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The students in New York at the Roosevelt Hotel where they were honored back in February. From left to right: Christopher Mejia, Mark Araya, Najja Pemberton.

CAS students selected for American Advertising Federation Program

TAMPA, Fla. -- According to the results of the 2010 census 9 million people identified themselves as belonging to more than one race, yet the advertising industry still faces an issue of not reflecting society’s diverse culture in the media it consumes.

The American Advertising Federation and a few University of South Florida students are aiming to change that.

AAF’s Most Promising Minority Student Program, which took place from Feb. 11-14 in New York City, is an effort to help the advertising industry better reflect the diversity of today’s society, starting with its workforce. Selected students were honored for their achievements and also were given the opportunity to network and interview with working advertising professionals.

Three students from the USF School of Mass Communications, part of the College of Arts and Sciences, were selected to join the prestigious program, which only accepted 50 students from around the country.

“Advertising is the only industry where you can truly be yourself and at the same time, wear so many different hats and play different roles,” said Najja Pemberton, a 22-year-old senior, who was accepted into the program.

In the summer of 2013, Pemberton was selected for the 4A’s Multicultural Advertising Internship Program and worked in account management at Ogilvy & Mather’s New York office. He also has held an account services internship at Zimmerman Advertising in Ft. Lauderdale. After recognizing his achievements, advertising creativity instructor, Deb Smith, chose to nominate Pemberton for MPMS.

“Najja has a great presence on campus,” she said. “He's a USF tour guide, a resident assistant and the historian for the USF Judo Club. He's funny, charming and just a great all-around person.”

Mark Araya, a 22-year-old senior from Plant City, also was driven to the creative aspects of the field.

“The main reason I chose to study advertising is because I liked being around creative people and making cool stuff,” Araya said.

Smith said Araya is a model student.

“Everything he touches is a success,” Smith said. “His short films and videos have been recognized nationally with awards. He also won an Addy award at this year's advertising competition in Tampa. He’s been vice president of the USF Ad Club, marketing director and graphic designer for USF Student Government and a member of the Future Business Leaders of America. He, too, was selected for the 4A’s Multicultural Advertising Internship Program this past summer and worked as an art director at Hill Holliday in Boston. He’s done all this while also being an entrepreneur and founding his own business.”

Christopher Mejia, a 21-year-old senior from Lakeland, chose to study advertising because he liked being able to express creativity and wanted to be able to make the things that people talk about.

“[Dr. Liu] approached me and told me I should apply,” Mejia said. “As a part of the application, you do have to have a faculty member nominate or recommend you.”

Scott Liu, associate professor in the School of Mass Communications, said he has been impressed by Mejia’s careful attention to each assignment.

“He is one of the rare breed of students who can actually walk the walk after talking the talk,” Liu said.

Applicants also had to send in essay questions, headshots and a 15-word tagline that best encompassed their brand.

“Mine was ‘Failure is an injury, but quitting is suicidal. The end,’” said Pemberton.

Araya, who has interned at Social Forces, a social shopper digital advertising agency in Tampa and Hill Holliday, in Boston, chose “Driven to make conceptual and well-crafted ideas come to life” as his tagline.

“Leader like Ceasar and adaptive like Darwin, creative like Dali and determined like Jordan” was the tagline that Mejia, who would love to work in any big city like New York, Boston, or Portland, chose.

As advertising students in the School of Mass Communications, Pemberton, Mejia and Araya have been granted a multitude of opportunities to further their careers in the field.

“The advisers and professors are really passionate about helping us grow,” said Pemberton.

For Araya, professors’ past experiences were most helpful.

“All of our professors are or used to be working professionals in the industry so they know what the industry’s about,” he said.

“It’s really comforting when they say something and you know that they’re speaking from experience,” Mejia said. “A lot of professors tell stories about their experiences in the industry. It’s such a dynamic and changing industry, so it’s good to know ahead of time what it’s really like.”

For more information in the Most Promising Minority Student Award, visit


Filed under:Arts and Sciences Mass Communications    
Author: Justine Figueroa