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“It was like ‘The Devil Wears Prada,’ but she was super nice.”
That is how soon-to-be University of Virginia graduate Nedda Najand described her summer interning for Katie Couric, the famous U.Va. grad and host of “Katie,” a nationally syndicated TV talk show.
The popular 2006 movie, starring Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway, tells the story of a young woman who works as an assistant for the hyper-demanding Miranda Priestly, a character believed to be based on Anna Wintour, the editor-in-chief of American Vogue.
Najand experienced her own Anne Hathaway moment in June 2012 when she went to Manhattan to intern for a decidedly nicer Katie Couric. The job was wide-ranging, as most college internships tend to be. Najand did everything from write a daily morning news synopsis – “something Katie could just check on her phone” – to assisting on photo shoots.
There were also lighter tasks, like using Couric’s driver to run errands for the talk show host, who wanted to be called “Katie.” Najand also followed Couric on interviews, including one with fellow media legend Regis Philbin.
Preparing for the Launch of “Katie”
All of the work at 30 West 67th Street in the summer of 2012 was in preparation for the launch of “Katie,” which was set to begin airing that September. Najand said the atmosphere was fast-paced and the talent pulled together to make the show a winner was jaw-dropping. There were former producers from “Oprah” and more.
“The original executive producer used to take M&Ms off my desk every now and then and I wondered ‘Who is this guy?’” she said. A Google search answered her question: That guy was Jeff Zucker, the former president of NBC Universal, now president of CNN Worldwide.
Najand was momentarily embarrassed. “I didn’t have a television background. I didn’t study journalism. I didn’t know about production,” said the McIntire School of Commerce student, who will graduate May 18 after concentrating on marketing and information technology. “I was studying emerging markets in China,” she said.
“It was a lot of learning quickly, but everyone was super helpful and really nice,” she said.
Najand got to know Zucker better during the weekly meetings with him and the rest of the “Katie” team. The purpose was to get everyone hyped up for the week, share information and set goals. “He was a great motivator. ... What was nice was that even the interns were being heard. Everybody’s voice was important,” she said.
And there were other celebrities. Najand was on the set to see talk show host Wendy Williams and stars Susan Sarandon and Caroline Rhea. Her heart sank when she realized that one of her favorite singers, Demi Lovato, was scheduled to appear two weeks after her internship was to end. Ever the resourceful business student, she quickly asked to extend her stay at the show and didn’t miss Lovato’s performance.
A Non-Descript Job Post Brings Surprising Results
The road to the “Katie” show was a surprisingly subtle one. Najand applied for a non-descript job, posted on U.Va.’s CavLink student job catalog, on the advice of her good friend and fellow fourth-year student, Ese Shaw. The wording was very vague and made no mention of the “Katie” show. “It was literally like ‘help out an executive assistant for a show host,’” Najand said.
To spice up her resume, she submitted several videos of her original cooking show, “Nomz with Nedda.” Shot by Shaw, who is graduating from the College of Arts & Sciences, and posted to YouTube and Facebook, the videos capture her personable and telegenic nature. Najand enlisted several of her friends, including All-Atlantic Coast Conference basketball player Malcolm Brogdon, to appear in the videos.
She said the clips helped her land the internship. “I think that is one of the best decisions I made here at U.Va. – to have something that makes me stand out and shows my personality,” she said.
Najand’s parents came to the United States from Iran in the mid-1970s, just ahead of the 1979 revolution in that country. A tight-knit family, they share a love of food, which stoked Najand’s idea for the cooking show. If you watch the videos to the end, you will see her signature sign off, a Persian snap of the fingers.
A Love of Children Leads to Babysitting Service
Najand also loves children, and her entrepreneurial spirit lead her to create “HooSitting,” a babysitting database that connects U.Va. students to the community. The website features sitters’ profiles and allows users to reserve the time they need child care. “U.Va. sitters already go through a filter because we are such a great school, so parents are getting a smart, educated person” to look after their children, she said. She is handing the reins of the business to a friend so the service will continue next year.
After she walks the Lawn May 18, Najand will have a few weeks to regroup before heading to San Francisco to begin her professional career as a consultant at computer technology corporation Oracle.
Denise Egan, who oversees career advising for McIntire students, said she is not surprised the Virginia Beach native has a good job lined up.
“I was very impressed that she secured an internship with Katie Couric as a second-year student,” she said. “Nedda’s entrepreneurial, leadership and communications skills have and will continue to serve her very well in her career. She’s already made a strong impact at U.Va. and in the Charlottesville community with the development of HoosSitting and I have every confidence she will be successful.”
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May 9, 2014