Graduate Student Mackenzie Ostrom Reflects on Time as a Graduate Assistant, Lady Vol, and VFL
Graduate student Mackenzie Ostrom is the kind of person whose engaging personality and knack for community building results in the office outings being named, “Macktivities.” In the year that she worked as a graduate assistant at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Office of Student Engagement, Ostrom implemented a weekly office lunch and regularly scheduled coffee with coworkers as a way to build in breaks and maintain friendly ties.
“She’s someone who just brings people together and makes it fun. Our jobs are already fun, but they can be stressful and intense during the semester, and she brings an air of positivity and inclusion and a willingness to roll up her sleeves and get the job done no matter what it is,” said Dianna Foulke, assistant director for the Office of Student Engagement.
Foulke has been so impressed with Ostrom that she wishes she could create a full-time position for her, as Ostrom is set to graduate this December from the Tombras School of Advertising and Public Relations 4+1 master’s concentration. That program allows undergraduate students to take on master’s level classes their senior year so they can earn a master’s degree with just one additional year of higher education. While Foulke is thrilled for Ostrom’s impending graduation, it is bittersweet for the assistant director that the grad student only spent one year in the assistantship.
For Ostrom’s part, her graduate assistantship was an eye-opening experience in the best way possible. As a member of the Lady Vols soccer team, she spent her undergraduate years on a routine schedule of athletics and academics. Entering graduate school and working for a campus office peeled back a layer of campus life Ostrom hadn’t previously experienced.
“I enjoyed just seeing the different avenues students can get connected with. I was connected in a whole other way to UT through soccer, that the majority of the campus population wasn’t involved in. But our office puts on 100 to 200 events in a whole calendar year and we reach people and impact them through our events, and it is just a really rewarding and inspiring experience that fits my personality perfectly,” Ostrom said.
She said she had no idea how much she would enjoy working in student engagement and event planning, and the job has inspired her to broaden what type of career she may enter upon graduation. When she helped with a concert and speaking events, she learned that a lot goes into event planning, but it was exactly the kind of work challenge she enjoys tackling. Her enthusiasm and hard work didn’t go unnoticed.
“A lot of people who apply for assistantships with us are looking for a career in student affairs, so we don’t usually get students from the College of Communication and Information. But Mackenize came in and she was just ready and excited to work, and what we got from her in our interview was that this girl is going to jump in two feet first in whatever she does, and that was true from day one,” Foulke said. “She has such a contagious energy.”
Between her assistantship and graduate courses, Ostrom now has a better idea of what kind of career she would like to pursue once she moves from student to alumnus. While her undergraduate courses gave her a firm foundation in advertising and public relations, graduate school took it all to the next level and her assistantship allowed her to try out some of her new skills.
“The undergraduate program for advertising is great even if you don’t get your master’s degree. How they lay out the courses is very real-world experience—you learn how to make a campaign and do creative and strategy, so it really set me up even if I didn’t do the graduate program,” she said. “In graduate school, all the information is changing and keeping up-to-date with trends.”
Ostrom became more interested in social media after taking a graduate course wherein the entire class is a simulation where you run a social media account, and it piqued her interest. She went to Foulke and asked if she could help with the office’s socials, and Foulke trusted her enough to give her free rein. Ostrom took over the social media accounts for the entire fall semester, enjoying the opportunity to create graphics in Canva and find other creative ways to engage followers.
“I’ve definitely finally been able to apply what I’ve been learning in a few different spaces, which is great to see,” she said.
Ostrom is graduating with confidence that she can enter the workforce and find a fulfilling career in communications, armed with the knowledge she gained in classes and new skills she learned on the job at her assistantship. She is taking a break for the holidays but plans to intentionally job hunt in the new year, and her positive experience with student engagement might influence what she does next.
She said Knoxville has been home for five years and has become a special place for her, so she may just stay. Her soccer team was like a family to her when she was an undergraduate, and her coworkers at the Office of Student Engagement also became like family. When you ask her what it means to be a Volunteer, that’s her answer: family. She also expects that her Volunteer family will continue lifting her up along the way as she seeks out the next steps in her life.
“Not everybody has the opportunity to go to a university like UT and experience the things I’ve experienced. I’ve had insane opportunities being in athletics and meeting people through my office,” she said. “When I think of the Volunteer spirit, I think of family and just coming in somewhere you know you belong, and people will accept you.”
Graduate Student Mackenzie Ostrom Reflects on Time as a Graduate Assistant, Lady Vol, and VFL written by Hillary Tune and originally published on the College of Communication & Information site.