The Pussycat Dolls pegged the stereotypical teenage dream in their song “When I Grow Up” which defined many college students’ childhood. The lyrics, “When I grow up/Be on TV/People know me” were an unachievable dream to most of us.
However, two Seton Hall University alums, were able to see themselves on the small screen in a 20/20 episode that aired on Oct. 2.
According to the Seton Hall website, alumni Zachary Blackwood and Ashley Jefferson, who both graduated last spring, were selected by entrepreneur and investor Kevin O’Leary of ABC’s “Shark Tank” to be featured in a sales challenge.
“Blackwood and Jefferson were chosen from a competitive pool of college students from across the nation who competed in a series of elevator pitches for the opportunity to receive advice from O’Leary on how to sell themselves and be a success as they enter the job market,” according to the SHU website.
Jefferson said that Seton Hall prepared her for the journey because of the extracurricular activities she was able to take part in during her four years of college. As a MLK scholar, a member of the Gerald P. Buccino ’63 Center for Leadership Development and a participant in the Student Government Association (SGA), Jefferson was able to practice her sales skills often.
“I constantly had to get someone to buy into something, whether it was through SGA or the business leadership program,” she added.
Blackwood also was very involved. He was also in the leadership development program, worked as a SHU tour guide, participated as a member of the Seton Hall Jazz Ensemble, involved in the National Society of Collegiate Scholars, and engaged in the Division of Volunteer Efforts.
Blackwood and Jefferson cite their advisors at SHU for pushing them to shoot for the stars. One of the advisors was Professor Mike Reuter, director of the Buccino Center for Leadership Development.
“Being a Stillman leadership student gave me the tools I needed to compete in the sale competition,” Blackwood added. “I made it all the way to the final round directly because of the skills I learned in Leadership and my classes.”
Blackwood said he auditioned for the show because of the encouragement from Reuter.
Reuter said that he recommended Blackwood and Jefferson to audition for the show because of their passion and excitement for life to be extraordinary in all that they are and do.
“You can always see it in their eyes and hear it in their words and tone of voice,” Reuter added.
“It’s about serving the students to help them find and realize in themselves the incredible gifts they have, so that they can turn them into action and change the world and the people whom they
will service,” he said.
While they had to dedicate hard work to get them where they are now, both alums said that the experience on 20/20 was a lot of fun.
“It’s interesting to see how the entertainment and production world works,” Jefferson said.
Jefferson said the segment wasn’t scripted at all and they never really stopped and started. It was just a dialogue with cameras around, she added.
Blackwood agreed that he was amazed that one specific scene with O’Leary giving the finalists advice, in particular, was done in one shot.
“My most memorable moment of the episode was being in the room with Kevin O’Leary (Mr. Wonderful) and learning about the different sales techniques,” Blackwood said.
For those who are fans of Mr. Wonderful, it is known that he can be harsh and a bit mean on TV.
Yet, Jefferson said he wasn’t really like that at all. “He’s really nice and really put the time in
to speak with us,” Jefferson said. “He was 100 percent present with us which made the experience so memorable.”
In the end, Jefferson moved on to the final round with the final three, while Blackwood did not.
The final three contestants had the challenge of selling cupcakes by a food truck, with an earpiece that connected them to O’Leary through the entire process.
“It actually was, in a weird sense, comforting,” Jefferson said. “He told us where we needed to improve but he encouraged us when we did something well.”
Jefferson ended with second place, but she was initially in the lead and almost won. However that was not presented in the show. Tommy, her competitor, had built up a line so even though his 30 minutes had ended, he got credit for people who he put in line.
Jefferson said that O’Leary gave her amazing advice and affirmation which she will take with her in her future endeavors.
“He affirmed that I was a natural seller and motivator, which was great to hear from a billionaire,” Jefferson said with a laugh.
While auditioning was nerve-wracking, Jefferson said she was so glad that she took a chance. “I took that leap of faith and it was such a payoff for me,” she added.
Blackwood would advise current students to pursue their passions with everything they’ve got.
“Don’t live someone else’s life,” he said. “Don’t be afraid to try new things and make mistakes, because that is the only way to learn.”
Blackwood, who graduated with a B.S. in Marketing and Finance is currently pursuing his M.B.A. in management at SHU.
He also works as a grad assistant in the Stillman Information Office.
Jefferson, who graduated with a dual major in finance and information technology management, works at Prudential Financial in a three year vocational program and also runs her blog “Post Undergrad Life.”
Rebecca White can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.