Caroline Ponseti ′15

Hometown: New Orleans, Louisiana 
Major: Political Science
Minor: History

Research interests: American political history, media’s effect on modern government, and political influences on the Founding Fathers

Extracurricular activities: Tennessee Intercollegiate State Legislature (Vice President, Executive Editor of The TISL Times), Co-founder of The Bridge, Rhodes College Diplomat, Phi Alpha Theta, Kappa Delta Sorority, Statistics Tutor, Her Campus, Rhodes College Republicans (Recruitment Chair), Search Advisory Council

Tell the story of how you got to Rhodes College.

No matter what my parents try to tell you, I didn’t choose Rhodes because it looked like Hogwarts (although the self-healing tables in the library’s star room were pretty appealing.)  I came to Rhodes because I felt comfortable here.  For so long, I felt like everyone was trying to tell me to go to this college or that one because of this or that reason.  It was overwhelming.  After my favorite high school teacher saw me drafting a “pro/con” list for all of my options, he gave me some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten: “College is a hard enough transition in itself.  You have to go somewhere where you feel comfortable.” 

Though I refused to tell anyone for a solid month and a half, at that very moment I knew where I was going to spend my next four years.  When I visited Rhodes, I didn’t feel like a prospective student. Talking with current students and contributing to discussion during my visits to classes felt so natural.  Rhodes felt like home from the second I stepped onto its hundred acres. 

How have you changed since beginning your studies at Rhodes College?

Besides a newfound appreciation for a cup of coffee and my discovery of the true beauty of the nap, I realized the true way I’ve changed when a friend from high school pointed it out during a visit my sophomore year.   Simply put, I’ve become more confident.  I wasn’t, by any means, shy in high school—I was just awkward.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m still incredibly awkward.  But I’ve learned to embrace my quirkiness, both in and out of the classroom. Opportunities like talking to prospective students as a diplomat, giving a presentation in my chemistry class (did I mention numbers scare me?), or finding common ground when talking with a person who has experienced homelessness, have developed my confidence and made me a stronger student, leader, and advocate.

You are one of the original members of Rhodes’ TISL (Tennessee Intercollegiate State Legislature) Media Team, Director of Publicity forThe Bridge, and served as an Intern on Capitol Hill. How have these experiences broadened or changed your view of the media’s role in politics?

I have recently become fascinated with the media’s influence over the way the public understands what is going on in government.  After all, the media is the essential middleman in the process through which elected officials interact with their constituents. While interning in Senator David Vitter’s Press Shop, I became a part of the process through which the media gets their information and gained an understanding of the method behind which stories appear on the news on a given day.   I soon discovered that while government officials may be feeding facts to news outlets, the way the information is presented to the public is up to the media.

While media outlets are guided by a desire to report facts, they are ultimately driven by the desire to get viewers, which affects which stories they choose to feature and the angle they take.  News sources typically focus a disproportionate amount of time on reporting stories about Congress that will fire you up, instead of those that will educate you.  As a writer for the TISL Times during the Tennessee Intercollegiate State Legislature’s General Assembly, I quickly discovered that covering pieces of legislation in an unbiased manner is indeed a challenge.  I was frequently torn between the desire to produce an exciting story and the fear of straying away from the facts. 

As the Director of Publicity for The Bridge, I handle all publicity for the paper, including managing the company’s social media presence and correspondence with press and community partners. This role has fostered my love of media relations, attracting me to the field of political communications.  This fall, I will be spending two months interning with Mary Matalin, a well-known political consultant who has served in the administrations of two presidents. After graduation, I aspire to make it onto Capitol Hill and advocate for the media’s role as a positive force in the relationship between public officials and their constituents.

Rhodes’ External Programs division worked with Start Co., an organization that helps entrepreneurs develop business models, to provide a boot camp accelerator program on financing for you and the founders of The Bridge. Tell us about your experience.

We’ve all been convinced at one point or another that we have that one brilliant business idea that will launch us into Forbes magazine.  If you’re my co-founder Evan Katz, you keep an iPhone list full of mind-blowingly brilliant ideas (genetically straightened bananas for easy storage!)  But I’d never really thought about the process through which these entrepreneurs turn their ideas into a reality . . . until I stepped foot into Start Co.

This past March, fellow Rhodents Evan Katz, James Ekenstedt, Shiven Samant, and I founded a nonprofit that gives sustainable income to people with experiences of homelessness through sales of a newspaper written by the homeless themselves. Starting the day after our spring final exams, my three co-founders and I left our confines of the library to begin a social entrepreneurship “boot camp” accelerator.  My lack of business knowledge coupled with my fear of exercise made me uneasy toward this classification. Start Co.’s social entrepreneurship accelerator consisted of condensed business classes, exercises in product development, and regular meetings with entrepreneur mentors.

The accelerator program constantly challenged us to set higher goals, rework our business model by actively pursuing funding from businesses and individuals interested in investing in social change, and readily articulate the issues of homelessness in Memphis and how The Bridge addresses them. Most importantly, Start Co.’s accelerator taught us how to transform The Bridge into a sustainable business capable of making a lasting impact in the Memphis community.