Most people, at some point in their professional lives, can recall at least one great moment when everything just clicked into place and led to a career opportunity they might not otherwise have experienced. For Northern Illinois University communication alumna Cori Frankenberg, it was a chance meeting in a restroom with a very nice lady.
Frankenberg was attending the Dr. Albert Walker Dinner and Lecture, which honors the legacy of the man who created the public relations sequence in the NIU Department of Communication and founded the NIU Public Relations Student Society of America chapter. The guest speaker at the fall 2013 dinner was Patrick Sandusky (’98, B.A., communication studies), who is the chief communications and public affairs officer for the United States Olympic Committee.
“I wanted to meet him, but after his speech, I went to the restroom because my eyes were watering so badly due to my allergies,” she remembers. “This woman thought I was crying and tried to comfort me. It turns out it was Patrick’s mother.”
They talked for a minute and Frankenberg admitted she was nervous about approaching her son.
“She gave me a little pep talk,” Frankenberg says.
So she went back into the room and introduced herself. She told him she was a communication studies major, was on the soccer team—more about that later—and that she wanted some advice about the USOC internships he had spoken about.
Sandusky had invited his parents, Marge and Jon Sandusky, who live in Kankakee, to the dinner. During his speech, he proudly recalls, “I was asked what was the single greatest advantage I had in my career development, and I answered ‘My parents, who are in the room tonight.’” There was loud applause.
Sandusky met with Frankenberg, and they talked for a few minutes. She expressed her interest in the USOC internship, so he gave her his card and told her to stay in touch.
“Two funny things happened that night,” he says. “As I was leaving, I grabbed the Northern Star, and there was Cori’s picture scoring a winning goal in the NIU women’s soccer game (a frequent occurrence). Then, my mother called, told me about meeting her and asked if I was going to help her.
“Cori did a good job of staying in touch, applied for the internship and, as a former NIU student athlete, I told my people to make sure they interviewed her. ‘No special favors,’ I emphasized. ‘You don’t have to hire her, just make sure she gets on the interview list.’ And she took it from there.”
Frankenberg, with her sights on getting the internship, researched the position and the USOC in advance.
“I had learned that networking is imperative,” she explains. “Thousands of people can put together a solid resume, but once you meet a person, it can really change things.”
She conducted a phone interview with the hiring person and immediately followed up with an email.
“He liked that I took the initiative to stay in touch with him,” she says, noting she was also applying for other jobs at the time. “If you want something and it’s important enough to you, you find a way.”
Ten thousand college students apply annually for the six-month internships at the USOC. For the two communications positions, they cut the applicants off at 500, and as you might have guessed by now, Frankenberg got one of them.
“A week after graduation, I packed up my things in the car and headed to Colorado Springs.”
Upon arrival, she moved into her new digs—in the athletic training dorms in the Olympic Training Center, a special experience for the former three-year starter on the NIU Women’s Soccer Team and the offensive player of the year in 2012. “You get three meals a day, for starters, and everything is healthy. The OTC hosts various national team camps, so I have been able to meet some of the best athletes in the country,” she recalls, adding, “And I had the privilege to work out with members of the U.S. Bobsled team!”
The job has inspired her.
“Day in and day out, it’s the best job in the world to represent the United States of America,” she says. Her primary duties are in media relations, writing and distributing press releases, working with media on general inquires and arranging USOC staff interviews.
She travels to events and meetings with many of the 47 national governing bodies of the sports that make up the U.S. Olympic Team and is perhaps most proud of her work on the media guide for last summer’s Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China, which were held in August.
“To see my work used by media representatives from around the world was very special,” she says.
She and other interns from the USOC also volunteer their time to work on special events at the Olympic Training Center. “I got to work at the grand opening reception for our new, state-of-the-art Senator Ted Stevens Sports Services Center,” she said.
“I finally met the heads of the Olympic governing bodies, people who had been getting emails and news releases from me, and now they know me.”
As a bonus, she also participated in a “test” 5K run in the new facility. “I had a pretty good time, too; thought they were going to put me on the team,” she jokes.
Another exciting event connected her with the U.S. Paralympic Team.
“The USOC has an Olympic Downtown Celebration in Colorado Springs every summer, with concerts, fireworks and the chance to meet Olympians,” she explains. “I was able to help out at the Paralympic tent and was honored to meet some inspiring Paralympians who have achieved so much in their lives.”
Frankenberg has been preparing for her future career in sports for a long time.
“I knew that I wanted to be involved in sports since high school. As an athlete, you have to think about what you’re going to do after your last game. Sports molded me and shaped me into who I am today.”
And the Appleton, Wisconsin native thanks the NIU Athletic Department along with the Department of Communication for providing her with the training and education to prepare her for her career in sports.
“Being a student athlete at NIU is terrific—they give you training for what to do after sports. We had workshops every year, resume-building classes. They brought speakers in to teach us about interviewing and the job skills we would need to be successful.”
As to her future, she believes, “The sky’s the limit. Working with the USOC has opened my eyes to a lot of different avenues I can explore in sports. I’d love to work for a national team as a media relations specialist, being the middleman between the team and the media, keep knocking on doors and establishing relationships like I’m doing right now.”
While she has also made contacts in the professional sports world for a future career, “Being part of Team USA is special. What makes the Olympics different is that it unites an entire country behind one team.
“Patrick is an incredible boss. He’s eloquent, resourceful and approachable. He’s built a great communications team, and he has the Midwestern work ethic and values,” she says.
Along with a good eye for talent.
And the good sense to listen to his mother.
Update: In January, Frankenberg joined the staff at the Minnesota Twins as the baseball communications assistant, handling media services for the team.
NIU Department of Communication