Internship, campus experiences help new grad find future career path

| Judy Berthiaume

A native of Eau Claire, Amanda Thao already knew all about UW-Eau Claire when it came time to think about college.

“My mom graduated from UW-Eau Claire so I naturally was in awe of it,” says Amanda, who will graduate this month from UW-Eau Claire with a degree in integrated strategic communication with an emphasis in advertising. “Once it came time to decide, I ultimately chose to attend UWEC to stay close to loved ones and help with the family business.”

While finding the right university was easy since it was in her backyard, figuring out a major was more challenging, Amanda says.

“I definitely didn’t come into higher education knowing exactly what I wanted to do,” Amanda says. “Journalism was where I settled at some point, but after completing a real-world internship, I realized it wasn’t where I thrived. After doing some research and reviewing what classes I most enjoyed, I found my life’s love: advertising.”

After finding her passion, she’s embraced every opportunity — in and out of the classroom — to gain the kinds of experiences and knowledge she’ll need to be successful in the advertising world.

A visual communication class was an academic highlight of her time at UW-Eau Claire, she says, adding that it also reassured her she was following the right career path.

“We worked to create campaigns and messaging strategies for two clients from the community,” Amanda says. “One was connected to the Chippewa Valley Writers Guild and the other the women’s, gender and sexuality studies program. I was honored to have both clients choose my campaigns and designs to implement.

“This experience validated my confidence in my abilities and allowed me to critically evaluate what I needed to improve on moving forward in my field.”

With her new confidence, Amanda began seeking more opportunities to put what she was learning in the classroom to work in real-world settings.

Her efforts soon led her to the Student Senate offices, where she continued building her communication skills along with her leadership skills.

She created content for friends who were running for the Student Senate president/vice president positions. After they won, they encouraged her to apply for an executive position with the Senate.

She followed their advice, and was named the Senate’s marketing coordinator.

“Immediately after getting appointed, I got to work,” Amanda says. “I rebranded the organization by creating a new logo and revamping all existing content.”

In addition, she co-founded the Communications Commission and the Equity in Student Matters Commission.

Amanda continued to work on Senate campaigns, and later was named communications director.

“This second year in student government is where I gained the most momentum,” Amanda says. “With the commissions I helped build under my belt, I spearheaded initiatives aimed to benefit the student body.

Her greatest Senate accomplishment?

Creating the Hub, a student space in Davies Center that encourages Blugolds to make connections across the campus.

“At the beginning of this academic year, the Senate leaders handed me the empty room and told me to run with it,” Amanda says. “After trial and error, numerous meetings, brainstorming, a few tears and an abundance of guidance, my commission and I created the Hub.

“It’s my proudest accomplishment in Student Senate. It’s still new so it’s lacking in awareness among the student body, but I think we’ve built a strong foundation.”

The space is designed to promote a variety of student resources that are available across campus. The goal, she says, is to enhance student life for all Blugolds, Amanda says.

“The Hub has incredible potential and I look forward to seeing it shift and grow to best benefit the community,” Amanda says. “I like to think of it as my love note to UWEC.”

While the Student Senate has been a big part of her UW-Eau Claire experience, the Blugold Beginnings program also helped shape and enhance her life as a Blugold.

“Blugold Beginnings is where I made the strongest, most lasting and meaningful friendships,” Amanda says. “During my first few years, Blugold Beginnings was like a second family. It’s where I learned how to match words to my experiences as a person of color, and where the seed leading to my dream career path was first planted.

“Other opportunities through Blugold Beginnings like the Civil Rights Pilgrimage and mentoring kids at schools also really defined and impacted me as a young college student. I have a lot to be thankful for to Blugold Beginnings.”

Amanda later served as a Blugold Beginnings intern, working on communications projects for the program.

While she found plenty of opportunities on campus, Amanda also immersed herself in another culture by studying in South Korea for a summer.

The experience was powerful and made a lasting impact on her, she says.

“It really helped shape my worldview and allowed me to be surrounded by people who — whoa! — kind of looked like me,” Amanda says. “The emphasis UW-Eau Claire puts on high-impact practices is so important and valuable. I’m always ecstatic to hear when fellow Blugolds are studying abroad. It really makes a world of difference.”

Closer to home, Amanda has been involved in a number of projects and initiatives that helped her develop her leadership skills, while also helping UW-Eau Claire be a more equitable, diverse and inclusive campus.

She is one of the founders and a member of the Equity in Student Matters Commission, and was a member of the search and screen committee for the vice chancellor for equity, diversity and inclusion, and is a member of the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Board.

“The connections I made and the initiatives we pursued validated my own cultural identity, and showed me how important it is to always be learning,” Amanda says. “The equity, diversity and inclusion work I witnessed, was involved in, or helped move forward at this university will live forever within me. It certainly defined my student experience.”

As she looks ahead to graduation, Amanda is gaining more real-world experience through internships with local businesses and organizations.

Her internship with Melnaturel, a female-owned startup featuring natural skin care products, connects directly with her long-term career goals.

“Being with the company for a year now, I was able to spearhead its rebranding process by creating a new logo, labels and social media identity,” Amanda says. “Now I work with a fantastic team of fellow interns tasked with helping the business grow and flourish.”

In addition, she and a partner recently jump-started an initiative to bring together Asian artists and area business owners to foster collaboration and community.

“Being able to work directly with community members has been an incredible experience and instilled in me the desire to continue to do so in the future,” Amanda says.

What comes after graduation?

Amanda plans to go to graduate school, with a goal of eventually working in an advertising agency.

“Because my mom was a small business owner and me being influenced by the magic of Eau Claire small businesses, I’d like to end up with a company that is more hands-on,” Amanda says. “Perhaps I will even dabble in doing advertising and communications work for nonprofits as well.”

Looking ahead, she plans to use her talents and knowledge to better whatever community becomes home as she pursues her career after she completes graduate school.

“Overall, I think it’s important to use my skills and expertise to help further initiatives from marginalized communities and I’d like to take every opportunity to do so,” Amanda says.

Amanda credits her success as a Blugold to the support of her family, friends, professors and mentors, who she says were “the fuel to my fire.”

“I’d like to thank those who came before me,” Amanda says. “Because of those who paved the path, cleared it of brush and vines, I was able to succeed.

“Thanks to classes I took, the opportunities that were made available to me and the people, I’m leaving this institution with a heavy, but ready heart.”

Photo caption: Helping to create the Hub, a space where Blugolds can find student resources, is among Amanda Thao’s accomplishments.