McCaffrey scholarship continues to support students interested technology and emerging media

Monday, July 11, 2022 - 4:30pm

College of Journalism and Mass Communications alumna Cindy McCaffrey established the McCaffrey Emerging Media Scholarship in 2013 with a $100,000 gift to the University of Nebraska Foundation. The permanently endowed fund provides scholarships to students who want to pursue a technological-focused career in media.

The intersection where journalism and technology meet continues to fascinate McCaffrey and it’s why she first established the scholarship; she wanted to give students the opportunity to explore the role technology has in journalism and other emerging media.

“I've been fortunate to see first-hand in my own career how significantly emerging technologies evolve the ways we gather, present, disseminate and consume news and information,” McCaffrey said. “There's a whole new frontier out there for the pioneers of the next era of journalism and I hope to see Nebraska students take a leadership role in showing us the way.”

Each year a student with a CoJMC major and a secondary major, minor or concentration in a tech-related field is selected to receive the scholarship. The student must also have sophomore class standing and a 3.25 GPA or above.

Senior advertising and public relations major Isabella Dickenson is this year’s McCaffrey Emerging Media scholarship recipient. Dickenson has a minor in software development and is excited to learn more about technology’s role in advertising.

McCaffrey was the 26th employee hired by Google. She served as the company's first marketing executive and developed the organic campaign that first put Google on the map.

After McCaffrey graduated with a journalism degree in 1980, she got her first job as a copy editor at the Springfield Leader & Press in Springfield, Missouri. After copy editing and reporting for several years in Missouri, Kansas and eventually California, she made the jump to public relations.

McCaffrey's last job in journalism was at Macintosh Today in San Francisco. Macintosh Today was one of the first desktop-published magazines, and it existed for just one year. She saw the end coming, but knew Apple was where she wanted to work next after using and reviewing many of their products in her current role.

McCaffrey credits journalism for her more manageable career transition. Her year summarizing tech jargon for Macintosh Today's audience made her a better writer and ultimately helped her get a foot in the door at Apple.

McCaffrey was at Apple for seven years. Her starting role was a product publicity position where she learned about corporate and crisis communications. A few years later, she began speech writing and learned more about brand management. By the time she left the company, she was the director of corporate communications.

After 18 years in Silicon Valley, McCaffrey met with Google’s co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin in 1999. Within the first hour of her interview, she knew Google was something she wanted to be a part of because of Page and Brin’s innovative way of thinking.

“They explained that the Internet would become a huge archive of important information that the world needed to have access to and we had the opportunity to provide the dashboard or steering wheel to that information,” McCaffrey said in a previous interview with CoJMC. “They believed the world could be a better place if we were able to organize all of this information and make it universally accessible and useful to anyone, anywhere in the world.”

McCaffrey signed on and became Google’s 26th employee. Since it was a start-up company, the early days of Google were low budget. In McCaffrey’s first week she didn’t have a phone or a computer to work from.

But McCaffrey and her colleagues believed in what they were creating and that confidence is what made the exciting entrepreneurial culture that Google's founders were constantly working to build. McCaffrey remembers that each person hired had to have that wild “Googliness” quality that made their team thrive.

When she started her role, Google didn’t have a marketing budget. They also weren’t yet sure how they were going to make a profit, so the board wanted to bring on a consumer-marketing expert.

McCaffrey noticed the site's traffic growing organically and she decided to continue with that momentum instead. Journalists were a major reason their word-of-mouth approach to marketing worked so well. People were writing about Google and that meant people were reading about Google too.

McCaffrey was at Google for five and half years before retiring in 2005. She helped the company develop its corporate voice, learn more about its audience and build a solid public relations strategy that became a model for future start-ups in tech.

McCaffrey encourages students who want to work in tech to learn about trending tools, applications and developments by taking advantage of the many interactive tech learning sites and looking for internships that give you hands-on opportunities to work with those skills.

She also invites students to think about their interests and the strengths they develop as they go through college because tech companies hire people in all kinds of different roles.

“It's important to know you don't have to be a techie to break into the tech space,” McCaffrey said. “Tech companies need employees with a variety of skills such as sales and marketing, design, technical writing, finance, and data analysis as just a few examples.”

McCaffrey’s passion for journalism, technology and learning how they best work together has never stopped. If anything, her interest in the subject has grown because of technology’s major role in changing how we as a society get news and information today.

“We no longer have to wait for the evening news on TV or for the morning paper to land on the doorstep to learn about what's happening in our world,” McCaffrey said. “News collection and delivery is far more immediate and current than when I began my career in journalism. Today, thanks to advances in technology, we expect immediate access to current information at any time, from any location, and on any device.”

McCaffrey established the emerging media scholarship knowing its emphasis on technology would grow and continue to become more prominent since people can now choose how they want to consume media. 

“We're able to access information from a variety of platforms, from traditional media sources to social media, podcasts, streaming, and so on,” McCaffrey said. “I expect the technological emphasis of the scholarship will continue to evolve as we move into new and exciting dimensions of communications, with AI as just one example.”

Cindy McCaffrey
Cindy McCaffrey