Finance and risk management insurance student augmented studies with summer of reality TV.

You don't expect many finance and risk management insurance majors at the Carlson School to be hanging out with Christina Ricci and Kim Kardashian or spending the day with the U.S. editor in chief of Marie Claire Magazine, but Hannah Cairns has done just that.

Project RunwayCairns spent last summer working on season nine of Project Runway, a fashion design reality show broadcast on the Lifetime Television network. Hosted by supermodel Heidi Klum, the show pits contestants against each other to create the most chic clothing with limits on time, theme, and materials. The show takes place at a top design school in the heart of Manhattan called Parsons School of Design. 

Cairns landed her position on the show when she was searching for a summer occupation while exploring New York for future job opportunities. "Originally, I had an interview for a position as a production assistant, but when I arrived I had an interview with the talent manager," she says. "The talent manager was from Michigan; he loved the Midwestern in me."

Hired as the talent manager's assistant, Cairns and another co-assistant were the direct communication from the directors to the judges and guest celebrities. "My job included a wide variety of responsibilities, including greeting and escorting celebrities to their shoots, daily errands in Manhattan to Mood Fabrics, retrieving production equipment from distribution companies, and ordering special requests for guest celebrities," she says.

The production of the show was fast-paced, with Cairns putting in 13-hour days, six days a week. "When watching an episode each week as a viewer, you have the idea instilled that each challenge takes a week when in reality we do several challenges in a week," she says.


Cairns drew upon her experiences at the Carlson School in all aspects of her job. "Lessons I have learned at Carlson were an immense part of my success. When I saw an imperfection in their budget distribution, I wrote up a budget proposal that was accepted by the production manager and implemented immediately," she says. "I used the endless lessons from courses at Carlson on networking and portraying a professional persona while also being genuine to communicate with celebrities. Believe it or not, they get nervous, too." Cairns' favorite meeting was with Marie Claire Magazine's Joanna Coles. "I spent a day with Joanna at the Hearst Corporation building for an offsite shoot," she says. "Joanna Coles is an inspiring, chic, intelligent, and strong woman in today's male-dominated workforce."

Did Cairns work on the show change her future career plans? "I realized that I appreciate fashion, but I strive for the analytical work of a company such as financial decisions and accounting methods," she says. "I spent countless hours questioning the accountants on their processes, re-working their petty cash systems, and implementing Google Excel documents as well as presenting budget proposals to the managers."

She also found that her ability to understand team dynamics allowed her to assist others in reaching their full potential. "After taking the DISC-Dimensions of Behavior Assessment at a Women in Business Executive Board meeting, I understood my strength as an 'influence' individual," she says. "I exercised this strength and was the voice of positivity for my co-workers. It was our work together that made the impossible possible. Regardless of your position in a company, you can inspire and change how people go about their daily lives."

Cairns has been elected as the new president for the Undergraduate chapter of Women in Business for 2012-2013.