Fellow Friday: A Karel Fellowship Top 10

Every summer, the Frank Karel Fellowship places undergraduate students who are first-generation college students and/or represent diverse racial, ethnic and social backgrounds in an eight-week summer internship within the communications team of a carefully selected nonprofit organization. 

The Fellowship honors and advances the legacy of Frank Karel, who established, led and nurtured the field of strategic communications in philanthropy during his 30 years as chief communications officer for the Robert Wood Johnson and Rockefeller Foundations.

Karel believed that racial and ethnic minorities should be better represented in the communications field and that we should be proactive in recruiting and nurturing broader participation and leadership in the advocacy and communications fields.

Throughout their fellowship, the nonprofit offers students guidance, career advice, substantive work assignments, networking and applied experience. This year’s nonprofit hosts included Special Olympics, the Campaign for Tobacco-free Kids and DC Vote.  

In this new series, we hear from the latest cohort of students on their experience as Karel Fellows and what they learned.  This week we are sharing Aaron Zeiler’s blog on the 10 lessons he learned during his summer fellowship with Tobacco Free Kids. 


My Karel Fellowship has been one of the greatest experiences of my life, filled with laughs, a couple of tears, occasional moments of stress and so many stories of getting lost in D.C.

I was placed at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids this summer, and I learned how important Public Interest Communications is. It is amazing to see how one team can take the collective passion of a whole organization and share it with the world to make change.


 Top 10 lessons I have learned during my summer with Tobacco Free Kids

10. I learned how to spell tobacco. It has one B and two C’s. It was a rough first week, but I finally got the hang of it.

9. I learned how to use Twitter. I surprised a lot of people because I said I didn’t know how to use Twitter. Was I the only millennial who didn’t tweet? It’s hard fitting all your thoughts into 140 characters when you can barely use 140 words to describe them. Thankfully, my mentor Mina Radman, a past Karel Fellow who now works at Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, was very patient with me and taught me how to make a tweet stick out. I even got to write a few!

8. I learned how to speak with a member of Congress. During the Youth Advocacy Symposium, Mina and I sat with two youth advocates as they talked to their senators. These two young ladies walked with confidence into the Oregon and Alaska senate offices to discuss the need for regulation on e-cigarettes and cigarillos. I was amazed by their knowledge and passion for change.

7. I learned that “in the fight against Tobacco, youth voices pack a powerful punch.” Part of my job was to write the news releases for the 26 youth advocates so they could send them to their local newspapers. I read each of their stories, and I realized they had stories similar to mine. Their family members and friends have gotten sick or died from tobacco use, and it has pushed them to make a difference in their communities. I want to do public interest communications so I can share these stories and help them make change.

6. I learned that 95 percent of smokers start before age 21. Because tobacco companies know this, they target youth with magazine ads and flavored e-cigarettes/cigars. In addition to youth, companies target African-Americans, women and LGBT individuals.

5. In fact, tobacco companies spend $1 million every hour on their advertising.

4. I learned that when they are challenged, tobacco companies have no problem suing entire countries like Australia and Uruguay. John Oliver even did a segment on his show about it:

During the summer, Danny Hakim of the New York Times did a series of articles about how the U.S. Chamber of Commerce actually lobbied for Big Tobacco across the world, stopping anti-smoking legislation.

3. I learned that public interest communications is a fluid, ever-changing field that requires some planning and a good reaction time. For example, when Danny Hakim released a story about the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (COC) fighting antismoking measures in foreign countries, I saw the international communications team come to life and direct their focus to the COC. I went from looking up journalists on Cision (a media database, research tool) to protesting outside the COC with Jeff the Diseased Lung.

2. I learned that you rely a lot on other people. I could not have made it through this summer without the help of my other fellows (Kindra, Nergis, Betzaida, Lauren, Milliecia and Marcia) and my co-workers, especially Mina. Communications is tough; that is why you have friends who can help you through because they have been through it too.

1. The most important thing I learned this summer is how to turn passion into practice. My grandfather, Papa, was my hero and my best friend, and I lost him when I was 11 years old to stage four lung cancer. I’m angry that tobacco companies intentionally market to me in hopes that I’ll be a “replacement smoker.” CTFK has taught me that I can help fight back. I can use communications to tell these stories to share what I have learned in order to make a difference so that one day we can have a tobacco-free generation.


There are no words to describe how grateful I am for this experience and for everyone who has shown me the power of public interest communications. Now I return to Gainesville to share my experience and hopefully make a difference.


This post original appeared on the Frank Karel Fellowship blog

 The Karel Fellowship is made possible by the generous support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Moriah Fund and public interest communications firms including Burness, Spitfire Strategies, Brodeur and Fenton.

Posted: October 23, 2015