Making the most of a SND travel grant

The annual Society for News Design (SND) conference takes place in a different city each year and is a chance for professionals and students to learn from each other by attending workshops, participating in networking events and simply meeting others in the field. This year’s conference will take place in Charlotte, North Carolina, from April 19–21.

Each year, SND awards students from different universities a travel grant to attend the annual conference. The travel grant covers the $270 registration fee and includes a $500 stipend that the students can use for different costs, such as transportation and lodging.

I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have been one of this year’s travel grant recipients. As a student at Syracuse University, I was able to attend last year’s judging and get my first glimpse into the SND world. But the annual conference is a whole different world (or so I’m told) and I can’t wait. I’m most excited to meet other students who share my love for design, and network with professionals who can give me tips and advice for what the field is like, especially since I’ll be graduating in May.

If you love design and you want to learn more about SND, I encourage all students, especially the young ones, to apply for the travel grant next year. I haven’t even gone yet, but I’m already anticipating how much fun and valuable it will be.

But don’t take it from just me: here are testimonials from former SND travel grant recipients who now work at a variety of organizations and publications:

Adam Baumgartner, User Experience Designer at Group Nine Media
Travel Grant Recipient 2014 (Frankfurt), Ball State University

As a student, I remember being uncertain and scared about my future. How was I supposed to start a career in a field I wasn’t positive I enjoyed? Through SND, I had the opportunity to talk to passionate people, and ultimately that passion is what reassured me media was the correct field for me. Not only did SND offer me that certainty, it also provided me with a network and skill-learning resources to succeed.

Caroline Callaway, Designer at Gannett Design Studio (Louisville)
Travel Grant Recipient 2016 (San Francisco), University of Mississippi

Students can expect to be a little overwhelmed, but to have such a great time. I’ve met some awesome people through SND — both people my own age and potential employers. It’s great to meet and learn from speakers and peers just to give yourself a new perspective. My main takeaway from the conference was actually a job. When I was there, I met the recruiters for Gatehouse and one of the team leaders for Gannett, and ended up getting interviews and offers with both of those companies. I now work in a Gannett Design Studio in Louisville, Kentucky.

Don’t be afraid to go up and talk to people (this coming from someone who hates talking to people), especially if it’s someone whose work you admire. Take advantage of the contacts your instructor has, if they are going. That’s how I got my interview with Gannett. Do the portfolio critique. It’s always uncomfortable getting critiqued but the more you do, it the more receptive you are, and it’s interesting to see how others interpret your work.

Other than that, I would just say have fun. Don’t take yourself too seriously and soak up as much as you can. It’s a good time.

Emily Chow, Designer at The Washington Post
Travel Grant Recipient 2011 (St. Louis), Northwestern University

This is one time every year where a broad cross-section of the news design community comes together and it’s a great chance to get a pulse on how the news industry is changing and how newsrooms and design teams are evolving. It’s a great time to introduce yourself to people you have admired and followed from afar. If you’re bold, and I highly encourage students to do this, reach out to industry professionals before the conference, schedule some coffee dates and ask people to pick apart your portfolio. I can’t think of a better time to get some constructive criticism, to put your work in front of people who will be making future hiring decisions and to really connect beyond a portfolio and resume. You’ll be putting yourself on the map, expanding your network and hopefully forming some lifelong friendships.

I say all that because that’s what SND has done for me. When I received the SND travel grant, I knew very little about the SND community and what the conference would entail. I had very supportive professors and thankfully one fellow classmate who was going with me, so I wasn’t fully alone. They encouraged me to reach out to folks representing news organizations that I wanted to work at. I went to a wide range of panels and sessions and walked away realizing how much more I needed to learn. But more importantly, I forged friendships and made connections that have spanned my design career.

Katie McInerney, Sports Designer at Houston Chronicle
Travel Grant Recipient 2010 (Denver), Syracuse University

Attending SND on a student travel grant opened my eyes to the real world, something I would have never witnessed in my college courses at Syracuse University. It gave me a chance to test my skills in reporting and writing while also gift-wrapping the opportunity to talk to professionals in the field and maybe even show them some of my work.

SND (and other professional organizations) has been a key to furthering my career in the five years since I graduated. It’s a lot harder to learn when you’re on your own in a smaller newsroom (like I was in my last job). But when you make connections in person at SND, you have a network scattered across the country of people who are working toward the same goals you are.

Going into this conference, you might feel like you don’t know enough and you’re a little overwhelmed. That’s okay. The biggest piece of advice I can give: introduce yourself to everyone, and ask a ton of questions. Everyone — not just students — is there to learn, and everyone is expecting it. In fact, it’s almost easier to be a student — you have a built-in reason to ask what you want to know. Take advantage of every cocktail hour, every offer for a portfolio critique, every quick chat with someone you admire after you hear them speak. Be prepared, be professional and be memorable. When you get home, don’t forget to follow up. I’m sure you’ll see the rewards in due time.

Andy Rossback, Graphics/Multimedia Editor at The New York Times
Travel Grant Recipient 2012 (Cleveland) and 2013 (Louisville), University of Oregon

I may not remember a single session from past SNDs but I remember all the people. Many of them have since been my mentors, colleagues or bosses. So, talk to strangers — student or veteran — whether they work at the weekly Kentucky Gazette-Herald or some place big and shiny. Ask about their careers, ask for their advice, be nice and have a memorable, human interaction with them.

Students, did you know you can join the Society for News Design for as little as $5 a month?