Meredith apprentices learn from the pros

CATEGORIES: Uncategorized

By Jess Knight

The highly competitive Meredith Apprenticeship Program has been opening career doors for students in the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication for a decade.

So much has changed in the magazine publishing industry in the past decade, and Iowa State journalism students have been there to experience it all.

This fall marks the 10th anniversary of the Iowa State University Meredith Apprenticeship Program, which connects students from the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication with the media and marketing powerhouse in Des Moines.

The program was created in the fall of 2003 through collaboration between Greenlee School Director Michael Bugeja and Meredith’s corporate leaders, including Art Slusark, vice president of corporate communications, and Steve Lacy, president and CEO.

Meredith’s current partnership agreement provides Iowa State $500,000 over five years. The bulk of the gift funds the apprenticeship program, but it is also providing enhancements to the Meredith Integrated Media Suite in ISU’s Hamilton Hall and the continuation of the Meredith Professional in Residence position.

“The goal was not just to create an apprenticeship program,” Bugeja said, “but also to be of service to Meredith with our talents and our interns. We consider ourselves part of the Meredith family, and we hope they consider themselves part of the Greenlee family. We are deeply appreciative to them.”

A decade later, the program continues to produce stellar writers, editors and graphic designers who go on to work for leading magazines in New York City, Chicago, Des Moines and beyond. It’s highly competitive, and known for the doors it opens after graduation.

“The students like the program because it gives them real-world experience,” Slusark said. “They establish real relationships and do real work. They make real contacts and walk away with a portfolio that can stand up to any institution in the country.”

Those who are selected work for a full academic year at Meredith, which is known for its national brands including Better Homes and Gardens, Ladies’ Home Journal, Midwest Living and others. The students receive an hourly wage and academic credit.

A day in the life

At 1:30 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon, Taylar Jacobson seats herself at a large wooden table in the dining area of Meredith’s Test Kitchen to sample more than a dozen recipes.

Jacobson, a graphic design senior at Iowa State, is a design apprentice for Diabetic Living. She’s sitting with her art director, nutrition editor and Test Kitchen product supervisors who all participate in tasting and approving recipes.

Taylar Jacobson samples recipes in the Meredith Test Kitchen.

As an apprentice, she isn’t at her desk sorting papers and checking addresses. She’s in the action, tasting the Orange-Kissed Date Waffles, giving her feedback on the sugar substitute that was used to make the current batch, thinking about how the colors, the portion size and the extras – with or without syrup? – will look in a photograph and in the final page design.

Seated next to her is Caitlyn Diimig, a senior majoring in dietetics and journalism and the editorial apprentice for the same publication. As they move on to a Carrot Ginger Curry Sauce, Diimig considers the words in the story and helps edit the recipe for clarity.

After the taste test panel, Jacobson heads to the photo studio, where colorful popsicles will be artfully arranged on trays for a photo shoot. The predetermined color scheme (shades of creamy orange sherbet, mint and melon) is inspiration for Jacobson, who heads to the prop room to find items to stage the photos. Floor-to-ceiling shelves are filled with more dishes than Crate&Barrel, but Jacobson knows where to go. She pulls glassware, trays, tea towels and other props that could be used to stage the frozen treats.

Taylar selects the perfect glassware for the current Diabetic Living photoshoot.

Later, upstairs in Diabetic Living’s conference room, pages of the 2013 summer issue are pinned up for tweaks and edits. Jacobson points to spread after spread that she’s designed or helped design.

“This one, this one, this one,” she says, waving her finger in front of several colorful pages. “I’ve pretty much had at least a small role in almost every one of these layouts.”

Jacobson, who has also interned for NFL Enterprises in Tampa, Fla., and the Iowa State football program, has accepted a full-time position as a graphic design specialist with the Minnesota Vikings, which she will begin after graduating this spring. She credits her apprenticeship at Meredith for her success.

“I have learned all of the behind-the-scenes processes that make a magazine run, including the color proofing process, the dynamic between design and editorial, and all aspects of in-house photography,” she said.

Bringing Iowa State to Des Moines

“Meredith is just 35 minutes down the road, so it made sense to take advantage of such a great opportunity for our students,” Bugeja said. “The partnership was a collaboration of alumni who made a case for the school, and the faculty and students who were willing to step up to the challenge.”

The first four years of the program, Greenlee staff selected just five editorial apprentices from stacks of applicants. In 2008, they added three positions for graphic designers, creating eight coveted spots in a school with more than 580 undergraduate students.

“These students go to school full time, work at Meredith for 15-20 hours a week and are still heavily involved in campus publications,” said Debra Gibson, the Meredith Professional in Residence and the coordinator of the apprentice program. “They really are a shining example of the talent we have here, and they work hard to prove that.”

Getting a foot in the door

Kelly Eagle, associate digital home editor of, was in the first class of apprentices in 2004-2005 for Better Homes and Gardens magazine. She said the experience taught her the real inner workings of a major magazine.

How students are selected: Many Greenlee School students want to be Meredith apprentices. Applicants submit a resume, three writing clips or designs, and three letters of recommendations. Finalists attend two interviews.

During the year, apprentices go to school full time, work 15-20 hours at Meredith, and are also help write and design the Greenlee Glimpse, the school’s annual alumni magazine. They also help recruit and interview the next year’s apprenticeship class.

“Going to class is great, but if you don’t get into the real world and experience it yourself, you’re not going to understand how publishing works,” she said.

Her experience demonstrates the value of the apprenticeship.

“Meredith is not an easy place to get into,” Gibson said. “So this opportunity for students to work with some of the best talents in the world is just amazing. It really prepares them for a great career in magazine publishing, and I feel very blessed that we have this partnership with them.”