Graduate Spotlight: Plunkett to pursue dream as production assistant at ESPN
Lipscomb helps Plunkett prepare for 'dream' opportunity with sports broadcasting giant
Kim Chaudoin |
As a young girl, Erika Plunkett and her father spent hours watching college sports together on nights and weekends.
When he had to work on Saturdays and missed watching a day's games, Plunkett grabbed a whiteboard and drew up what had happened during the day. She also had a special notebook where she kept copious notes about college basketball and other important details to keep handy. Plunkett would present her father a college football recap “show” to catch him up when he returned home from work.
As a senior at Lipscomb Academy, Plunkett could often be found in the Lipscomb University athletic office shadowing the communications staff and volunteering to do various tasks. She even had an opportunity to help with social media when the men’s basketball team went to the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history in March 2018.
When it came time to consider where to go to college, Plunkett came to Lipscomb’s Summer Scholars Program and took an Introduction to Engineering class. She enjoyed it and decided to pursue a mechanical engineering degree at Lipscomb. In becoming part of the Bison Herd, she followed in the footsteps of her father and grandfather, aunts and cousins.
“I love the engineering faculty and the people in my class,” says Plunkett.
Although pursuing a degree in engineering, Plunkett’s passion for sharing sports with others never waned. While fully engaged in her mechanical engineering studies, Plunkett also honed her sports broadcasting skills by working for Lipscomb Athletics in various roles for its ESPN+ productions, including student video producer, broadcast booth replay, directing audio, producing graphics and sideline reporter. She also served as editor of Lipscomb’s student news service, Lumination Network, her sophomore and junior years. In addition, she assisted with broadcast and video production for Lipscomb Academy football games for several years.
Plunkett’s work in Lipscomb's athletics department and with Lumination provided “a tremendous amount of journalism experience.” “By majoring in engineering I knew I would have a good foundation for a future job or if I pursued a career in journalism I had a speciality area,” she continues.
Plunkett, who is set to graduate with her Bachelor of Science degree on Saturday, recalls a day earlier this semester when she was thinking about career possibilities when a post on Twitter caught her attention.
“I saw a message about the ESPN Next program and a call for applications,” she says. “Of course working at ESPN would be a dream job for me. I’ve always wanted to work there. So, I applied. I put a lot of effort into the application and cover letter. I was fortunate to have had a lot of good experience in broadcasting at Lipscomb and that was definitely helpful in listing my experience.”
She says she sent off her application and says she put it out of her mind. As time passed, Plunkett began exploring several job opportunities in Nashville.
This is an amazing opportunity. I will be able to learn from the best in the business and take that knowledge and experience wherever I go. ... I'm just so excited to learn and to see what I've learned here and how it translates up there. — Erika Plunkett
“And then during spring break, I get an email and they're like, ‘Hey, can we interview you this afternoon? And I was like, ‘Oh, wait, I applied for this,’” recalls Plunkett. “So we connected. The interview was different from any other interview I had ever had.”
In the first interview, Plunkett was asked about her sports knowledge, including questions about who top players in baseball, women’s basketball and other sports are, what team won various championships and other similar topics. In the next round of interviews, Plunkett had to choose her SportsCenter top 10 from a group of 18 highlights clips.
“I had to choose the best 10 of them, break them down and justify why I selected the highlights that I did,” she explains. “Another interview included putting together call sheets for on-air talent. The process included different things like that that were definitely unique to this interview.”
Shortly after the final interview, Plunkett was offered a position as a production assistant in ESPN’s NEXT program. In July, Plunkett will move to Bristol, Connecticut, home of ESPN’s headquarters, as one of 25 individuals across the country selected for the NEXT program cohort.
The ESPN NEXT program is an 18-month leadership development program for young leaders based in content. Each May and July, cohorts of 25 college graduates from across the country are selected for the competitive program. The program is made up of seven pods — Sports Center at night, events, International Deportes, storytelling, college sports, NFL and daytime entertainment. Participants will complete rotations in two of those pods. In addition, participants are paid a full time salary and benefits. At the end of the 18 months based on performance, participants can be promoted to content associate or other roles within the network.
“This is an amazing opportunity. I will be able to learn from the best in the business and take that knowledge and experience wherever I go, whether that's staying within that company, and helping build shows that I already know and love or going to work at a school, whether it's Lipscomb or somewhere else and you know, build up those programs,” she says. “I'm just so excited to learn and to see what I've learned here and how it translates up there.”
Plunkett credits her experience working in Lipscomb’s athletics department and learning from the team, including AD Philip Hutcheson and Kirk Downs, for preparing her for this moment.
“When I came in freshman year I knew I wanted to be involved in Lipscomb's athletics department. I love the department, the coaches and the teams are just so kind and so fun to work with,” recalls Plunkett. “They had a student video intern position open and so I started working with them covering volleyball, soccer, basketball, baseball and softball, all the way through and then just have never stopped doing it. I love doing it!”
It was clearly one of those things where God is like, ‘this is where you need to be.’ He opened up so many doors and opportunities and led me to make so many relationships that have prepared me for this moment. — Erika Plunkeett
“The athletic department would always have opportunities for me to learn something new or to do something I love. I always love making the videos, doing the interviews and getting to design the report,” she explains. “Coming in, I didn't really know too much about the production side of things but I learned by getting to do that through the internship. I also came to love that as well.”
She also credits communication faculty Jimmy McCollum and Alan Griggs with encouraging and mentoring her even though she was not a communications major. “They've always given me so many opportunities,” Plunkett says. “Dr. Griggs, let me be the newscast director during our news class class, which was one of the first times that anyone who was not a communications major did that. That was a lot of fun getting to see what it was like to put together a full production.”
“I could always ask questions. If I ever didn't know something my professors’ doors were always open or someone in athletics’ doors were always open,” she says. “That's just so unique, and I'm so grateful for it because. Lipscomb has been my dream school. It was clearly one of those things where God is like, ‘this is where you need to be.’ He opened up so many doors and opportunities and led me to make so many relationships that have prepared me for this moment.”