treatment. Therefore, instead of focusing solely on raising awareness, we decided to bring light to this issue and ask students on the UNL campus to advocate for their own health. We educated students about the early signs and symptoms of lymphoma and stimulated them to take charge of their own health. We created a campaign called “1 is Still 1” to emphasize that one person with lymphoma is still one person with lymphoma. They have a whole future ahead of them and there is not enough cancer research and treatment for them. I was the lead writer, so I was responsible for developing the big idea and the key messages, writing our owned media, and leading the editing of the campaign book.

You also have internships with Hudl and OLLI at UNL. Why is it so important for you to get a range of real-world experience prior to graduating?

The real-world experience helped me develop a portfolio of work that showcases my copywriting skills and capabilities as it can be essential when seeking future job opportunities in the profession. Having multiple different experiences across the profession such as a brand content intern at Hudl, and social media coordinator at OLLI, also gave me opportunities to work on a variety of advertising and public relations campaigns across different industries such as healthcare, sports, education and more. This exposure helped me develop a broader understanding of the advertising industry, as well as the needs and expectations of clients. In addition, these experiences offered me a space to practice and improve my writing skills across different mediums and learn practical skills like teamwork, communications and project management. Lastly, they also provided me with opportunities to network with industry professionals. These relationships can be valuable when seeking future job opportunities or when looking for advice and mentorship in the industry.

Talk about your experience as an international student. Any particular challenges you’re proud of overcoming or things you’ve learned from the experience?

As an international student from Vietnam, I often face challenges including cultural differences and language barriers. Since I learned English at a young age and went to a gifted high school specializing in English, I am fortunate to be able to speak, read, listen and write English to a fluent level. However, until now, I am sometimes still not confident to speak English in front of native English speakers because I am afraid I am going to say the word wrong or mess up the sentence order. As a copywriter, I sometimes have imposter syndrome because I am writing in my second language and being recognized for several works that I have done. Through determination, adaptability and support from others, I’ve learned to be more confident when speaking and overcome language barriers. I, fortunately, have formed a lot of valuable relationships both professionally and non-professionally with people from different backgrounds and I am grateful for it.

Is there anything you hope to accomplish in your lifetime?

I hope to become great in whatever I do. In the near future, I want to become a great copywriter for an advertising agency that can make an impact and hopefully win some prestigious prizes in the industry. In my lifetime, I hope to learn and become a great chef, dancer, actor, astrophysicist, foley artist and monk. Haha.

What or who inspires you?

I take inspiration from a lot of people and things. Right now, I am inspired by Sam Shepherd, an executive creative director at Leo Burnett Chicago, who won the most awarded executive creative director in the world by The Drum’s World Creative Rankings 2023, and Chef Paul in the movie “Hunger,” directed by Sittisiri Mongkolsiri.

What is your advice to other students looking to make and impact or get hands-on experience on campus?

My biggest advice for students looking to make an impact or get hands-on experience on campus is to network. Whether it is networking with students inside on-campus clubs or organizations or with your professors, it can be extremely valuable to build a relationship with peers, professors and professionals for future opportunities. Joining clubs and organizations related to your interests and career goals can provide you with opportunities to meet like-minded students and develop relationships with professionals in your field.

For example, I joined the Public Relations Student Society of America, and it helped me tremendously with networking with advertising professionals and students and fostering a relationship with them. Professors can be valuable resources for networking as they often have connections within the industry and can provide insight into career opportunities. Take advantage of office hours and schedule meetings with professors to discuss your career goals and seek their advice. I usually chat with my professor in Jacht to ask for networking opportunities with industry professionals and she is always ready to help me, for which I am grateful. By networking in school, you can build a valuable network of contacts that can help you throughout your career.