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CCI Graduate Spotlight: Rachel Stowers Kinney

Rachel Stowers KinneyRachel Stowers Kinney is a recent graduate of the College of Communication and Information. She completed the master’s program with a concentration in journalism and electronic media. She is now a digital producer at WBIR Channel 10, where she manages the conception and delivery of web-related content.

Learn what drew Kinney to CCI’s master’s program, and how it propelled her forward in her career.

What’s your educational background? 

I attended Furman University for my undergraduate studies and earned a Bachelor of Arts in English. A liberal arts education equipped me with strong communication skills as well as an ingrained sense of social responsibility.  For as long as I can remember, my dream was to influence others through writing, photography and film—but I also realized I needed a day job. 

What was your next step after undergrad?

After college, I worked for the University of Tennessee’s Department of Theatre in marketing and development. At the time, I was uncertain which career path I should take—all I knew was that I loved creating art.  But life has the uncanny ability to present the right people at the right time, if you’re open to change.

Acting professor Jed Diamond gave me the best pearl of wisdom: discovering who you want to become is a never-ending process, but don’t be afraid to take on new challenges no matter how daunting they may seem. Jed told me that a fulfilling career showcases your best talents. So that year, I decided to pursue a master of communication and information at UT.

What did you hope to gain from the program?

In went to graduate school to develop more specialized and marketable skills along with a portfolio that would give me a competitive edge in the job market. For me, graduate school wasn’t just marking off a check box. Through my studies, I not only learned how to properly film and edit, but I also found a great mentor in Dr. Sam Swan. He, along with Dr. Catherine Luther and Dr. Paul Ashdown, served on my master’s project committee.

Tell us more about the master’s project you completed for the professional track.

The highlight of my graduate school experience was creating a documentary about human sex trafficking titled “The Faces of Human Trafficking.” My ultimate goal was to reveal the real faces sex trafficking: from the homeless woman on the street to the young impressionable child. I filmed half of the documentary in Cyprus and the other half in Tennessee. 

Cyprus—how’d you get there?

In graduate school I had the opportunity to study abroad in the Republic of Cyprus, which is the southern part of the island and part of the European Union.  I also visited the northern part of the island, known as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), which is not recognized by the international community. Filming in Cyprus was both a challenging and rewarding experience. Three of the biggest obstacles were the language barriers, finding interviews, and the division on the island.

What learning opportunities did the project present?

I had to network with several human rights groups and the U.S. Embassy in the country to find interviews and information. The Republic of Cyprus was easier to navigate because the country has stepped up efforts to combat sex trafficking. In TRNC, however, officials ignore and sometimes foster the prostitution trade because its fledgling economy depends on sex tourism.

It took several weeks to find someone in TRNC willing to talk about the problem. Eventually, the president of a refugee rights group, who works with sex trafficking victims allowed me to interview her. 

Selecting the right victim to interview was my biggest challenge. I wanted to make sure the victim I interviewed would not be traumatized by sharing his or her story on camera. I had the opportunity to interview victims in Cyprus, but I decided it would be unethical due to the lack of services and protection. Instead, I interviewed a woman whose friend was trafficked to Cyprus.  When I returned to America, I interviewed another woman who was first trafficked at the age of 14. Now, she’s an intervention specialist with a human trafficking group based in Nashville. 

Filming this documentary was an experience of a lifetime because I was able to put the skills I learned to practice. I fully believe you learn the most by doing. This program allows you to apply what you learn in the classroom to a real world setting. 

Aside from studying abroad, what other opportunities did you have in CCI?

My internship with WBIR was also a great experience during the program. I was exposed to how a newsroom ran, and I was later hired as a news producer. One of the reasons I was able to secure this job was because of what I learned at UT. Dr. Ashdown’s advanced reporting class taught me how to properly write web articles under stringent deadlines and how to remain focused during breaking news events. Also, producing UT Today taught me how to manage a project from start to finish and fix technical issues.

Even though it was difficult working full-time at WBIR and finishing my program, it was also fulfilling.  It was interesting to apply what you learned in class the night before to your tasks at work the next morning.

What advice do you have for students considering graduate school?

If I could offer any advice, it would be study something you love and go after every opportunity.  Grades are important, but what you learn and the friendships you make are even more valuable.  Be persistent; mistakes are valuable.