Sometimes cliches are true. Time really does fly when you are having fun.
It has been almost 15 years since I sat in my New Orleans dorm room at Xavier University, listening to the executive editor of The Observer-Dispatch in Utica, N.Y., tell me what to expect during my summer internship as a 2002 Chips Quinn Scholar. I remember a lot of grinning on my end and a fair amount of disbelief. After all, I began at Xavier as a biology pre-medicine major four years earlier. I had no idea that the decision to leave that field behind would lead to such a fulfilling career in journalism education that would take me around the globe.
When I began college, I was set on becoming a neonatologist for a respected East Coast hospital. That was until I volunteered in a neonatal intensive care unit and had several tiny patients die on me. During one particular visit, after I had “scrubbed in,” it dawned on me that I never wanted to become numb to suffering, or even death. I decided, quietly, that medicine might not be for me. I found myself fascinated instead by the countless stories I heard from the moms who were nursing their little ones back to health. My curiosity led to me serving on the school newspaper from my sophomore year to my senior year. Just before my commencement ceremony, I held two acceptance letters in my hands: one from a medical school and another from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. I folded up my scrubs.
Since I retired the dream of wearing the white coat, I have reported in Medill’s storefront newsrooms throughout Chicago. After graduating, I landed my first job at Jet magazine, working with its late founder and publisher, John H. Johnson, as an assistant editor. I launched a successful freelance writing business, penning pieces for national consumer publications such as O, The Oprah Magazine and Self magazine.
Then I turned 25.
I looked around and all of a sudden there were things like Google and Facebook, and (gasp!) journalists were expected to use these sites regularly. I decided to step back from the newsroom to study my beloved field as a scholar. I began my career as a journalism professor just two months after my “silver” birthday. That is when the real whirlwind began.
When news audiences decided to tune in or scroll through their updates on smaller screens, I followed. I founded a mobile journalism laboratory at two Maryland colleges, teaching thousands of students how to report news using only an iPod or an iPad. U.S. Embassies in South Africa and Morocco invited me to teach iPod journalism to young girls in the wake of the Arab Spring. I forged a historic partnership with Black Girls Code to teach African American girls how to do mobile journalism at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. I won the National Association for Black Journalists Educator of the Year Award. Apple, Inc. inducted me into its prestigious Distinguished Educator program. And, most recently, Harvard University invited me to its campus as a Nieman Foundation journalism fellow, where I began coding an online tutorial platform for mobile journalism.
Then, I turned 35. Well, not yet—in June.
Sometimes, when I think back to all of the fun I have had since becoming a Chips Quinn Scholar in 2002, I cannot help but smile. I think about my first A1 internship story on the Utica Boilermaker that ran above the fold (eek!) and then got picked up by The Associated Press. I think of when I was assigned a story that took me high into the Adirondack Mountains to report on acid rain, only to discover that the press conference was hosted by then-Sen. Hillary Clinton. The broad grin I had in the picture I took with her that day still plays across my lips every semester as I welcome a new group of journalism students into my classroom.
I remember being a 21-year-old Chipster who was full of hope and curiosity. The good news is, had I not been asked to write this reflection, I may not have realized that quite so much time has gone by since that summer. Like I said in the beginning: some cliches are true. Time flies when you are having fun. Thank you, Chips Quinn, for giving me the start to a career that has been so enjoyable. Congratulations on your anniversary!
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