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What have you done since graduating and where are you now?
The fall after graduation, I moved to New York City to attend Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism, where I graduated in 2012 with my Master of Science in journalism. Currently, I live in Salem, Oregon, where I work for the Gannett-owned newspaper, The Statesman Journal, as their database reporter. I use database analysis to assist with my reporting and also create data visualizations that run both in the paper and online, in addition to contributing regularly to their state government watchdog feature, SJWatch.
How did RCAH prepare you for what you're doing now?
RCAH encourages you to seek out perspectives other than your own and to challenge everything you think you know about the world. That kind of awareness and skill benefits my reporting tremendously, because it drives me to get the full story and look for the perspectives that aren't being represented. It also helps because I just know a lot -- not that I'm a super genius or anything, but because of RCAH I know about the culture of Appalachia; the works of William Gibson; the phenomenon of dying languages and why; and the psychology of comic books (seriously). The fascination with learning and the knowledge of a huge variety of topics is crucial to journalism.
What were your academic interests in RCAH?
I ended up on the technology and creativity track, which is funny because of how perfectly it fits with what I'm doing now, professionally. But I never pursued classes with the sole intent of applying them to a later career. I just took classes I was passionate about or interested in, or with favorite professors. I studied science fiction with Aronoff and gender relationships with Rogers and Appalachian culture with Skeen. I've always been passionate about writing, so I naturally fell into those kind of classes in RCAH. And, obviously, it paid off -- I write for a living!
What were your favorite aspects of the RCAH experience?
College is a scary place. Many people, like I did, come in as freshman with no friends and no family nearby and absolutely no support system for the very first time in their lives. RCAH gives you a family almost immediately. All of my closest friends -- to this very day -- are people I met in the first week at MSU right there on my dorm floor, and we were all in RCAH. You all have access to the same opportunities, you take the same classes with the same professors and you share the same wacky experiences. There's something immensely comforting about the entire experience, which you all share together. I don't think there is a single other community on campus as tight-knit (or as interesting and fun) as RCAH.
Did you ever take part in Study Abroad/Study Away at MSU? If so, which programs?
I did a summer study abroad in which I studied visual journalism in Madrid and Barcelona with two professors from the journalism school and it was a remarkable experience. Study abroad is the single greatest way to help yourself with your foreign language proficiency -- but you have to force yourself out of your comfort zone! I also was one of the many who partook in one of Anita Skeen's weekend trips to West Virginia, which was a treat unto itself.
What words of wisdom do you have for current RCAH students?
Use RCAH for what it is -- immerse yourself in the community and the culture, forge relationships, play and experiment and try new things. But if you expect RCAH to tell you what to do with your life, you're in the wrong major. RCAH can help you branch out into other things, and adding an additional major is frequently a smart way to add some structure and career focus. I double-majored in journalism, which is what gave me the structure I needed to pursue my career. But I used RCAH to build a home on campus and to polish and bolster my college experience.