Most university and college students pursuing journalism careers are drawn to internships at large and well known media facilities. Naomi Cowan is the exception.
The Jamaican-born Ryerson University Radio & Television final-year student is an intern at the Word of Truth Family Church in Arlington, Texas, where her older brother, Che, is the associate pastor.
“I did not want the typical internship that most times entails running errands and I also was looking for an experience in a country outside Canada,” says Cowan, who was one of 55 Ryerson students recognized with Dennis Mock Student leadership awards last week. “I wanted something meaningful where I could put my talents to good use.
“When I visited my brother and his family last fall, I noticed that the church’s congregation was almost 1,200 and that their communications department was not doing enough to get the word out to members and the community about church activities. I pitched an idea to the board where I would come in and show them how to connect with their audience effectively through social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
“They accepted my idea and I have worked in the past few months to connect followers in a new way. Working with a church as an intern is a road rarely travelled, but it has been a very meaningful experience for me in that it has allowed me to express my creativity and share it with a wider audience. That is what has been so great about this journey.”
Cowan comes from a family well known for its creativity in the entertainment industry. Her mother is internationally acclaimed gospel singer Carlene Davis who has a PhD in Pastoral Counseling and her father is Rastafarian producer/singer-turned-ordained minister Tommy Cowan.
“My parents have certainly had a great impact on my life and they are my role models,” said the 2004 Miss Teen Jamaica who was the second runner-up in the Miss Caribbean Talented Teen pageant in St. Kitts and the 2005 Miss Teen World pageant in Trinidad & Tobago.
Cowan took a year off after graduating from high school to secure media experience before enrolling at Ryerson.
“To be honest, Ryerson was the only university that I applied to because I knew from research that it would equip me with the skills I needed and I also saw it as an institution where I would be able to make an imprint,” Cowan said.
She was right on both counts.
Cowan was the Ryerson Students’ Union student group director, the United Black Students vice-president of Finance, the West Indian Students Association vice president of Public Relations and vice-president of Events for the Radio & TV Arts Course Union.
She also spearheaded Ryerson’s referendum campaign that last year resulted in nearly 3,500 of 4,754 students giving the university the green light to increase tuition by $126 to support a new state-of-the-art sports and recreation facility.
“The Ryerson experience has been like no other,” said 22-year-old Cowan who was selected to represent the university in the Vancouver Olympics torch relay in Port Colborne last December. “It was certainly the best fit for me.”
Outside the university, Cowan hosted the 2009 Caribana video series, Feel De Vibe, and she was one of three finalists in last year’s Much Music VJ search.
Faculty of Arts Criminal Justice student Femi Lawson has also made a significant contribution during his four years on and off campus.
The United Black Students at Ryerson’s vice president has reached out to help young people in some of the designated priority neighbourhoods through literacy programs and short films to educate teenagers about violence.
“I grew up in Jane-Finch and I was introduced to many different community programs,” said Lawson whose parents are Nigerian-born. “But I wanted to break the cycle and create – with the help of others – grassroots programs and movements.
“Community is key to me and I look at community work as not something that has to do with how much money you are going to get. For me, it’s about who you help along the way.”
The Emory Collegiate Institute graduate plans to pursue a Masters in Equity Studies and continue to work with youths to make a difference.
The Dennis Mock awards were created in 2000 to recognize graduating students for their leadership and outstanding contributions to the life of Ryerson through extracurricular involvement.
The awards were established to honour the former university vice-president who demonstrated an unparallel record of commitment to post-secondary education.