Senior Faith Mtabo Found Her Passion in Public Relations
Public relations suits Faith Mtabo perfectly, though this wouldn’t be a truth she would discover until after her third year at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
Mtabo knew she wanted a marketable major to easily land a job after graduation, so she initially chose business analytics. The business courses didn’t resonate with her, but she kept pushing on until she reached a breaking point and her advisor, Kam Manuel, suggested public relations or advertising as a possible alternative.
“I told my advisor, ‘I can’t do this anymore, it’s not working, I’m stressed out.’ She said she thought I would be good in public relations and advertising and after she explained it, it aligned with everything I wanted to do,” Mtabo recalled. “I was sitting in that meeting saying, ‘That’s perfect!’ and my advisor laughed at me and said, ‘I kind of knew that’s where you needed to be but I needed you to come to terms with it.’”
Now in her fifth year and set to graduate in spring 2024, the senior could not be happier that she switched majors in the last quarter of her academic journey. All it took to confirm her advisor’s suspicions was one public relations course taught by Beth Foster, professor and director of the Tombras School of Advertising and Public Relations.
“Dr. Foster was introducing herself and everything she said was the same as my path. She was from Georgia, I’m from Georgia. She was a business major and she switched majors. I just felt super seen and I almost started crying in class. I was texting my friends and saying, ‘Maybe everything does happen for a reason.’,” she said.
That throughline of serendipity continued when Mtabo went to Foster before summer 2023 and inquired about opportunities to get hands-on work experience in the field. Foster directed the public relations major to Dionne George, Tombras program manager, and María De Moya, the Charles Tombras, Sr. endowed professor for the Tombras School. George and De Moya develop and implement the Tombras initiatives that seek to bring more diversity to the school and to industry.
The duo had a roster of initiatives and events for summer 2023 and they saw a mutually beneficial opportunity when Mtabo came to them asking about hands-on opportunities. The events and programs they were hosting for the Tombras initiatives needed documentation as well as a social media presence, and Mtabo seemed like a great fit to do that job. She’d managed her social media for her sorority, Alpha Chi Omega, as social media chair in 2021, and she knew it was an area she was interested in exploring more.
“When she came to us, it was with a need we didn’t know we had. We hired her for her photography and social media background and I kind of wish I still had her, to be honest,” George said. “She took photos of all our events and helped create social media stories for us throughout the summer. She was on-time, she was prepared, she created marketing materials for us for upcoming events, she was engaging with the students.”
As Mtabo continued working throughout the summer, one of the events she covered was a group of local high school students visiting the Tombras agency in Knoxville. She was so interested in everything the agency was doing that she couldn’t help but ask a few questions of her own in between photographing the event.
“I was asking so many questions but I knew it was for the kids, so I was trying not to take up their space,” she said. “But I was so intrigued right off the bat.”
Her interest and curiosity didn’t go unnoticed by Sarah Svoboda, who manages internships at Tombras. Svoboda spoke with Mtabo during that visit and asked the senior what she wanted to do after graduation. Svoboda then encouraged the senior to apply to the internships at Tombras, which had just opened up for application. Mtabo took her advice and, sure enough, got an internship with the agency for fall 2023.
The internship has focused mainly on social media and has built on Mtabo’s knowledge and experience in that skillset. The internship required her to follow and track trends, and to scope out competitors’ work in order to better serve clients’ social media accounts. She’s also learned how to gather data from social media to understand who a brand’s audience is so they can conduct more efficient and targeted advertising campaigns.
“I felt confident in my ability in posting Instagram posts and TikToks, but I am grateful I got to see behind the scenes and create content calendars and learn how brands think, because what I think is cute might not be what the brand wants. Being able to split apart and step into the brand’s mind is something I’m very grateful to have learned,” she said.
Mtabo said her entire experience with the Tombras School has been so positive, and she could not have imagined what would have happened if her advisor hadn’t pointed her in the direction of public relations. She’s looking forward to finishing out her last semester in spring 2024, especially because she’s joining the annual school trip to New York City—her dream is to move to that city and work there.
“I’m literally counting the days until that trip,” she said. “That’s something about the College of Communication and Information that I really admire. It’s more intimate, and it was so easy to get a meeting with Dr. Foster, and she was so sweet and has made a big impact on me.”
While Mtabo had a bit of a rough start in her academic endeavors at UT, overall her experience at the university has been a very positive one. Whether it’s the sisters in her sorority or the faculty and staff who have helped her find her way, she developed a community she knows will always be there for her.
“To be a UT volunteer is to remember that you’re not alone. I found my community here. I’m from Georgia and was scared coming to a new place, but there were so many people in that same position here. Being a Volunteer is sticking together, finding your people, and knowing that you don’t have to go through this alone,” she said.
Senior Faith Mtabo Found Her Passion in Public Relations written by Hillary Tune and originally published on the College of Communication & Information site.