When The Barnes Agency opened a design studio at the Marshall University Visual Arts Center in October 2015, it marked a change in how students are educated and given the ability to transfer their skills into the real world.
Some officials are calling it a game-changer, as MU students are offered the opportunity to intern, doing real work for a professional agency in the same building where they’re doing schoolwork.
“To the best of our knowledge, our agreement with Marshall may be unprecedented,” said Jeff Barnes, president and CEO of The Barnes Agency. “I don’t know of another university or college in America that has a full-service advertising, marketing and public relations firm with a location at the institution where the students are educated.”
Marshall officials have expressed their pleasure with the association entering its second year.
“It’s a unique situation for colleges in the United States,” said Mary Grassell, professor and program director for the School of Art and Design/College of Arts and Media at Marshall University. “I believe it’s rare, and we’re fortunate to have this association.
“It really helps our students,” she added. “They’re thrown right into the mix. As a professor, I can easily stop in and keep tabs on them. Having Barnes right on our property is great for our students, who can see an agency at work.”
The center is located on Third Avenue in downtown Huntington, near Pullman Square.
“The presence of The Barnes Agency on the public, first floor of the Visual Arts Center, paired with the long-term commitment to offer paid internships, creates the opportunity for real-time feedback regarding the relevance of our curriculum and mission to prepare students for meaningful adult lives,” said Sandra Reed, director of Marshall’s School of Arts and Design.
Seven interns already have gone through the program, and the students experienced a fully immersive opportunity to work in an agency, Barnes said.
In other words, the students aren’t making coffee and running errands.
“They are provided the most state-of-the-art computer equipment and software,” he said. “They’re working with the same technology that any large agency in New York, Chicago, Atlanta or Los Angeles provides.”
Students are required to interview for the internships, and it’s a competitive situation.
“Whenever I meet parents, their first question is, ‘Is my son or daughter going to get a job?’” said Grassell. “The answer is ‘Yes,’ and we can point downstairs to The Barnes Agency and tell the parents a major design firm in our area is hiring students as interns.”
“I believe students deserve a fighting chance to find employment in their field,” said Barnes. “This relationship helps to strengthen opportunities for students. We want to help them start their careers.
“It helps us identify prospective employees as we continue to grow as an agency.”
Tony Campbell, senior graphic designer at The Barnes Agency, works closely with the students on a daily basis. He attributes the students’ outstanding level of competency to the stringent interview process.
“They’re here to learn, but they’ve been very productive for the agency as well,” he said, explaining the students create websites, brochures, ads and photos as well as a lot of work in editing.
Lindsey Cheek, a current intern at The Barnes Agency and senior graphic design student at Marshall University, is scheduled to graduate in spring 2017.
One of the projects she completed was a display celebrating the 80th anniversary for Huntington Junior College.
“It was a big project that we completed on a time crunch,” Cheek said. “It allowed me to work with multiple programs to create a large piece. It was pretty amazing.”
The magnitude of the experience isn’t lost her.
“It is very fast-paced, and it really shows you what it’s going to be like in the real world,” Cheek said. “Everyone (at The Barnes Agency) is very helpful. This is a fantastic piece for my resume.”
Cheek said working closely with Campbell and with The Barnes Agency Vice President and COO Susan Miller Barnes has allowed her to learn things she would not have learned in a classroom-only setting.
“Tony has given me a lot of useful tools that I use in my work,” said Cheek. “They are things I’ll use later on in my work. Working in a classroom is very different than working in (The Barnes Agency) office.”
The competitive process to become an intern was what she expects it to be like in the real world.
“Jeff and Susan have very high expectations,” she said. “I try to give my best to the company. If my time here extends past my internship, it would be fantastic. It’s an opportunity that I would absolutely take.”
The association between Barnes and Marshall has an opportunity to expand, as video production is an increasing demand for the agency. Marshall will begin offering film studies as a new major this fall.
“It will encompass the school of art and design, journalism and mass communication and theater and music,” Grassell explained. “It’s brand new. I see Barnes expanding into that area as we get students in the program.
“We want our students to be associated in the community, because that’s where they’ll work,” Grassell added. “Internships can turn into jobs. When they go through an internship, they suddenly turn professional. They ‘get it.’ The process is a good thing.”