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UMN students named in annual Top 50 Most Promising Multicultural Students

The American Advertising Federation named four UMN students to its 2024 list, making UMN the second most represented school on the list.
Image by Gabrielle Erenstein

The American Advertising Federation (AAF) named four University of Minnesota strategic communication students to its 2024 list of the Top 50 Most Promising Multicultural Students on Jan. 9.

The students, Lily Nguyen, Cooper Olson, Wesley Dean and Maya Ellis, traveled to New York City on Feb. 4 and will stay until Feb. 9 to attend an industry immersion program. The program will provide an enriching opportunity to connect with other high-achieving diverse students from schools around the country.

Mark Jenson, a professor at the Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication, said the University is well represented despite the journalism school’s advertising and strategic communications programs being much smaller than some of the other schools represented in New York.

Among the 50 students on this year’s list, 39 schools are represented. In sending four students, the University makes up 8% of the total list, outnumbered only by the University of Illinois, which has five students and a strategic communications program that is twice the size of HSJMC’s, according to Jenson. 

“Their schools are so much bigger,” Jenson said. “Yet, we’re competing very well because of the quality of our students.”

Dean, a graphic design and strategic communications student, said being named to the AAF list helped ease his nerves as he prepares to enter such a hyper-competitive industry.

Dean added it is an honor to represent the University on a national level, particularly the strategic communications program, which includes only a small number of students of color.

“To be able to represent all those people — the people who didn’t even know this existed — and to be there on behalf of them and represent the U is awesome,” Dean said.

Olson said being included denotes his ability to shape the future makeup of diversity in the advertising and communication industries. 

“I’m Native American,” Olson said. “That’s something I’m really proud of, something I love to highlight, and I might be able to help pave the way.”

Jenson, who said he is very student-focused, has been a steady and major proponent of student opportunities like this.

Both Dean and Olson said Jenson heavily encouraged all students in class to submit applications to the program.

Students can submit applications in October, which are reviewed and assessed by members of the AAF as well as industry professionals before the AAF announces the official list in January.

The University has been consistently represented in the AAF list in recent years with at least one student named in 2020 and 2021 and six named in 2023, according to Jenson.

Jenson said the AAF list, entering its 46th year, has amassed a vast alumni network of industry professionals students connect with both during and beyond the immersion program in New York City.

“I always tell them, this is like a rocket launch,” Jenson said. “Get on this rocket and ride it because you are going to have opportunities.” 

While in New York City, the students will have the opportunity to visit agencies, talk and network with industry professionals and tour around the city, according to Jenson. 

Though Dean and Olson said they look forward to exploring the city, they agree the value of the experience goes far beyond sight-seeing. 

In such a large and competitive industry, Dean said it means a lot for the AAF to focus its efforts on celebrating diversity in the industry.

“It can be incredibly intimidating when you look different from everybody else around you in your classroom or in your workplace,” Dean said. “Being able to celebrate achievements on a large national level and come together is a special experience.”

Olson added he hopes this program will be an integral stepping stone to promoting diversity in the advertising and communications industries going forward. 

“When we have more diverse people creating these stories, we can tell more truths about society and the world we live in,” Olson said.

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  • Anita L. Kozan
    Feb 25, 2024 at 10:23 pm

    I look forward to reading a follow-up article that highlights the strengths of each student chosen for this special program! Congratulations to all of you and your professors!
    Anita L. Kozan, Ph.D.
    Kozan Clinic for Voice, Speech and Spirit, LLC