Manship School master’s students and undergraduate alumnae Kourtney Janeau, Darian Shorts and Renee Lucas traveled to Los Angeles on June 26, 2022, to put their public relations skills to the test for one of Black Hollywood’s biggest nights.
The students were public relations escorts on the red carpet for the 2022 BET Awards, an awards ceremony that celebrates the accomplishments of Black Americans in film, television, music, literature and philanthropy.
Janeau, Shorts and Lucas, whose concentrations are strategic communication, learned about the job opportunity for the BET Awards in a group chat for Black women in public relations. The students were determined to obtain the job position to advance their experience in public relations.
“This experience has shaped me into a better communicator in so many ways!” Janeau, a New Orleans native, said. “As a press escort, you have to be quick on your feet with the ability to pivot and shift as needed. As a communicator, you also have to have the ability to think quickly and adjust messaging, follow and research industry trends that are always changing and often use a range of skills to fulfill client needs. The awards put all of those skills to the test.”
Like Janeau, Shorts’ experience at the BET Awards confirmed that she is destined to work in the public relations industry. The Baton Rouge, Louisiana native used to have doubts and fears about becoming a strategic communicator. These negative feelings, however, morphed into confidence and joy after the red-carpet event ended.
“My most defining moment as a press escort was when the red carpet finally closed, and I felt a wave of relief come over me,” Shorts said. “It wasn’t relief because everything was finally over, but relief that I made it through and conducted myself in such a professional way that it had confirmed that this is where I belong.”
Shorts advises Manship School students who are doubting their skills and career paths to make connections with communication professionals, build genuine friendships and believe in themselves.
“You are here for a reason,” Shorts said. “Make the best out of your time here and keep in touch with people that you meet because you never know who will be able to help you or who you can help down the line!”
Lucas, who is also a Baton Rouge, Louisiana native, believes networking is the reason she and her fellow peers received the opportunity to become press escorts for the BET Awards. She found it surreal to be surrounded by well-accomplished Black professionals. The red-carpet event also helped her realize she is capable of effectively and efficiently working for a famous client, no matter their stardom. She was proud she completed her job in a fast-paced environment.
Lucas encourages students to never prohibit themselves from taking advantage of every opportunity that comes their way. She believes anything is possible when people trust themselves.
“You have what it takes to do great things,” Lucas said. “Take that leap of faith and go for it! You never know where life may take you!”
Critical and cultural media scholar Asha Winfield has always been a storyteller. It’s in her blood.
“Stories were the heart of our family reunions and our family history,” Winfield said.
An assistant professor at LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication, Winfield uses storytelling in her research to convey the experiences of Black people and other historically underrepresented groups in media, culture and society.
In 2022, Winfield was named one of 41 distinguished scholars nationwide to receive the Oak Ridge Associated Universities, or ORAU, Ralph E. Powe Junior Faculty Enhancement Award for her project, “A Case for Interdisciplinary Collaborations to Improve Social Determinants of Health: Documenting the Impacts of COVID-19 on Black Communities.”
One of five awardees in the health disparities and health equity discipline, Winfield was selected from 155 applications representing 87 ORAU member institutions for groundbreaking work in this area.
The element of storytelling, a staple in Winfield’s research, set the scholar apart from her competitors. Winfield used photovoice, a participatory methodology incorporating semi-structured interviews and photos that allowed participants to identify important issues, in her research to share the experiences of Black Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Winfield was also selected for the National Communication Association’s (NCA) Gerald R. Miller Outstanding Dissertation Award for her dissertation, “‘I Don’t See Myself:’ Exploring Reception to Hollywood’s Construction of Memory Through Black Women’s Biopics.”
The dissertation explores Black American women’s silhouetted representation in Hollywood’s version of history. In the dissertation, Winfield frames new concepts, such as “intersectional call and response” and “Black living room pedagogy,” to explain how Black memories and storytellers shape how Black history is learned.
The Beaumont, Texas native studied film studies and sociology as an undergraduate student at Lamar University to become a community storyteller. The art of storytelling, however, surrounded the scholar since she was a young girl.
Winfield grew up watching family members tell stories in communities, barbershops and pharmacies. She heard stories at church services and school homecomings. Her passion for storytelling grew. These familial and communal influences inspired her to take theatre and film classes in high school. She later gravitated toward journalistic storytelling, a passion that evolved with each degree she earned.
“When I enrolled in graduate courses at Texas A&M, one in interpretative qualitative methods and another one in narratives, I felt like I found my lane in academia,” Winfield said. “It was not only our culture speaking, but it was also a methodology and a framework for knowledge production. I refused to ever not see it as a powerful tool of resistance and representation.”
Winfield, a faculty member at LSU since fall 2021, believes film and narrative are important research methods. These art-based methodologies allow researchers to capture or take a full picture of people’s lived experiences.
As a qualitative scholar, Winfield uses film and narrative to co-construct a reality that is visual, rigorous and scholarly. As a Black scholar who studies Black communities in the South, she appreciates that she can harness these methods to research and create media.
“Research is a learning tool, and methods should be empowering to those who’ve been historically excluded and silenced,” Winfield said. “It hasn’t always been the case, but that’s my call to action. Art has always been a method that speaks to multiple cultures, disciplines and exists throughout time.”
In 2021, Winfield founded The Storytellers Lab, a dedicated space where academia and creativity can coexist. The digital research lab gives scholars the opportunity to use interpretive and art-based methods for storytelling that focuses on identity, culture and society.
“I am excited for our participants, students and community to see themselves in the finished work,” Winfield said. “I want to honor our loved ones with this work, alongside our emerging scholars and creatives. I also want people who engage with our lab to know that it is led with care and heart, and that our goal is to bring a visual component to different types of communication, health and education research.”
Black health is a prominent theme in Winfield’s research. She discovered early on in her academic training as a graduate student that health narratives penetrate many aspects of her research on Black media representation and community storytelling. For instance, her research includes ethnographic studies of Black churches and testimonials where congregants share health information with each other. She also studies Black prime-time and reality shows that discuss the severe or terminal illness of a parent.
In 2020, Winfield’s health research turned to the effect of COVID-19 on Black Americans. She collaborated with an interdisciplinary team to connect news reports that showed staggering statistics of Black Americans impacted by the virus, interwoven with their personal experiences.
Part of Winfield’s work on the effects of COVID-19 on Black Americans resulted in an SEC Faculty Travel Grant between LSU and Texas A&M University for her project, “The Dirty South: COVID-19, Environmental Justice, & The Stories They Tell.” Focused on the cultural storytelling of Black American communities, this interdisciplinary project brings together public health, communication and arts-based methods to tell the stories of those located at the nexus of racial and environmental injustices in southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana.
“For me, [Black Americans] were more than a number in the long list of folks who succumb to the virus,” Winfield said. “They were mothers, fathers, friends, coworkers. They had names, stories, and they were loved. Their stories are not only important for memory but for learning for future pandemics. Whether it’s podcasts, media appearances, guest lectures or conference presentations, I will always make mention of Black health and media because those are important and necessary topics.”
The correlation between COVID-19 and health disparities in the Black community inspired Winfield to create the documentary, “Black Experiences with COVID-19, Media, Mourning & Faith,” set to be released in late 2022. The documentary portrays the ramifications of COVID-19 on the livelihoods and health of 30 Black Americans. Through extensive interviews, participants discussed the pain they faced because of the global pandemic.
During the process, Winfield cried with the interviewees, something she has never done before as a researcher. Her vulnerability, she said, kept her research and herself human. Two of the participants died in 2021.
“It was heartbreaking, but it gave me the push to ensure I tell their stories,” she said. “Their stories will not die with me.”
Winfield’s goal is to ensure these stories survive. Her documentary and research project on the impact of COVID-19 on Black Americans recently received additional funding from LSU’s Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs and the Glasscock Center for Humanities Research at Texas A&M University. Winfield is proud to see organizations committed to understanding the relationship between Black American identities, culture, health and society through her research.
In her documentary, Winfield asked interviewees to dedicate the creative work to someone. The participants in the film thanked a person for caring for them or honored a loved one who died.
“That is what makes this work so powerful,” Winfield said. “Our stories and our research will outlive us, and its impact is much bigger than us and this singular moment.”
When LSU alumna and former Reveille Opinion Editor Rachel Mipro earned third place in the Explanatory Reporting competition of the 2021-2022 Hearst Journalism Awards Program for her LSU Cold Case Project story, she was most appreciative that more people learned the truth about a racial injustice incident that happened in Monroe, Louisiana in 1960.
“I’m grateful to have been selected and especially grateful to be able to promote more awareness of the case,” Mipro said.
The story is part of a series about Robert Fuller for the LSU Cold Case Project. Students in the Manship School’s field experience course work on the project. The students provide stories, photos and investigative research about unsolved civil rights murders to newspapers, TV stations and digital news sites in Louisiana and Mississippi.
Fuller was a sanitation business owner-turned-statewide Ku Klux Klan leader who shot five of his Black male employees. Consequently, four of the men died.
Fuller claimed he shot the employees out of self-defense because they were swarming him with knives. An all-white jury charged the surviving employee with attempted murder. Students in the field experience course used dozens of interviews and FBI files to write stories that challenge Fuller’s self-defense claims.
Mipro’s story, “Horrific 1960 Louisiana Killing of 4 Black Men Leaves Unanswered Questions,” is the first piece published in the series. In the story, the LSU alumna examines Fuller’s violent past, his former neighbors’ commentary on how Fuller isolated his family from the community and the tensions he had with the five employees to help unveil what really happened on the day of the incident.
“I feel honored to have been able to help tell this story,” Mipro said. “Everything about the piece was really enriching, especially listening to the stories of those in the neighborhood at the time.”
The reporting process was challenging for Mipro. It was hard for her to keep the story concise because there was so much information about the case. For instance, she and the Cold Case team found that a Black family moved into Fuller’s house without knowing the history of the shootings, which was not published in print for the series.
“It’s heartbreaking when you think about everyone who was affected by this horrific event, and how many people are still affected by it today,” Mipro said.
Mipro and her team hope to provide a sense of closure to people in the Monroe community who were affected by the incident.
“On a larger scale, there has been a worrying rise in hate crimes in the past few years,” Mipro said. “One interviewee told me that the Klan isn’t dead —it’s still alive and well. Examining injustices done in the past helps us look at patterns happening now.”
Stephen Pitalo (’90) has worked in entertainment journalism and public relations in New York City since 1995. During his time at LSU, Pitalo was immediately drawn to working in Student Media. He wrote beat and entertainment pieces for the LSU student newspaper, The Reveille, and served as movie critic on KLSU radio. Pitalo also created, produced and directed the first movie review show on campus cable station LSU-TV entitled “Flick Picks.” After graduating in 1990 with a degree in print journalism and a minor in Spanish, Pitalo’s entertainment journalism career launched into full swing.
“My studies at the Manship School and my work at LSU Student Media laid the groundwork for my career,” said Pitalo.
Throughout his career, Pitalo has had the opportunity to work with countless entertainment professionals and artists. He produced thousands of television and radio commercials for a myriad of shows including “The Lion King,” “Wicked,” “The Producers,” “Mamma Mia,” “Cats,” “The Phantom of the Opera,” “Hairspray” and “Jersey Boys.” Pitalo directed radio commercials with talent from Gladys Knight to Rosie O’Donnell, from Jerry Orbach to Dick Cavett. He also directed commercials and video promos with talents such as Elton John, Illeana Douglas, Toni Braxton and Judd Hirsch.
Today, Pitalo is the managing editor of Music Video Time Machine magazine, producer of throwback music video events, and lecturer/presenter on the evolution of music video in pop culture at conferences, conventions and festivals. Most recently, his expansive entertainment career led him to be the moderator for MTV’s 40th Anniversary panel at New York Comic Con.
“Because the Manship School taught me the tools of the trade and provided opportunities, I was able to carve out my own niche by interviewing nearly 100 music video directors and countless artists. I am truly grateful.”
Manship School 2020 alumna Sarah Catherine LaBorde is the epitome of Tiger spirit. She served as an ambassador for LSU and the Manship School, studied abroad (not once, but twice!), was an LSU Stamps Scholar for the LSU Ogden Honors College and was even crowned LSU’s 2019 Homecoming Queen. But what’s even more impressive is LaBorde’s passion to make a difference in the world. Her love for telling stories and connecting with people are what brought her to study public relations at LSU.
“As soon as I stepped foot at LSU, it felt like home,” LaBorde said. “It immediately made me feel like I was part of something bigger than myself. Manship was the icing on the cake of everything that is LSU.”
Just before she graduated in May, LaBorde learned about a unique opportunity when double Manship School alumna (B.A. ‘92 and MMC ’98) Stephanie Cargile visited LaBorde’s class. Cargile, ExxonMobil Baton Rouge’s public and government affairs manager, was recruiting students to apply for the communications and public affairs internship at ExxonMobil, an opportunity LaBorde did not want to pass up.
Although she didn’t have any experience working in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) communications, LaBorde took a leap of faith, applied for the internship and was ultimately selected as one of only three public and government affairs interns to manage projects for ExxonMobil’s Gulf Coast facilities and national emergency preparedness projects in summer 2020. She is the first LSU graduate to be selected via corporate recruiting for the Houston-based internship, which she completed remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
At ExxonMobil, LaBorde was exposed to the broad functions of public and government affairs through her work supporting all its North American refining and chemical sites. She collaborated on social media strategies, helped with rebranding and marketing initiatives and brainstormed creative real estate solutions. And her work varied. One day, for instance, LaBorde joined a 6 a.m. call with partners in Singapore to strategize global response efforts. Another day, she sat down with subject-matter experts to create a virtual tour of ExxonMobil’s petrochemical sites. LaBorde said that being a non-STEM person in a STEM field gave her a competitive advantage to make ExxonMobil’s communications more relatable.
“[ExxonMobil] is a global company, so they are looking for not just engineering people; it needs support from people [in the mass communication field] to support its large global organization,” LaBorde said. “[ExxonMobil] recruits the best of the best, and being able to learn from the industry’s most talented is incredible. It’s inspiring for someone like me starting out in her career to be working with them.”
What helped LaBorde stand out from other interns were her strong writing skills and experience in key strategic communications, which she credits to the Manship School and numerous internships over the years. Cargile said ExxonMobil’s leadership team highly regarded LaBorde’s strong work ethic, keen intuition and poise.
“The LSU Manship School experience definitely positioned her to stand out as one of the best in the nation,” Cargile said.
LaBorde ultimately plans to pursue a career in public affairs and industrial communications, focusing in corporate philanthropy and community outreach. But for now, she’s planning on going back to school to earn an MBA to expand her skills on the business side of the industry. No matter where life takes her, LaBorde is grateful for all the opportunities that LSU and the Manship School have given her.
“My four years at LSU were absolutely incredible,” LaBorde said. “I got so much out of it because I put so much in. I never wanted to regret something that I didn’t do. Be bold and never be afraid to go outside of your comfort zone. Who knows? You might find a new passion. You never know what an opportunity might have in store for you or where it might lead you.”
For more information about ExxonMobil Baton Rouge, visit www.exxonmobilbr.com or follow its social media pages below.