PART 1: KEC and UTK collaborate to provide meaningful experience for CCI students

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first article in a two-part series describing how the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville are collaborating to provide both a meaningful experience for students and valuable help for local start-ups.)

Molly Domkowski is a senior in the College of Communication and Information at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) who expects to graduate next month, albeit without the normal May ceremony.

Along with four other students, she spent Fall Semester providing help to start-ups in the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center’s (KEC) “Brand Camp” program. The other students were Alyson Parris, Rrita Hashani, Sarah Ali, and Rachel Rubadme.

We had the opportunity to interview Domkowski and two other players in the special internship earlier this year before the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted classes and caused KEC to close its offices on Market Square. The others were Jonathan Sexton, at the time KEC’s Chief Operating Officer, and Melanie Faizer, Senior Lecturer of Journalism and Electronic Media and the faculty advisor for the program.

All agreed that it was a wonderful learning experience – for the students as well as those KEC clients they helped.

“So many students are born with a natural ability to interact with new media,” Sexton said. “At the same time, students generally lack an understanding of how to deploy those assets on behalf of a business. All of that is thrown together in ‘Brand Camp’ – students and businesses.”

For KEC, “Brand Camp” is also a way to further capitalize on Knoxville’s reputation as a media hub, coupled with the fact that, as Sexton says, “Every company today is a media business in one sense.”

So, for about 20 hours a week, the five students worked with the KEC start-ups, learning about them and developing actual content, such as blog posts and social media, to help them with their marketing activities. “It was anything they could put out, tailored to their customers and desired message,” Dowkowski said.

All five of the students were journalism majors, but they had never collaborated together like they did with the KEC activity. More important, they brought different interests to the internship, something that Domkowski said “really worked.” For example, one of the students was interested in international journalism, a second in broadcast, and a third in digital and social media.

For the soon-to-be graduate who will join the workforce full-time, it was a natural progression in a series of similar opportunities.

“I had known about KEC because of my work with Piper Communications,” she said, citing an internship she did with the Knoxville-based firm that specializes in energy and technology and coordinates activities of the “Innov865 Alliance.” Domkowski also spent Spring Semester 2019 working for a public relations firm in Australia that focused on a luxury brand.

“Working in Australia is very different,” she says. “It’s more work to live rather than live to work” as is the case in the U.S.

As far as the KEC internship, Domkowski says she would definitely recommend it to other UTK students although she would hope for more hands-on experience. What was her most memorable takeaway? It was an SEO (search engine optimization) workshop led by KEC’s Delaney Boyd, Operations Director, and Miranda Vandergriff, Creative Director.

NEXT: More thoughts from Sexton and Faizer.

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