Pursuing his dream to inspire others through storytelling, Jason Sullivan ended his service as an avionics technician for a search and rescue squadron in the Navy and began attending Georgetown for grad school. It was there that The Washington Center connected him to an internship with the FAA in Warrenton, Virginia. The demands of the internship enabled Jason to apply his wealth of experience to meaningful work.
How did you learn of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) internship program? Why did this internship interest you?
The Washington Center actually contacted me out of the blue asking if I would be interested in a position doing media and graphics in FAA’s internship program with the Air Traffic Control System Command Center (ATCSCC). I was skeptical at first, but it turned out it was a stroke of good luck. I had set up a Handshake profile when I got to Georgetown, and I was one of the only people on there with a background in digital media, animation and video production. That just happened to be what the FAA was looking for when Sani found me.
What has been the most impactful experience during your internship?
The most impactful thing so far is a self-realization. I had been away from the creative world for six or seven years by the time I started this internship. I was in the Navy for five, plus a year-and-a-half of graduate school. Coming out of the military I knew I had a lot of catching up to do in terms of doing a reel and compiling a portfolio. There hadn’t been a lot of time to work on being a creative professional in the military. Grad school is a heavy workload that didn’t provide a whole lot of time to do it either. But when I got this opportunity, I knew it was a chance for me to prove my tenacity.
The greatest thing TWC offers is opportunity. Not everyone seizes an opportunity when they’re lucky enough to be given one. That’s what TWC was for me.Jason Sullivan
On the first day, I asked my boss what he wanted me to do and he tasked me with creating an intro sequence for their video production. He said he wanted something cool with lightning. My computer was old. My software hadn’t been upgraded to the Adobe Creative Cloud Suite, I was still using CS 6, I didn’t have the money for all the extra plug-ins and stuff. Yet, in 24 hours, I had turned around probably one of the most fun pieces I’ve ever done. What I appreciated about the work was the autonomy that was given to me. My boss trusted me. To be given that opportunity, to take it, run with it, and prove to myself and them that I still had what it takes to make it in the creative field was my moment of self-realization. That was the moment I knew I could do this and that this is what I was meant to be doing. I had a lot of fun with that assignment.
Describe what it has been like to intern with your organization. How has your professional development been affected?
My storytelling skills have by far seen the biggest development. This has been an opportunity to reinvest and apply my skills after the military. My undergrad degree was in applied media arts with a focus on animation and I spent a couple years working as an in-house multimedia digital artist with a casino. It was a lot of fun, but I wanted to get away from there and do something more meaningful. That’s what led me to the Navy. My time away made me miss the creative world, but it also gave me time to think about what I really wanted to do once I returned to it. I realized I wanted to be a creative director, which led me to ask what the next step was towards that career path. The answer was to go back to school for marketing communications. Later, when this internship opportunity arose, it seemed like a tailor-fit opportunity that married my background, interests, and passion: it enables me to tell a visual story, ties in my military experience and insatiable curiosity for space exploration, and adds my grad school impact on my ability to tell a more concise, targeted story. It’s the best of every world and not something I would have imagined existed before now.
At ATCSCC, I also create training videos for the Command Center Space Operations Office (CCSOO). They are very technical-based and require specific, technical information in their videos. I understand why that approach might be necessary given their target audience. They’re specialists in time management and rocket launch scheduling, stuff that’s far different from what I’m trained in. At the same time, I know there’s a design psychology that determines how people react and absorb information. I feel like the first video I did for them came out really well, so well that more freedom was given to me, more trust placed in what I said. People say you shouldn’t give restraints to a visual artist, shouldn’t restrict their creative freedom, but it’s actually the exact opposite. Those restraints allow them to think outside the box within the limitations given. That’s what helped me be successful working with the CCSOO. They gave me limitations, but they encouraged me to take it that extra step. There’s always been this disconnect between the creative side and the business or more technical side of things. I saw that in my career both at the casino and in the military. I feel like I can bridge that gap and more adequately communicate with each side having been on both.
What has this internship meant to your potential career?
Hopefully, this will soon be my career. They are working on a contract to bring me on staff full-time. That would be great. My office is basically a giant green screen room — every video producer’s dream. If I had the option to paint an entire room in my house green, I would happily do it. I think this can have a lot of avenues for me. It could lead to becoming a creative director, which I’ve always wanted to do. At the same time, it’s an opportunity to tell a story. Whether that’s about space exploration or flight procedures, it’s a story that’s helping make an impact for millions of travelers on a daily basis. These stories may not be adventures from a fantasy world I created, but it’s an opportunity to exercise that skill set. I always wanted to be a children’s book author or make my own short films or games. I think this will be an amazing opportunity to strengthen and build those skills. I can guarantee this is going to be a great creative career and will help skyrocket any freelance endeavors and personal projects.
How would you describe The Washington Center and its impact to someone?
Honestly, if anyone’s lucky enough to apply to TWC and get picked for their internship program, take it. I cannot express enough how thankful and grateful I am for this opportunity. TWC makes things happen. I don’t know if you realize what you make happen, but for some people it’s a dream, an end to a long battle for what they’re trying to attain. The Washington Center was a special gift of karma that I’m going to have to repay quite a bit. You do good work. I don’t know how much you advertise or how big the organization is, but I hope more people hear about you.
What is the single greatest benefit TWC provides to students such as yourself?
The greatest thing TWC offers is opportunity. Not everyone seizes an opportunity when they’re lucky enough to be given one. That’s what TWC was for me. For me, my biggest fear about leaving the military was, “what am I going to do after?” I knew what I wanted to do, but not whether I was going to get to do it, whether or not I would make it, or if I was going to have the opportunity to do impactful and meaningful work. While I was in grad school sitting in marketing classes, the whole time I’m thinking, I do not want to leave this and go sell overpriced material products. I’m not criticizing that role or those who fulfill it. It’s just, coming from the service, after traveling around the world and meeting people who are far less fortunate, a job like that would eat me away inside. School was closing out and I hadn’t heard anything back from the job market when TWC came knocking.
If anyone is fortunate enough to get the call, they should take the opportunity.