‘Dynamic’ Niagara intern has an eye for marketing, ear for hip-hop

By Cassidy Herrington

Niagara is fortunate to have some of the best interns in the city. One intern in particular, brings a particular attitude, or as I like to call it “Mi-attitude” that is irreplaceable.

And she unapologetically occupies half of my office.

Miata Phelan, 22, started interning for Niagara’s Center for Public and Global Affairs last January. Miata is majoring in music business management with a minor in public relations at Columbia College. She thought the position at Niagara would give her professional experience with event planning.


But the internship has given her much more, Miata said.

“What’s caught my attention the most is how the interns are treated here,” Miata said. “I mean, where else do interns get to sit in a room with the Consul General of Australia and talk with us like we’re working professionals?”

This is her first time in a “real office setting,” which has helped her develop social skills and professionalism, Miata said.

Before school, she was working at a nursing home as a certified nursing assistant.

“I had these silent thoughts, telling me ‘I don’t think I can do this every day, this doesn’t interest me,’” Miata said.

She decided to go back to school to pursue the one thing that holds her attention: music. The self-described “music head” grew up captivated by music videos on MTV and BET, Miata said.

“I’ve always wanted to tap into the music industry,” Miata said. “Before college, I thought those people who are working in it just got lucky.”

She started taking night classes at Kennedy King College in August 2011 and transferred in to Columbia this year.

“By the time I made it to Columbia, I was so eager to learn about my area of concentration — my music business and management classes, ” she said.

Miata splits her week between interning for Niagara and pursuing her passion for music business. Occasionally, she blends the two (I can hear the hip hop pounding in her earbuds), but she manages to stay well on task.

Last month, Miata started reviewing music and writing for a national hip-hop blog network, based in Chicago.  She tends to shy away from controversial topics, but she says controversy is inevitably part of hip-hop culture and music.

“As a female, sometimes I pull back and think, I can’t believe you said that, it went too far,’” Miata said. “But in the end, it’s just a song, and I don’t want artists’ freedom to be taken away.”

She has a sixth sense for the changing hip-hop scene here in Chicago.

On my lunch break, Miata pulls up the latest hip-hop videos from up-and-coming Chicago rappers. My schooling is limited to Wu-Tang Clan and Kanye West, so naturally, I’m astonished by her vast know-how. For example, she can quickly identify where an artist is from, just by the slang and style inserted in the music.

“Every city has its own story,” Miata said. “Chicago’s independent artists are taking a stand, want to be heard, and they want to bring the industry back to Chicago.”

Artists are taking note of Miata’s expertise. She’s received several requests for publicity and marketing advising.

For now, she’s staying focused at Niagara. Her internship officially ends next month, but she might stick around and volunteer for a few more months.

“My fingers are crossed,” said Aleksa Hacker, the director of the Center of Public and Global Affairs.

“I see tremendous potential in her, which is a large part of why I want her to stay at the Foundation,” Aleksa said. “She just knows how to unite people.”

For example, Miata is a star-recruiter at college career fairs.

“I don’t know what it is about Miata,” Aleksa said. “She can be flanked by two directors at the Niagara table, and every student will walk right up to her, shake her hand and ask her questions.”

And she’ll cheerfully hand out Aleksa’s business card.

“I see her in a leadership role, leading teams of people in the future,” Aleksa said.

I couldn’t find any complaints about Miata, except for one minor gripe from Niagara’s CFO, Mert Tanner.

As I was interviewing Aleksa, Mert poked his head around the doorframe. “Miata’s notorious for flooding the kitchen,” Mert said.

He suspects that Miata left the tea valve open, on several occasions. In one alleged occurrence, water cascaded from the countertops to the linoleum floor in the office kitchen, Mert said. “She was just stepping out of the kitchen when I caught her!” he said.

“Jokes aside, Miata is a nice girl,” Mert said. “She has a warm way of interacting with people, very dynamic.”

That’s why I don’t mind sharing my office with her, even for longer than I planned for. This morning, I sent her a text asking if she’ll stick around for the summer. She replied, “yes.” Thank goodness.

Cassidy Herrington is the director of communications at Niagara Foundation. E-mail her at [email protected]

The views and opinions expressed on The Falls are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of Niagara Foundation, its staff, other authors, members, partners, or sponsors.