Alumni Profiles

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.”

Spotlight On: Julie Serkosky, Assistant Professor-In-Residence

Assistant Professor-In-Residence Julie Serkosky, center, looks over recent copies of the Journal Inquirer with News Editor Kimberly Phillips, left, and Associate Editor Nancy Thompson. (Photo by Kate Farrish)

Julie Serkosky ’91 spent 22 years as a reporter and editor at the Journal Inquirer newspaper in Manchester before becoming a UConn Journalism assistant professor-in-residence in 2014.

But in moving to the classroom, she hasn’t forgotten her roots in the newsroom. Each month, Serkosky devotes considerable time to judging the work of 15 JI reporters to select its Story of the Month.

She typically judges 10 to 20 entries, with an eye to choosing the story that she best resonated with readers in the JI’s 18-town circulation area. It might be the biggest story of the month, one written on a tight deadline or one that required a lot of research and use of the state Freedom of Information Act to secure public records.

Sometimes, it’s just a story that moves her.

“I try to find a story that a lot of people will read or a story that a lot of people should read,’’ Serkosky said during an interview at the JI. “And anything that moves me to tears or almost moves me to tears, I’m going to pick.”

Kimberly Phillips, the news editor, and Nancy Thompson, the associate editor, use the contest to motivate their reporters. The winner is revealed, along with Serkosky’s critique, at a monthly staff meeting, where the reporter describes how he or she reported or wrote the story.

The JI Story of the Month has other UConn Journalism department connections. For years, it was judged by Prof. John Breen before his death in 2014, and many JI reporters who are UConn Journalism alumni have won it, including Eric Bedner, Skyler Frazer, Tim Leininger, Jessica Lerner, Jackie Nappo and former reporter Joe O’Leary.

Serkosky recalled that in her days at the JI, winning the award boosted morale.

“You feel really good when you get Story of the Month,’’ she said.
Phillips and Thompson, who worked with Serkosky for years, said they trust her news instincts.

“She knows what makes a good news story, and she knows what matters to our readers,’’ Thompson said.
 Having an outsider and a journalism professor judging the award makes it prestigious, Phillips said.

“Having Julie as a judge gives the award a certain amount of weight,” Phillips said. “Her judgment is great.”

The editors said Serkosky has been known to make a quirky choice, such as a May feature by Nappo on home delivery of milk in Ellington, rather than a more hard-hitting story. They said she made another unconventional choice last November when she selected Alex Wood’s obituary of Barbara King, a longtime Manchester politician and part-time JI employee, as Story of the Month.

Serkosky said she was moved by a detail Wood included: that King put a yellow fabric butterfly on her desk on her first day on the job, and it is still there.

Serkosky said judging the best stories can be difficult because the quality of the journalism has remained at a high level even as the JI, like newspapers of every size, has faced financial challenges.

“I think the JI is stronger than ever,’’ she said. “I think it’s the best paper in the state for local news. It’s amazing to me how hard these people work and how dedicated they are to journalism.”

by Kate Farrish ’83

Three Reasons to Study Journalism at UConn

There are plenty of reasons why you should study journalism at the University of Connecticut. We asked a dozen of our alumni to tell us three reasons why earning a UConn Journalism degree was a great decision.


Glenn Smith ’87

Glenn Smith
Watchdog/Public Service Editor, The Post and Courier
Charleston, SC
Class of 1987, Winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize

1. Journalism remains a critically important craft in our society and a crucial backstop to democracy. UConn’s veteran team of instructors offers students a wealth of hands-on experience and keen knowledge of today’s trends, tools and possibilities.

2. Journalists have the privilege of working a profession where they can truly make a difference in people’s lives. UConn produces solid reporters and gifted writers with the skills necessary to hold public officials accountable, expose wrongdoings and shed light on pressing issues that affect us all.

3. Are you a curious person? Journalism is a profession in which you get paid to talk to interesting people and learn something new every day. A UConn diploma in journalism is like a golden ticket, an international passport to pursue your craft wherever your interests might take you.

 


Purbita Saha ’12

Purbita Saha
Senior Editor, Popular Science
New York, NY
Class of 2012

1. For the stories you’ll hear: From professors who’ve covered genocide in Sarajevo to those who’ve moonlighted as Sherlock Holmes novelists, the UConn Journalism department is led by a well-storied staff that spans time, mediums and expertise.

2. For the lessons you’ll carry through your career: Some of the advice you’ll glean in your classes, whether it be during an ethics discussion or an environmental journalism trip, may not make a deep impression in the moment. But as you put your skills to work in the real world, you’ll find yourself calling back the gems of wisdom that your UConn professors shared.

3. For the friends who’ll help you hit your ambitions: My journalism network still largely depends on the people I met at UConn. Between Daily Campus colleagues, classmates and retired and current professors, I have a solid web of contacts to talk shop and expand my knowledge of the industry with. I may have graduated six years ago, but I still continue to learn from UConn to this day.


Jackson Mitchell ’16

Jackson Mitchell
Digital Audio Editor, WBUR-FM, Boston’s National Public Radio station
Boston, MA 

Class of 2016

1. Journalism skills are life skills: talking to people, being understanding and empathetic, listening and presenting information in a clear and compelling way. You will never regret being good at these things.

2. Being in journalism is a thrilling way to observe the world around you. It has given me a life vantage point that I value immensely. I am never bored.

3. There are few careers where you can go to work every day and honestly feel like you are serving the public interest. That feels really good.

 


Kala Kachmar ’09

Kala Kachmar
Investigative Reporter, Courier-Journal
Louisville, KY
Class of 2009

1. The faculty that make up UConn’s journalism department is incredible. Not only are they current or retired journalism professionals, but many will go out of their way to help students establish connections that often lead to internship and job opportunities. Classes are small, so it’s easy to feel connected to the professors, other students and resources, of which there are plenty.

2. The diverse curriculum helped me develop well-rounded skills that have contributed significantly my versatility as a reporter. As a student when news consumption shifted significantly, professors encouraged us to embrace technology and learn different journalism disciplines. Versatile is valuable. UConn taught me the importance of that.

3. The courses actually teach you how to be a reporter, and the program overall taught me what I needed to know to be successful in the field. We had to write stories on deadline. We couldn’t misspell names. We were held to professional standards.

 


Melanie Deziel ’12

Melanie Deziel
Founder of StoryFuel
New York, NY

Class of 2012

1. The investigative skills I learned as a UConn Journalism student set me up for a lifetime of digging deeper, asking more pointed questions and telling better stories. 

2. Studying journalism at UConn taught me the importance of deadlines and being open to feedback, skills I use daily in my work as a content marketer. 

3. I can trace my entire career back to a UConn Journalism professor who first helped me discover my love of storytelling, and another who encouraged me to write for the Daily Campus.

 


Eric Ferreri ’95

Eric Ferreri
Senior Writer, Duke University Office of News & Communications
Durham, NC
Class of 1995

1.  Journalism is more important than ever. Asking questions is critical, as is helping people understand “fake news” is a fake term.

2. At UConn, the entire community will be your laboratory. There’s nothing abstract about the curriculum; it’s a real-world experience every step of the way.

3. You’ll eventually do something called Sudden Death. You’ll hate it before you love it, but you’ll learn a ton from it as well. 

 


Karla Santos ’17

Karla Santos
Business and Arts Reporter, New Britain Herald
New Britain, CT
Class of 2017

1. UConn’s journalism professors and advisors are always willing to help and they always make sure students understand the topic of discussion.

2. The journalism facilities at UConn have top-of-the-line equipment and classrooms that are set up for easy interaction between students and teachers.

3. Journalism at UConn is learned by doing and not just by sitting and listening. Students are often given assignments that reflect the same assignments one would be given when working as a journalist.

 


Simmi Buttar ’95

Simmi Buttar
NFL Editor, Associated Press 
New York, NY
Class of 1995

1. If you do go into journalism, no matter what type (print, TV, radio, online etc.), the skills you learn will translate.

2. Even if you don’t go into journalism, the skills you learn will be invaluable in other fields.

3. Because good journalism is important. And we need more good journalists now more than ever.

 


Hannah Dickison ’18

Hannah Dickison
Investigative Producer, WPRI-TV
Providence, RI

Class of 2018

1. Great education with an even better price tag. When I was looking at colleges, I knew I wanted a high-quality education, but didn’t want to be overloaded with debt like I would have if I had gone to a school like Syracuse or Emerson. Fortunately I’m from Connecticut, so I was able to get in-state tuition and graduated with substantially less debt than my friends at other colleges. Even if you’re out-of-state, the cost truly doesn’t compare.

2. Accomplished professors. All of your professors will be award-winning journalists who are highly respected in their field. If you work hard and invest in your education, some will even become your mentors during and after college. All of my professors took me under their wings and were there for me not just academically, but professionally. I wouldn’t be where I am now without them and am grateful for my education every day.

3. Big university, small program. There’s no denying that UConn is a big school, but that’s not the case for the journalism program. The size of my classes were always small and close-knit. Everyone in the program knows each other, whether you take classes together or not. I think that’s something that’s very rare and special about such a high quality journalism program.

 


Kathleen McWilliams ’15

Kathleen McWilliams
Staff Writer, The Hartford Courant
Hartford, CT
Class of 2015

1. You get hands-on experience in class. UConn Journalism classes aren’t just theory; you actually write in-depth stories on deadline and get edits from your professors.

2. It’s fairly easy to double major with journalism and another subject. While demanding, the UConn Journalism program is flexible enough in the requirements that you can major in something else to flesh out your degree and give you valuable skills. For me, that meant double majoring in English, which helped my writing and research skills.

3. You learn from veteran journalists who are not only experts in the craft, but who know the Connecticut journalism world like the back of their hand.

 


Alyssa Bosley ’02

Alyssa Bosley
Lecturer and Social Media Coordinator, Hart School of Hospitality, Sport & Recreation Management, James Madison University
Harrisonburg, VA
Class of 2002

1. The first-rate faculty have excellent academic and professional credentials. They are engaged with their students and provide the tools for success.

2. The program has strong connections with industry professionals and media outlets throughout the country.

3. The coursework allows students to think critically and it provides practical experience.

 


Sylvia Cunningham ’15

Sylvia Cunningham
Reporter/Associate Editor at KCRW Berlin
Berlin, Germany
Class of 2015

1. You’ll learn about journalism from professors who are journalists themselves. So whether it’s an ethical quandary, a confusing public record or a difficult source you’re facing, chances are your professor has been there and has some good advice.

2. You’ll be introduced to platforms and tools that make you a more dynamic storyteller. In one job interview post-graduation, I was presented with a published web story and asked how I would a) make it more interactive and visually appealing and b) push it out on social media. I incorporated what I learned from Online Journalism into my answer, and I landed the assignment. 

3. You’ll be taught the fundamentals of good reporting, like getting a second (and third…and fourth) source, considering all sides, and writing a strong lede. Often when approaching a story, I think back to my all-time favorites from Literary Journalism for inspiration (see Jimmy Breslin’s “It’s an Honor”). And because fact-checking and copy editing comprises at least half of my current job, the foundation built from UConn journalism courses is critical. Plus, the trusted adviser you meet in Newswriting I – your AP Stylebook – will never be far away.

Special thanks to Kate Farrish ’83 for collecting these interviews.


Why WNPR’s Frankie Graziano ’11 looks for the human interest angle in every story

In his reporting for Connecticut Public Radio, Frankie Graziano is always looking to tell human stories. Photo by Adam Hushin, Connecticut Public Radio

By Sean Boyle ’19 

Growing up, WNPR’s Frankie Graziano always dreamed of covering sports and never wavered in his determination to become a reporter.

Along the way, Graziano realized that his passion for covering sporting events was rooted in the personal stories he got to share and the relationships forged with sources and listeners alike. He was telling human interest stories that just happened to take place in the world of sports.

Graziano said he enrolled at UConn looking to be exposed to marquee events at a Division I university. After gaining valuable experience through internships and covering on-campus news, Graziano graduated in 2011 with degrees in journalism and history.

Graziano said he understood early in his career the importance for journalists to always be flexible and willing to cover any story, taking on whatever role is necessary for their editor or producers. Now, he’s assigned to breaking news for WNPR.

I like to say yes to any job,’’ he said. “You have to be willing to do whatever it takes to get a story…I’m kind of super competitive in that way.”

While it may be easy for aspiring reporters to get discouraged by the current state of the industry, it’s important to keep up that same determination and tenacity. Graziano said too many reporters nowadays are turned off by the idea of failure. His biggest advice to young journalists: don’t be afraid to be embarrassed.

A good way to approach it is you treat every day like a brand-new opportunity,” he said. “It’s a good way to forget about mistakes and shake off that humility that so many of us have.”

Graziano has covered everything from the state’s high school tournaments to doing play-by-play commentary and producing content for TV.

No matter the story, Graziano said he tries to treat each one with the same level of energy and professionalism: whether it requires wearing a full black suit to a baseball diamond on a 90-degree day or having to restrain his fandom while covering the UConn men’s basketball run in the 2011 NCAA tournament.

I do love being in front of the camera,” Graziano admitted when asked about his favorite role.

Graziano said he enjoys getting his personality out there for people to recognize, allowing his audience to establish trust once they see the enthusiasm he brings to their story.

In his reporting for Connecticut Public Radio, Graziano is always looking to tell human stories. He considers himself an “everyman,” one he hopes people will not only relate with and trust, but also actively seek out as their go-to source for news in Connecticut.

Graziano implores young reporters to “stay at it, no matter what.” He said perseverance will pay off for determined journalists, making the moment when they fulfill their dream of telling the right story that much more rewarding.

Follow Frankie Graziano on Twitter: @FrankieGrazie6

Mark Sadowki ’88 credits his vigorous writing and networking skills helped him

By Nicole Rothman ’15

Disney World’s slogan is “the happiest place on earth.”  Mark Sadowski, a 1998 UConn graduate who is the public relations director for Disney Destinations, says being able to work for “such an innovative and inspirational company makes going to work fun.”

Growing up in Connecticut, Sadowski said the University of Connecticut was an easy choice when it came to picking a college. It ultimately became his top choice because of the programs it offered. Sadowski said he credits his education from the UConn Journalism department, especially his advisor, the late Prof. John J. Breen, department chair Prof. Maureen Croteau, and Prof. Wayne Worcester.

“I found the Journalism department much more engaging and caring about the students,” Sadowski said. “It wasn’t just in the classroom; they take an interest in all students in the program.”

Sadowski said that the writing skills he learned at UConn really helped in his career as a PR professional.

“Writing first and foremost was the biggest help,” Sadowski said. When writing a news story or a magazine story, having the skills to be able to craft a story is very important. He believes that having that ability helped to strengthen the skills of an everyday reporter.

Sadowski did an internship at the local Fox television news station while in college and said that his internship allowed him to learn how to work with reporters. That was important to him later as a PR professional. He said that a lot of the members of the Disney PR team are former journalists, who covered Disney in the news before switching to PR.

“It’s a definite marriage between those two,” Sadowski said.

For Sadowski, his start at Disney didn’t begin because he was covering the company. A friend from UConn, who was a manager at Disney at the time, told Sadowski he should come down to Florida. In 2000, he moved to the Sunshine State and took a temporary position with Walt Disney Imagineering, which is responsible for designing concepts for theme parks, hotels, cruise ships and Disney real estate, among many other projects. The position, which was supposed to last six months, ended up lasting three and a half years.

“I was the spokesperson and communications coordinator for a variety of future projects,” Sadowski said.

After his time in Imagineering, Sadowski applied for an opening in public relations. He was hired as the public relations manager, and then promoted to Disney Destinations Public Relations director. He based in Orlando, handling public relations for the parks and resorts.

Sadowski said that from his experiences with UConn Journalism, internships, and other jobs, he said his biggest piece of advice for current students is plain and simple: networking.

“Networking is imperative,” Sadowski said. “Taking the time to meet people and asking what their jobs are like and their own individual career path…Nowadays, it’s all about who you know and how to cut through the clutter.”

Campus Tumult Sparked Love of Journalism for G. Claude Albert ‘72

Claude Albert '72, a former managing editor of The Daily Campus, is now editor-in-chief of The Connecticut Mirror.
G. Claude Albert ’72, a former managing editor of The Daily Campus, is now editor-in-chief of The Connecticut Mirror. (Photo courtesy of CT Mirror)

By Ethan Linder ’15

It was November 1968 and anti-war protesters had stormed into Gulley Hall at the University of Connecticut and refused to leave the building. UConn’s Storrs campus was in turmoil.

G. Claude Albert was an undergraduate student and news editor for The Daily Campus. Albert ran to Gulley Hall as soon as he heard what was going on. After observing the scene and gathering all the facts he could, he began writing a news story about the hostile takeover while his friend drove him to the printer. Albert was determined to have his breaking news story run in the next morning’s paper. Continue reading

Ability to ‘Create Campus Dialogue’ Lured HuffPo Editor Curtis M. Wong ’01 into Journalism

Curtis Wong '01 is a senior editor at The Huffington Post. (Photo by Damon Dahlen/Huffington Post)
Curtis M. Wong’s journalism career path led him from The Daily Campus to Hartford Courant to The Prague Post, and now to The Huffington Post. (Photo by Damon Dahlen/Huffington Post)

By Ylenia Elvy-Panton ’16

It was short walk from Buckley residential hall to Arjona on the campus of the University of Connecticut. For Curtis M. Wong, though, the commute has taken him a long way.

Wong, a Journalism and English major from Coventry, Connecticut, graduated from UConn in 2001 and is now senior editor of Queer Voices at the Huffington Post.

The first time Wong saw Connecticut’s flagship university during a tour, he said he found himself immediately drawn to the school. The large campus in Storrs could make a student feel like a little fish in a big pond, but the journalism department was small and made him feel comfortable, he said.

When Wong began working at The Daily Campus in his sophomore year, he got to practice the lessons from his journalism classes hands on, while nurturing some lifelong friendships.

“I loved working for the Daily Campus,” he said. Continue reading

CT Mirror Budget Reporter Keith Phaneuf ’88 Still Keeps a Copy of His ‘Sudden Death’ Story

Keith Phaneuf
Connecticut Mirror state budget reporter Keith Phaneuf  “fell backwards” into his good ‘sudden death’ story, and into his career as a journalist. (Photo courtesy of WNPR/Chion Wolf)

By Shannon Hearn ’16

Three semesters into his college career at the University of Connecticut in 1983, Keith Phaneuf dropped out.

Deciding he had no business majoring in engineering, Phaneuf nabbed a job as a reporter at a local radio station, WINY in Putnam.

“I wasn’t entirely interested in working for the radio industry, but I really liked the reporting aspect to my job,” Phaneuf said.

After a full year of covering municipal meetings for the radio station, Phaneuf decided to re-enroll at UConn, this time majoring in journalism. Continue reading

How Elizabeth Crowley ’13 Found Her Passion & Career Path Via UConn Journalism

By Chloe Vincente ’16

Elizabeth Crowley
Elizabeth Crowley, a 2013 UConn Journalism graduate and former editor in chief of The Daily Campus, now works at NBC Universal as a Creative Coordinator. (Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Crowley)

Elizabeth Crowley credits her University of Connecticut journalism classes and professors for helping her discover two important things: her passion for media and a path toward achieving her career goals.

Three years after graduating with her UConn journalism degree, Crowley is now working in Manhattan for NBC Universal as a creative coordinator.

A native of Fairfield, Connecticut, Crowley said she always aspired to make it in New York City.

She transferred to UConn from Northeastern University in her sophomore year, picking journalism as her major. During her very first week in Storrs, she began writing for UConn’s student newspaper, The Daily Campus.

Crowley said she loved her journalism classes, and reporting and editing for The Daily Campus. When she wasn’t practicing her print journalism skills in Storrs, Crowley interned at her local newspaper, the Stamford Advocate, writing mostly feature stories. She worked at the Advocate full-time during every break; winter, spring and summer.

Crowley said she focused all her efforts on print news when she first arrived at UConn. But after studying broadcast journalism in a class taught by adjunct Prof. Steve Kalb, she said became much more interested in television news production. Continue reading

Ryan Gilbert’s Journey from UConn Journalism to Broadway.com

By Laura Costello ’15

Ryan Gilbert '12, national editor at Broadway.com.
Ryan Gilbert graduated from UConn with a degree in journalism in 2012 and now works as national editor at Broadway.com. (Photo courtesy of Ryan Gilbert)

Growing up a train ride away from New York City, Ryan Gilbert always wanted to see Broadway shows.

Now, seeing them is his job.

As national editor of Broadway.com, a website devoted to news and editorial coverage of New York City’s theater scene, Gilbert sees every Broadway show at least once and brushes shoulders with some of the biggest names in theater.

He also curates web content for the 43 cities that host tours of Broadway shows through Broadway Across America, Broadway.com’s parent company. Recently, he spent several days immersed in the “Phantom of the Opera” production in Orlando, Fla.

He’s basically living his dream.

Fifteen years ago, though, his dream was very different. Continue reading