After WJMC, My WJMC Journey

Post-Conference Reflections on WJMC

There is something daunting about writing a blog post with the serious title of “Post-Conference Reflections on WJMC” because it seems to come with a level of expectation. I feel as if I should write something profound about how the people I met at WJMC completely changed the way I view the world, how my journalistic skills and curiosity were fine-tuned to the highest degree, how I fell in love with something at the conference and found the true passion that will guide my career path for the rest of my life. Instead, what I hope to write here comes as much from the heart but may be less insightful or inspiring. I think WJMC did change my life, but its alterations are still too new for me to process in full light. I also have probably emerged from WJMC with just as many questions as answers about my future career aspirations and the media field. Maybe that is the side of me that tries to think like a journalist.

What do I know I gained from attending WJMC? These things I attained for sure:

1. Friendships. I am incredibly grateful for the people I met at WJMC who opened my mind to different perspectives and gave me excuses to smile and laugh. They made this adventure fun.

2. Networking experience. A person can learn a lot about follow-up emails, leaving contact information with people, and asking good questions in just a few days especially when she has excellent advisors who care about her professional growth.

3. Insight on what Journalism really is. Now, I am not going to spit out an exact definition here, but I will say I had valuable first-hand experience learning how integrity, courage, skill, objectivity, policy, and people drive good journalism. I also enjoyed learning about Solutions Journalism and various methods of communication used by media professionals. (The college credit in PROV 110-Special Topics in Leadership was just frosting on the cake).

4. An incredible experience to visit Washington D.C. Our nation’s capital is breathtaking. It is tree-covered yet urban, ancient but modern. So much history is packed within walking distance, and the sights are something you just have to see.

To answer the unspoken question, yes, I am happy I took the opportunity to attend WJMC. I experienced so much development in just six days, and my eyes were opened to new possibilities. I met many like-minded individuals who shared their stories, and we put aside – no, embraced – our differences to create a new story during our time together. Journalists, media professionals in general, and all people, really, want to tell the stories that matter to them. Thank you for reading my WJMC blog and letting me tell mine.

After WJMC, During WJMC, My WJMC Journey

WJMC Day Six – Day of Goodbyes

Around 7:15 a.m. on Friday, July 19, 2019, I rolled two suitcases out of a dorm room and shut the door without believing I would likely ever open the same door again. The occurrence was the day’s first goodbye. I walked down a hall full of other girls with their own luggage at their sides. Some of the girls I knew, some I did not; all I might never see again. I made my way to the elevator. The doors opened. I squeezed myself into a full elevator compartment; there was no room left for any other passengers. The doors closed.

The doors reopened to a lobby, where I saw more people, more suitcases. Goodbye, elevator. I quietly stepped out onto a carpeted floor and kept walking until I had left the building and was outside. Goodbye, Hampton Roads residence hall. I left my suitcases on the sidewalk in a designated square that had been drawn with chalk. Then, feeling free from the weight of my bags, I meandered on, taking a winding sidewalk through a campus lightly touched by morning light. I could not have forgotten it was summer because even early in the morning, the Virginia air was already hot.

I had my last breakfast at Southside Dining Hall. I am sure I had one last bowl of yogurt with fruit and granola, one last muffin . . . maybe two. I had conversations with friends I hope to never forget who, within hours, would be scattered across the nation. Goodbye, friends. Goodbye, Southside (and Southside blueberry muffins). I attended my last Color Group Meeting (back at Hampton Roads, though I had already said my goodbyes), returned my room key, and received a certificate for completing the WJMC program. My color group took our final photo together. Goodbye to the Maroon 22.

My certificate for completion of the 2019 Washington Journalism and Media Conference. Personal Photo.

We attended the Closing Ceremony at Dewberry Hall in the Johnson Center. The speaker was Sam Wolf, who was the Assistant Director of Logistics with the Advance Team this year and has been with WJMC since he was a National Youth Correspondent in 2014. As this year’s correspondents start a new chapter post-WJMC, Wolf starts a new chapter in Australia. As a conference, we said goodbye to Wolf and wished him luck in his future endeavors. We then watched a recap video of our time at WJMC. Next, it was time to say goodbye to Dewberry Hall and to the Johnson Center.

My parents and sister arrived at around 10:30 a.m. to pick me up, and it was time for me to say more goodbyes. First, though, I wanted to show my family the technology at George Mason University by ordering Dunkin’ Donuts from a Starship delivery robot! (Learn more about the robots here: I said goodbye to my faculty advisor, Chris Mauthé, and junior faculty advisor, Megan Mittelhammer. Then, my family took an Uber back to my family’s hotel. We had lunch in the “Mosaic District” of Fairfax, which is primarily a shopping, dining, and entertainment area. Then, we headed back to Ronald Reagan International Airport for our flight home. It was a day of sad goodbyes: goodbyes to new friends, goodbyes to incredible WJMC faculty, goodbye to George Mason University, goodbye to Fairfax, goodbye to Virginia, goodbye to Washington D.C. However, it was only goodbye for now, and hello to a world seen with fresh eyes because of the things I saw, the experience I gained, and the people I met at WJMC.

Asking a question at the National Press Club, Tuesday, July 16, 2019. Photograph by Meghan A.T.B. Reese.
After WJMC, During WJMC, My WJMC Journey

WJMC Day Five

It is July 30 as I am finally uploading this, and I promise all planned WJMC National Youth Correspondent posts will be uploaded today. I am not going to do more Reading Reviews at this time, so I can focus on my upcoming return to school. However, I will be posting WJMC Day Five (this post) and Day Six today, as well as something of a “reflections” post. Thank you for reading!

Today was an exciting day on Capitol Hill! After breakfast, we boarded the buses and arrived at the United States Capitol building to take an all-WJMC group photo. Throughout the day, we were required to stay with a partner when walking around, so I first connected with a girl named Mindy whose plans were similar to mine. I first saw the Library of Congress Jefferson Building and then the (bare minimum of) the Supreme Court Building. It was also interesting to me to find a building corresponding to my religious denomination right in the same area.

2019 National Youth Correspondents pose for an all-WJMC photo in front of the United States Capitol on Thursday, July 18, 2019. Photograph by Meghan ATB Reese.

At 11:30, I had a Congressional appointment with Senator Jerry Moran from my home state of Kansas. Unfortunately, Senator Moran was not able to meet with me because he was called to vote; however, I did get the chance to introduce myself and shake his hand. I was also able to have my scheduled meeting with Morgan Said, Press Secretary for Senator Moran, which I greatly appreciated. Said was very attentive as I explained my concerns about recycling access in rural Kansas communities and my involvement in WJMC. She also shared her own experience as a high school student attending a journalism event in Washington D.C. and provided insight as to how I could be further involved as a journalist and environmental advocate in my community. I really appreciated the time she gave me to voice my concerns and have a conversation.

Everyone I met in Senator Moran’s office was very kind to me. I was even offered a private tour of the United States Capitol building! I gladly accepted the offer and went on the tour with a fellow National Youth Correspondent named Jillian, who was from New Jersey, and an intern named Will, who was our guide. My favorite parts of visiting the Capitol were getting to see famous paintings and statues and learning the history behind different areas of the building. It was also interesting to notice the aspects of the Capitol’s architecture that were adopted by the Kansas State Capitol, which was constructed between 1866 and 1903 (according to the Kansas Historical Society –  see

I had a great day exploring the U.S. Capitol! Photograph by Meghan ATB Reese.

After our visit to the Capitol, Jillian and I walked to the National Air and Space Museum to board the bus to George Mason University. We did not have time to visit the museum, but it was neat to walk past the tents set up on the Mall in honor of the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Once everyone (and the buses) had arrived at the National Air and Space Museum, we left Washington D.C. Next, we had about two hours to prepare ourselves for the WJMC Gala. I also took advantage of the time in my dorm room to begin packing for my flight the next day.

Soon, it was time to board the buses again, this time for the WJMC Gala at Westfields Marriott. WJMC National Youth Correspondents and Faculty alike were dressed in semi-formal attire for an evening of dinner and dancing. First, we took color group photos taken on the lavish chairs and couches of the Marriott and had fun doing “Kardashian” style poses. Then, we had a delicious three-course meal with salad, chicken, mashed potatoes, vegetables, and even a piece of rich chocolate cake! Our festivities concluded with a dance, the highlight of which I believe is when everyone started singing “Don’t Stop Believin'” by Journey. This part of the Gala was a testament to the power of music and the human connection. It was also a lot of fun! When the Gala ended, and I boarded the bus for the last time, it was hard to believe it was really over.

My dinner table at the WJMC Gala! I miss getting to see these people every day. Personal Video.
After WJMC, During WJMC, My WJMC Journey

WJMC Day Four (Part Three) – “Expect the Unexpected”

I was well-pleased to say the least with how the Simulation had gone. However, the day had more in store . . .

. . . namely, a power outage.

(Side note: Thank you to everyone who has stayed tuned this far. I know it has been five days since my last post, so thank you for being patient as I get caught up!)

It was supper time, and I was planning to leave the Johnson Center for Southside Dining Hall after a successful Simulation. I had noticed as I was leaving the room I had presented in that some of the windows were wet with water droplets hanging onto the outsides. However, I had no idea of the magnitude of what was brewing outside. I walked down the staircase to the main level, where I saw several dripping-wet people rushing through the main doors to get inside the dry building. I had luckily brought my umbrella, so I opened up my bag, pulled the umbrella out, and braced myself to step into the rain.

Luckily for me, the front doors led to a flat patio with an overhanging roof. If I had not had impermeable building material over my head when I stepped outside, I would have been instantly drenched. Rain was coming down in thick sheets, and its direction was non-vertical. My first evaluation of the weather situation was that I could endure it; I unfurled my umbrella and let it billow out. However, a stranger standing near took notice of my action and gave a warning (paraphrased here):

“With that small umbrella? It will blow out of your hands as soon as you step into the rain!”

Embarrassed and beginning to reconsider, I turned back to the door. Other students had been filing out to make or consider a journey to Southside Dining Hall, and at that moment, some members of my color group stepped out. They looked first at the showery sky and then to me. After a quick discussion, we decided to go back inside the Johnson Center to eat at Panera Bread. It was back inside for us and my tiny umbrella.

Panera was immediately to our left as soon as we stepped indoors, and it sounded delicious. I eagerly walked in the doors and into the ordering line. I stepped up to the counter, ordered my food, and slipped my card into the chip reader to pay . . . darkness. Everything fell silent for a moment as the lights went out in Panera Bread. I was silently grateful I had not been waiting for my food when the ovens, refrigerators, everything lost power.

The manager let all customers know that no more orders would be processed and no more food would be made, and I wrote down my phone number and email for him in case my transaction had gone through after all. Thankfully, I did not believe I had been far enough in the payment process for that to be so. It was a case of good(ish) timing: I might have been better off to come in Panera Bread much earlier, but there was no guarantee; if I had come in just moments earlier, I would have been short of not just food but also money. There was only one thing to do (besides skip dinner, which I did not view as a good option): make the trek to Southside. The main hall of the Johnson Center had retained power or quickly switched to a backup generator, and I hoped the dining hall might be in the same situation. Thus, I left Panera Bread, walked out of the Johnson Center, reopened my umbrella, and, abandoning the convenience of a roof over my head, stepped out into the rain.

My steps were quick as I headed toward Southside, my umbrella surprisingly sturdy considering its size and thin material; the stranger’s warning has been kindly meant but unfounded after all. I made my way to the dining hall with no issues greater than slightly damp dress pants. Not too bad, I thought. Once there, I found some friends and was able to eat a pre-prepared dinner (in a lighted room!). In the end, I was satisfied because I had gotten supper and a story, great news for a hungry student journalist.

After our meal, I returned to the Johnson Center. This time, no umbrella was needed. The power was not fully returned, but we were still able to enjoy our planned evening activities with just a little reshuffling. Firstly, we discussed our trip to Capitol Hill the next day after splitting into groups based on our individual plans. Then, we divided again to each go to one of numerous Career Exploration Sessions, which had been moved to new locations due to the weather situation. I attended the session led by Rondene Grinam, Integrated Marketing Specialist at Gartner, Inc. and former Assistant Director of Integrated Enrollment Marketing for George Mason University. Fun fact: Grinam is also a WJMC alumna! After hearing Grinam talk about her career path, I was so inspired that I told my faculty advisor that Grinam is the professional I want to be five to ten years from now.

Our last activity for the night was listening to Meghan ATB Reese give a talk. Reese is a producer and photographer for National Geographic. We were also honored to have her as our photographer for WJMC. What I found most interesting from her talk was hearing about how she has navigated through different projects throughout her career and discovered what is and is not a good fit for her. Reese was not deterred by having to present in a makeshift auditorium in the commons of the Johnson Center or by a lack of effective microphones; instead, she remained patient and professional until alas! the lights turned back on to their full. It was a bright ending to a great albeit partly cloudy day.

After WJMC, During WJMC, My WJMC Journey

WJMC Day Four (Part Two) – Hello Again!

After hearing from Takayama-Pérez, we split into groups for Health, Violence, and Education Meetings. I met with Celeste and Elle to discuss some ideas I had for our Simulation topic in education, trying to put aside my nervousness. It was time for the Simulation to begin . . .

I left my WJMC Day Four (Part One) post hanging on that remark, and I appreciate those of you stopping by to check out this post to get the rest of my WJMC Day Four story (four days later!). As I stated in my first post, my day started out with breakfast at Southside Dining Hall and a Color Group Meeting. Then, I witnessed firsthand the eye-opening photographs of Carol Guzy, four-time Pulitzer-Prize Photojournalist. After lunch, I attended a college admissions session. Then, it was time to do a journalism Simulation.

As soon as we were dismissed from the college admissions session at the Johnson Center, I went upstairs to my assigned Simulation room. Once there, I met up my partners Celeste and Elle. We were in the Education 1 room, which meant we were tasked to research a topic in Education from the viewpoint of The Atlanta Journal Constitution. Our job was to come up with a Solutions Journalism piece to pitch to our “editors” (our color group faculty) on a “slice” of Education topics. We chose to research Early Education / Access to Childcare as our slice and ended up somewhat narrowing our topic to Pre-Kindergarten.

What makes Solutions Journalism different from other journalism is that it is not just reporting a problem, it is not releasing breaking news, and it is not commentating or advocating for a solution. Instead, it is focusing on a long-term issue and researching a potential solution to explain objectively but with a sense of hope. Before our Simulation, we received some instruction on what is and is not Solutions Journalism. We were taught:

1. “Solutions Journalism features a response to a problem.”

2. “It provides available evidence of results, looking at impact, not just intentions.”

3. “It provides insights, not just inspiration, that can help others respond.”

4. “It discusses limitations and avoids reading like a puff piece.”

We were also taught how to recognize and avoid writing “imposter stories”:

1. “A story that claims a program is 100% successful”

2. “A story that does not describe limitations to a solution”

3. “A story that worships a hero and over-claims a solution”

4. “A story that proposes things that do not yet exist”

5. “A story that is just inspirational or heartwarming”

Standing in front of our Solutions Journalism pitch poster. L-R: Me, Elle, and Celeste.

After fewer than two hours in the Education 1 Meeting, my team and I had our Solutions Journalism piece ready to pitch. To combat the question “So What?”, we provided real data from the Georgia Partnership of Excellence in Education (GPEE) that explained the need for early childhood education because of its impact on parents’ abilities to work, elementary-school test scores, and the overall economy. We had been tasked to ask the question “Why Now?”, and we answered it by reminding our audience we were in back-to-school season and informing them the GPEE had released their annual Top Ten Issues to Watch in 2019 report just this January. In the report, “Early Learning – Quality Early Care and Its Economic Impact” had been listed as Issue 2.

To answer the question “Why Me?”, we detailed our qualifications for writing this story and also stated our readership already had an interest in this topic (based on our findings of related articles from the actual online newspaper The Atlanta Journal Constitution). We also provided a list of people to contact / interview for a story hook and also for expert consultation. To conclude our pitch, we proposed the solution of an existing early childcare program in Austin, Texas called “Success by 6.” We did this by comparing Success by 6 to the Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students or GEEARS (an existing program in Atlanta), discussed the successes of Success by 6, and evaluated the limitations of attempting to implement a program similar to Success by 6 in Atlanta.

Our pitch was attempted to be done within the two-minute time limit (We ended up having to request a small extension after a brief Q&A with our “editors” due to the amount of information we had been able to gather and wanted to present). There was still so much to be researched that we had not gotten to in our limited two hours; however, our faculty “editors” were very understanding that we were on a time-constraint. My group and I were very pleased to receive compliments on our presentation by both our faculty and fellow students. Overall, we felt proud about what we had been able to accomplish in such a short time-frame. I definitely learned a lot about Solutions Journalism through this Simulation, and I thought it turned out to be a really fun project!

I was well-pleased to say the least with how the Simulation had gone. However, the day had more in store . . .

Stay tuned once again for the next installment of my WJMC Journey!



Quote of the Day for Sunday, July 20, 2019:

. . . Let’s invite one another in. Maybe then we can begin to fear less, to make fewer wrong assumptions, to let go of the biases and stereotypes that unnecessarily divide us. Maybe we can better embrace the ways we are the same.”

-Michelle Obama, Becoming

During WJMC, My WJMC Journey

WJMC Day Five – Evening Update

Hello, everyone!

I know that my Day Four (Part Two) and Day Five updates have not been uploaded yet, but I promise they are coming soon. My days have been really jam-packed, and having the gala (more on that later!) and needing to pack tonight has put me a little behind on my blogging. I will definitely be catching up soon (I will try to resume either tomorrow or once I am back home in Kansas this weekend). It is hard to believe that my WJMC adventure is already reaching its conclusion! I will miss the amazing people I have met here and will always remember the opportunities I have been given at WJMC.

More content coming soon!!

During WJMC, My WJMC Journey

WJMC Day Four (Part One)

Greeting the new day with a smile. Personal Photo.

Today started off with another breakfast at Southside Dining Hall. Then, I reported to the Johnson Center at around 8:30 a.m. for a Color Group Meeting. We had a brief, 45-minute session in which we learned our partners, topics, and assigned newspaper for a Simulation. I was excited to learn I had been assigned to my topic of choice (Education), the Atlanta Journal Constitution, and partners Celeste Zirm and Elle Monfried for the project. For the Simulation, we were tasked to do research on a choice topic in Education, so we would be able to pitch a Solutions Journalism piece to our “editors” (a.k.a. our faculty and junior faculty advisors) later in the day. Celeste, Elle, and I quickly decided to focus our research on lack of access to early childhood education and began throwing around ideas.

Before we could start our real research, however, it was time to make our way downstairs to Dewberry Hall to hear a talk (I learned today that I have been improperly using the word “speech,” so I will try to do better!) from Carol Guzy.

Yes, you read correctly: Carol Guzy, the four-time Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist.

The emotions behind the stories Guzy has captured throughout her career are nearly indescribable, and her presentation was a gripping, heart-wrenching experience. One of her photo essays was about her own mother and sister whose lives deteriorated as they spent their final days facing dementia; I cannot imagine the courage it must have taken for Guzy to capture such a personal story with the pain and grief she was feeling as she documented the experiences of her loved ones. There are no words to express the raw feeling in my whole being as I then saw photographs of victimized children who became amputees as a result of Sierra Leone’s civil war. Images such as these knocked on my heart as tears streamed down my face. Guzy may be the most incredible photographer on this earth.

Carol Guzy speaking at Dewberry Hall, George Mason University Johnson Center. Personal Photo.

Next came lunch, which was followed by a College Admissions Session with Amy Takayama-Pérez, Dean of Admissions at George Mason University. Takayama-Pérez discussed what to look for in a college and how to stand out in the admissions process. Much of her information I had heard before because I have already begun the process of filling out and submitting college applications. However, from my experience, I will say the topics discussed during this session were very relevant and useful to the college search and application processes. I also appreciated the insight she gave me personally when I asked her a question regarding how college admissions weighs the ACT versus the SAT if there is not one specific test required by a school. (Her answer, paraphrased: Both are weighted equally by most U.S. colleges. This is good news for me as an ACT-taker who is already applying to college and who has not taken the SAT in high school!).

After hearing from Takayama-Pérez, we split into groups for Health, Violence, and Education Meetings. I met with Celeste and Elle to discuss some ideas I had for our Simulation topic in education, trying to put aside my nervousness. It was time for the Simulation to begin . . .

. . . More to come tomorrow! Thanks for reading this far.



Quote of the Day for Wednesday, July 17, 2019:

Everyone has a choice on the path they can take, but you have to understand your power in defining your own story.”

-Daniela Pierre-Bravo

(I’m enjoying my copy of Earn It! by Mika Brzezinski with Daniela Pierre-Bravo).