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AEP executive found a supportive community and learned valuable communication skills at WOUB

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Janelle Coleman graduated from Ohio University in 1995

ATHENS, OH – Growing up near Cleveland, Janelle Coleman knew she wanted to be a writer. But she didn’t think about being a broadcast journalist until her high school English teacher suggested it to her.

“He told me that I should be on TV, and my response was, ‘I should?’ It wasn’t something I had thought about,” said Coleman. “But I thought that it would be fun. So, I went to the library to look up the best journalism programs in the country, and Ohio University was listed as number two.”

Coleman then set her sights on Ohio University. She applied and was accepted. But for Coleman, getting to Athens for her freshman year was not a given.

“My family lived paycheck to paycheck. We struggled. We didn’t have a car at times. We didn’t have utilities at times. Food was never guaranteed,” said Coleman. “And the spring after my high school graduation, we were evicted from our home. My family had to split up, and I spent the summer with a friend of mine.  I remember thinking during that time that I was going to figure out a way to get to Ohio University in the fall. I never gave up on going to Athens. But I had no idea how it would happen.”

Luckily, Coleman’s family found housing. In a conversation with their new landlord, Coleman’s mother shared that they didn’t have a vehicle to get Coleman to school. The landlord offered to let Coleman’s mother use her car.

“I was so excited. I had never been to campus. So, when we drove down there to move me in, I will never forget coming up that hill and seeing the campus to the right,” said Coleman. “We were in awe of how beautiful the campus was. It felt like I was in a movie or painting. It gave my mother comfort just seeing how open the people were and how we were received by the residence life staff.”

After getting settled in, it didn’t take long for Coleman to discover WOUB.

“I was told that I needed to get involved with WOUB and The Post,” said Coleman. “I gravitated toward WOUB. I remember all the activity and how busy everyone was. I got involved in radio, working on the program Shades of Color. I also worked a little bit in the newsroom. I was at WOUB in some shape, form, or fashion from almost the moment I stepped on campus until the day I left.”

Coleman said she found a real sense of community working at WOUB in the Radio and Television Building.

“Whether you were a freshman, senior or graduate student, everyone was working toward a goal. You got constructive criticism from the professional staff which helped you grow,” said Coleman. “I could apply the skills I was learning in class in real-time.

Even though Coleman enjoyed her broadcast work at WOUB, the first-generation college student realized her financial situation might impact the direction of her career.

“I had to do an internship to complete my degree,” said Coleman. “I needed a paid internship. I wouldn’t have been able to afford to come back to school without a paid internship. And the journalism internships were not paid. I got internship offers from a few different TV stations in Cleveland, but because they were not paid, I couldn’t accept them.”

Coleman worked with her advisor and explained that she had to get a paid internship. Her advisor then helped her look for an alternative.

“We saw that The Limited was coming to campus to conduct open interviews for paid internships,” said Coleman. “My advisor explained to me that as long as I could show that the internship had journalistic qualities, like public relations and marketing, it could count for my internship degree requirement.”

Coleman interned at The Limited for three summers and was hired for a full-time position when she graduated. Coleman went on to have a successful career in fundraising, communications, community relations and external affairs at several companies and organizations which include the United Way, The Ohio State University, L Brands and The Columbus Zoo. Coleman now works at American Electric Power and is the vice president of community engagement, diversity, inclusion, and the president of the AEP Foundation.

“I believe the reason I graduated toward this career was because it’s very similar to journalism. It’s about telling stories, especially stories of places and people that don’t typically get heard in order to lift those up and help people make decisions for their families and their lives,” said Coleman. “There is a lot of overlap there and being able to communicate to anyone is so important.  I’m a true believer that good communication skills are the foundation for success in anything you go on to do. I definitely use everything I learned at WOUB and Ohio University to this day. I’m grateful that I majored in journalism and got the hands-on experience at WOUB.”