Alumni Profiles

Q&A with Camila Vallejo ’19, Report For America Fellow and Housing Reporter for CT Public

Camila Vallejo '19 is a bilingual journalist who covers housing inequity in Fairfield County for CT Public and Report for America.

Camila Vallejo is a 2019 University of Connecticut graduate who double majored in journalism and communications. She is currently a Report for America fellow at Connecticut Public Radio. As a bilingual reporter, her beat focuses on housing disparities in the Fairfield County area. Vallejo's career trajectory began as an intern and freelancer for The Hartford Courant, Univision and UConn Magazine.

Responses been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Did you always know that you wanted to be a journalist?  

I knew I wanted to become a journalist maybe around middle school. I grew up in a Latino household. I'm originally from Columbia, and my mom always saw news anchors as celebrities. To this day she knows every detail about their lives — whether they have kids or are married. The news anchors were really who she looked up to when I was growing up. So obviously, she passed that admiration to me.

As a Latina growing up in the United States, I wanted to find some balance in my news consumption. I looked for different media outlets that I could also follow so I could better understand my community. But I quickly realized that American newsrooms don't have a lot of people in them that look like me. Our newsrooms aren't as diverse as they could be.

Very early on, I decided not only do I like this medium of the news — that I like to write and tell the stories, but that I also want to be the change in American newsrooms. I want to help different communities, specifically vulnerable communities, tell their story and not necessarily be the voice for the voiceless, but be the vehicle to elevate both tragedies and successes in our community.

During your time at UConn, what did you do to get involved in journalism ? 

At first, I was pretty involved with HerCampus my freshman year because I hadn't really decided what kind of journalism I wanted to do. I never really explored The Daily Campus. At the end of my senior year, I started to get involved with the Nutmeg  where I was able to write a couple articles here and there. But really I didn't do a lot of clubs or anything like that.

My main involvement with journalism was through my classes. I was part of Prof. Marie Shanahan's weekly newsletter class for two semesters. That was really fantastic for me. And then in my last year, I was a student writer/intern for UConn Magazine where I was able to write different features and pieces.

What is Report For America? What do you cover as a reporter? 

It is a national service program that places emerging journalists into local newsrooms across the country to report under covered issues. I believe I was part of a cohort of over 300 journalists. I started last year, and on June 1, I will celebrate my first year with the program. I was placed at Connecticut Public Radio and I cover housing and housing disparity issues in Fairfield County.

You've worked at numerous places before landing at Connecticut Public Radio. How did your experiences shape your journey to Report For America?

Shortly after graduating from UConn, I landed an internship with the Hartford Courant, where I was in the features department. I was covering a variety of things in Hartford, whether it was food, events, the arts, etc. I did that for the entire summer and then they offered me the opportunity to freelance for a section targeted at millennials and younger news consumers, and I did that for a couple months. That was a great experience because I was given the chance to pitch the stories I liked, and was able to tell stories about a community that I belong to. The editors there helped me sharpen my journalistic skills and gave me the opportunity to go out and find stories.

Eventually, I found out about Connecticut Public Radio, and I started there as an intern. I was a production assistant for the afternoon news cast "All Things Considered." I moved into a position as a part-time producer for the show. And then I moved up to the Report For America.

What is the hardest part of reporting on housing disparities first-hand?

People often don't want to talk about their hardships. That's completely understandable because who does — especially to the public and with somebody who is a stranger. The biggest barrier is being able to build trust with your sources in order for them to know you want to tell their story. I think that's done through a variety of ways. It's done by visiting them a couple of times before you even turn on your recorder, by asking them if they have any questions for you. It's how you can better understand your newsroom's mission and what kind of story you are hoping to do, and how the story could impact the lives of your sources going forward.

Setting up that good foundation — where your source trusts you — is really important. But it's a challenge in this medium because you are covering really sensitive topics that impacted people's lives. Housing is the foundation of everything. Your housing determines where you go to school, where you are able to find a job, what kind of transportation is available to you, what kind of food stores are available to you. Everything really comes down to housing. So I think when you're in a situation where you're evicted from your home or you are experiencing a foreclosure or you can't find affordable housing that's within your budget, any of those scenarios, it really takes a toll on people. It's just a matter of really being willing to chase the story, and understanding the story often takes time.

How can journalism students get involved with Report for America? Are there opportunities for recent journalism graduates? 

Absolutely! Report For America opens their application every year. There are a lot of opportunities, but only offered for graduates. It's a great process. You apply, you discuss with the hiring managers what kind of work you'd like to do and what interests you, and they try to find a best fit for you. Then from there, you that interview with the newsrooms, and if the newsrooms like you and would like to see you in their workplace, then they give you an offer.

What would you say is the most important aspect of your job for Report for America?

The most important aspect is really making sure that I'm not only covering the issues, but covering people who are affected by these issues. Something that's always been really important to me is to be able to find the humans that are going through this because that's how we really impact change. When listeners are able to understand the kind of impact these large-scale problems are having on one family, on one community, and on one group, I think that's the best way people to connect and for change to really happen.  To able to find a human voice to speak about the kind of issues you're covering takes time, but in the end it's worthwhile because that is what the job is about.

Camila Vallejo '19, right, works with Marie Shanahan, associate professor of journalism, in JOUR 4016: Publication Practice on November 1, 2018. (Bri Diaz/UConn Photo)

Do you have any advice for UConn journalism majors who may be struggling to gain journalism experience? 

I would definitely explore the different student news organizations on campus. I would also explore the different opportunities that are at UConn in general whether it's opportunities like Professor Shanahan's newsletter production course.  I would also recommend reaching out to local news organizations and seeing if they have any opportunities available, whether it's freelancing or internships. That's the best way to get your name out there and  gain that experience.

In the end, if the organization says no and they don't have anything available right now, then maybe you can build a connection with a journalist there. Maybe ask them for a virtual coffee or in-person coffee. See what kind of connections you can make with people already in the field, because I can say this from personal experience. Once people get to know you, they think about you the next time an opportunity comes around.

Raquel Williamson '22 is a Journalism and Communications double major.

 

Adam Giardino ’11 Pushes for Change in the Press Box

Adam Giardino ’11 came to UConn with the goal of pursuing a career in sports. It wasn’t until he got in front of the microphone at WHUS that he found his calling in broadcasting. While working in the profession, he found another passion pushing for social change in the broadcast booth. The journalism and communication alumnus discusses how he started the Black Play-by-Play Broadcaster Grant & Scholarship Fund in the wake of George Floyd’s death, and how he continues to chase his big league dreams at UConn.

Interview by UConn Journalism senior Ty Reeves ‘22.

Read the full story on UConn Today.

 

Sarah Al-Arshani ’19 selected for Widening the Pipeline Fellowship

Congratulations to Sarah Al-Arshani '19, one of 25 journalists selected for the National Press Foundation's Widening the Pipeline Fellowship. The program is designed to support early-career journalists of color and help them rise to positions of influence in U.S. newsrooms. Training topics include leadership, investigative reporting, accountability reporting, data journalism, multimedia skills and in-studio media skills.

Over the next 12 months, fellows will receive training in leadership, in-depth reporting and more to expand the pipeline of diverse journalists. Fellows will meet in Washington D.C. for a three-day workshop March 20-23, then meet once a month for virtual training sessions and return to Washington for a concluding training in 2023. The journalists are based in 18 states and hail from print, radio, TV and digital newsrooms.

Sarah is currently a news reporter at Insider, Inc.

Widening the Pipeline Fellows receive one year of training in leadership, in-depth reporting and more to expand the pipeline of diverse journalists.

 

 

Kyle Huson ’16 in Beijing to Cover Paralympics

Kyle Huson '16 says his experiences at UConn have prepared him for the pressure and excitement of covering the Paralympic Games (courtesy of Kyle Huson).

When Kyle Huson ’16 (CLAS) played competitive ice hockey, he’d lug his heavy gear to the rink. Now, he carries a laptop, and for the next week and a half credentials and a passport, as he covers the U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team at the Paralympic Games in Beijing.

Huson, who majored in journalism and communication, is digital content manager at USA Hockey in Colorado Springs, Colorado, writing stories, posting content, and managing its social media channels. During the Winter Olympics, which closed Feb. 20, he stayed state-side and received content from staffers who were at the Games. But during the Paralympics, March 4-13, he’ll witness the action in China firsthand and provide his own accounts.

“A lot of what I do I owe to what I learned at UConn and the journalism and communication departments,” Huson says. “What I do is not just journalism-specific in terms of writing stories, but it’s also photography and videography. I’m able to provide in-depth content from different competitions and tournaments because of what I learned in my classes at UConn.”

Read more on UConn Today ↠

Alumni Spotlight: Aysha Mahmood ’14, editing Channel Kindness

Aysha Mahmood’s job is, in short, to make kindness cool, a goal as ambitious as it is straightforward. The idea alone can make people roll their eyes, she says, “especially if you consider yourself too cool to be kind.”

Mahmood ’14 (CLAS) obviously does not. She works for Born This Way Foundation, the nonprofit co-founded by Lady Gaga and her mother, Cynthia Germanotta, to promote mental health and activism in young people. Mahmood does that essentially with good news. From her home office in Windsor, Connecticut, she edits the foundation’s Channel Kindness, a digital platform that features stories by young people from around the globe about how they are changing the world.

Read the full story in UConn Magazine.

Q&A with UConn Journalism’s incoming department head Marie K. Shanahan on the changing landscape of news & information

Teacher working with journalism students
Marie Shanahan ’94, seen here working with students, will be the third head of the UConn journalism department in the program’s 56-year history. (Bri Diaz/UConn Photo)

As the only nationally accredited program of its kind in New England, the UConn Department of Journalism has for decades played a role in shaping how the news is reported, disseminated, and understood. Alumni have made their marks in places as far away as Berlin and Moscow, and as close to home as Willimantic and Manchester, and their ranks include winners of every major award in the industry, including the Pulitzer Prize.

Starting in Fall 2021, Marie Shanahan ’94 (CLAS), an award-winning print and online journalist who has taught at UConn since 2011, will become just the third department head in the program’s nearly 60-year history.

Shanahan – who in 2022 will conduct research in the Philippines as a Fulbright US Scholar – recently spoke with UConn Today about the state of the news industry, the opportunities for experimentation that exist at UConn, and why the skills that make good journalists are more valuable now than ever. The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

When you look at the news industry right now, what do you see? Are you optimistic, pessimistic, something in between?

It’s a mixed bag, actually. Right now there are a lot of interesting things happening on the nonprofit side, which I’ve been able to see develop here in Connecticut [Shanahan serves as a board member for two nonprofit news organizations, the Connecticut Health Investigative Team, and the Connecticut Mirror]. There are a lot of opportunities to do really valuable journalism, and to find new ways to fund it.

On the other hand, you see what’s happening to newspapers, and it’s so disheartening. I worry in particular about local news. As good as these journalism nonprofits are, right now they’re not doing what newspapers traditionally have done, which is closely pay attention to what’s happening on the local level.

Given that, what are your priorities as the head of the UConn journalism department?

As head of the journalism department at UConn, where we’re educating the next generation of journalists, there are a number of things we need to do. We need to look at how news organizations are finally coming to grips with the need to improve diversity within the newsroom, and our role in that is to attract a more diverse group of potential journalists, and direct them to mainstream news organizations, or to something new and exciting that’s coming up.

We just hired a new faculty member, Martine Granby, who has a joint appointment with the Africana Studies Institute as part of the College of Liberal Arts and Science’s new Anti-Racism and Anti-Bias cohort. She’s a documentarian. She looks at the news through the medium of documentary film, which is a wonderful opportunity for our department, to have someone who can change some of our curriculum and bring these new perspectives and skills to UConn.

Another thing I want to do is look for synergies. We have all these things happening at UConn – the School of Business, Digital Media and Design, you name it – and I’m always interested to see what kinds of partnerships can be developed. I love that UConn rewards entrepreneurship, and I’d love to see our students work with, say, business students on new ways to fund good journalism. Journalism is interdisciplinary by nature anyway, and the University is a perfect environment to develop that.

Speaking of new skills and perspectives, what are the skills UConn journalism students should develop? The industry has changed so much in a short period of time, but I imagine some of the fundamentals still apply.

Some of our graduates go into journalism, and some don’t. But what we want is for all of them to be clear communicators, because those skills are valuable wherever you go. Other departments are always coming to us to ask for students who can help with writing or editing, because people know journalism majors are good communicators.

You have to be able to write, obviously, but it’s more than that. Every student has to come out of our program with some visual acumen, and we have a Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist on our faculty who can show them how to develop that. You have to be able to speak about your work – I teach a podcasting class, for example – which is something new for a lot of journalists. Being on camera, editing audio, editing video, and being able to communicate clearly and effectively on social media are all skills that we teach.

Beyond that, critical thinking is obviously a skill everyone with a college degree should have, but especially for people studying journalism. It’s crucial to have those critical thinking skills when it comes to news literacy, media literacy, information literacy. Today, when information is coming at you like a torrent, and a lot of it is basically garbage, it’s vital to know how to be good consumers of news as well as good producers.

That’s a great segue to talk about what it means to be a journalist, and what journalism means, in 2021. What do people need to be good journalists, and what do people need to be good consumers of journalism?

The technology keeps changing. The way people get their news keeps changing. Nobody gets all their news from one place anymore, it’s all cherry-picking from different sources. One of the first questions I ask students on the first day of class is, “Where do you get your news?” And don’t tell me “I just read the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal,” because no one does that. It’s different for everyone – maybe you check Facebook first thing in the morning, read some emails, look at headlines on Twitter, then get in the car and turn on NPR. Maybe a friend texts you a link to a story. Maybe you get your news from Buzzfeed, or maybe you get your news from TikTok! I’ve got friends who’ve become fully addicted to TikTok, and the Washington Post has a journalist who’s dedicated to producing TikTok videos.

It doesn’t always have to be the way it was. You can produce the news in so many different ways, so you need to think about the best way to reach the audience you want to reach. That’s one of the great things about UConn, we can experiment with all of this.

Because I’m on those two nonprofit boards, I get to hear about what’s happening in this industry every day, and what I hear about is how they’re dealing with super fragmented audiences and the trust problem. We’re struggling to convince half of America to accept basic facts, and for some people there’s an automatic distrust of journalists.

That’s something we need to address, and one of the ways you do that is by having conversations with people and making sure they’re represented. Not every student at UConn is a liberal, and it’s great to have these conversations with students who lean right, lean left, and some who aren’t sure what direction they lean at all, and talk through how they go about receiving information and what builds their trust. The same thing is true of people from minority communities, which haven’t gotten the most detailed or in-depth coverage in the past. The more that people see themselves in the news, the more they’re likely to engage with it.

A big part of journalism is just being adaptable. What’s great about journalism is that you get to learn something new every day, and you get to talk to real people about real problems. We have the opportunity at UConn to innovate and try new things as this industry changes, and I’m excited for it.

Trajectory: Juliana Mazza ’13, live from Boston

Juliana Mazza in the WHDH 7 studio
Juliana Mazza ’13 is a UConn Journalism alumna who now reports and anchors the news at WHDH 7 in Boston.

Being a TV news reporter is hard. It’s not just the insane hours, rising at 2 a.m. to work the morning shift, or missing important weddings and birthdays, or never having the same days off as your partner, or being told by hurtful trolls on social media that you need to lose weight or change your hairstyle — right after you just got back from covering a blizzard where you were pelted in the face by snowflakes the size of chicken pot pies. But the most difficult part, says Juliana Mazza ’13 (CLAS), reporter and morning anchor at WHDH 7 in Boston, is being human.

“It’s really hard, meeting people at the lowest moment in their life, where they’re facing unspeakable tragedy, somebody who is on their knees in tears, and it’s your job to talk to them.”

Sometimes you hold the mike, and sometimes you hold the person.

Read more from UConn Magazine »

UConn Graduate Lauren Stowell Tells Inspiring Stories Through Eyes Of ESPN

Laurel Stowell holding an Emmy award
The first time Lauren Stowell ’06 walked into a television production truck, she knew this was how she wanted to make a living.

The first time Lauren Stowell ’06 (CLAS) walked into a television production truck, she knew this was how she wanted to make a living.

“It was organized chaos, and you could cut the tension with a knife,” says Stowell, who was working as a runner for ESPN that day for a UConn basketball game when she was a student. That meant she was doing every little odd job the ESPN crew needed during their time in Storrs.

“I remember looking at the producer and the director in front of the board calling camera shots. There were graphics people yelling. It was the most chaotic, but beautiful, orchestra of madness I ever experienced. When I went home, I told my dad, I am not sure what I just experienced, but I want to be doing that.”

Stowell knew about sports at an early age, as her father, Bob Stowell ’71 (CLAS), was a UConn football student-athlete and then a long-time photographer at Husky events.

Lauren Stowell, who graduated with a degree in journalism with a concentration in pathobiology, is now a features producer at ESPN and a five-time Sports Emmy Award winner.

Read more at UConn Today »

Trajectory: Alexandra March ’10

Alexandra March '10
Alexandra March is senior staff editor for the New York Times opinion section, she runs eight digital newsletters for the Times, including “Debatable,” with its opposing views on major topics. She was a journalism major from the start and she joined The Daily Campus in the commentary department.

“It’s strange to think that I was worried about accidentally eating unpasteurized soft cheese a few months ago, and now I am writing my will and preparing for the worst case scenario (while hoping for the best, of course),” Alexandra March ’10 told us in April.

With her first child due in June, the self-described “type A, planner, worrier” is being forced to set aside her spreadsheets during a time that makes even type Cs consummate type As. “All this time I thought that the worst I would have to protect her from in the early days would be the common cold, and I would combat that by wiping off her tiny, ever-sticky hands, feeling like the most capable doctor in the nation’s best hospital. Now I realize that not only can I not prepare for her birth in a pandemic, but it’s also likely that a lot of her life will be beyond my protection. My spreadsheets will be useless. I’m forced to accept that I can’t plan for everything; I don’t have any choice but to be agile — no one knows what the world will look like in three months,” wrote March in The New York Times in April.

March doesn’t usually write for the Times — she works behind the bylines. As senior staff editor for the opinion section, she runs eight digital newsletters for the Times, including “Debatable,” with its opposing views on major topics. Her role encompasses a bit of everything for the opinion section’s digital realm, from co-running its Instagram with a colleague to working on push notifications, LinkedIn, Flipboard, and Apple News.

Read more from UConn Magazine »

Staying Well Means Staying On the Move — Even When You’re Stuck at Home

Emily Abbate ’10 (CLAS)
Emily Abbate graduated from UConn Journalism in 2010. She is the host of the “Hurdle” podcast and a fitness and wellness freelance journalist.


By JULIE (STAGIS) BARTUCCA ’10

UConn Magazine

“Wellness” may be among the biggest buzzwords of the past decade (not to mention a $4.5 trillion industry), but it has taken on new meaning as people the world over try to balance widespread uncertainty and stress with a new, socially distanced way of life.

“I think of wellness as the activities and habits that we develop to not only keep us sane but promote overall well-being and satisfy that itch to be a better version of yourself,” says UConn Journalism alumna Emily Abbate ’10  a freelance journalist and podcaster who believes her “mission as a human is to empower other people to be their best selves and to move with some sort of intention.”

On her podcast, “Hurdle,” she’s asked more than 100 guests — from Olympic runner Desiree Linden and celebrity trainers Jillian Michaels and Gunnar Peterson to Headspace co-founder Andy Puddicombe and The Meatball Shop restaurateur Michael Chernow — about their #HurdleMoment, a turning point that allowed them to break free of struggle through some form of wellness. You better believe she has a story of her own — and it started at UConn.

Abbate recalls sitting at her desk in Hicks Hall, procrastinating on homework one spring day at the end of her freshman year in 2007, when a digital scale tucked under her bed since move-in caught her eye. She knew she’d gained weight but had no idea how much and was shocked when “204” populated the screen.

“I got off the scale and threw on some old sweatpants and a hoodie and sneakers and did something that at the time was totally not instinctive to me at all, which was run down three flights of stairs and out the door.”

Less than a minute into her run, she collapsed into the grass.

“I was just so exhausted and beside myself, tears streaming down my face,” says Abbate. “I just knew that I needed to make a change.”

Since then, Abbate has lost (and kept off) 70 pounds, fallen in love with running, and completed eight marathons (she had planned to run her ninth in London in April before it was postponed due to the pandemic).

Exercise became such a part of her identity that she leaned hard into the niche a few years after graduation, eventually landing Self magazine’s fitness editor position. When Self ceased print publication in early 2017, Abbate became a full-time freelancer, with health and fitness stories published everywhere from Runner’s World to GQ to The Wall Street Journal.

She not only talks the talk — “Hurdle” recently hit 1.3 million listens and was called “addictive” in The New York Times — she walks the walk, too. When she decided to specialize in fitness writing, Abbate earned certifications as a run coach and personal trainer so she could always stand by her advice.

Her top tip for those looking to start a wellness routine, especially those looking to work out at home during the pandemic is, to borrow a well-known fitness-world slogan: Just do it: “Try what sounds good, and don’t be afraid to change it up if you don’t like that meditation app or yoga class,” she says.

The abundance of digital fitness classes being offered on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and Zoom while businesses are shut down means there’s something for everyone, Abbate told listeners on a late-April mini-episode of “Hurdle,” and technology means you can still set a date to work out with friends or family for motivation.

And remember — the point isn’t to achieve fitness excellence.

“Little, small habits lead to major change,” says Abbate. “The most important thing is that you started and are dedicated to making it a habit. The best part about ‘Hurdle’ is this constant reinforcing notion that hard stuff happens to all of us, but we are all capable of handling it,” she says. “It doesn’t matter if you’re the CEO of a publishing house or a world-class athlete, at the end of the day we all face our fair share of adversity.”

Still apprehensive? Remember that Abbate’s fitness life began with a 1-minute run followed by a flop in the grass. And despite all the marathons she’s now run, she says, “that night in the grass was my biggest victory.”