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Society of Professional Journalists names two UM finalists in 2021 Mark of Excellence national competition

Posted on: June 29th, 2022 by ldrucker

The Society of Professional Journalists recently named two University of Mississippi finalists in the 2021 Mark of Excellence national competition.

Student HG Biggs, a journalist with The Daily Mississippian, was named a finalist in the Breaking News Photography category of programs with more than 10,000 students. Hotty Toddy News was named a finalist for Best All-Around Television News Magazine.

The 2021 Mark of Excellence Awards recognize collegiate work published or broadcast during 2021. The awards honor the best in student journalism.

This is an image of Farley Hall with the SPJ logo over the building.

School divisions are based on student enrollment, which includes both graduate and undergraduate enrollment. Schools with more than 10,000 students are designated as large schools.

National Mark of Excellence Awards judges can choose up to one national winner in each category and two national finalists (runners-up).

Winners and finalists were previously recognized by receiving first-place in one of SPJ’s 12 regional competitions. The results of those competitions can be found in the April 2022 SPJ News archive. Each first-place regional winner advanced to the national competition.

Below is a list of winners in both categories with UM winners.

Click to read the full list of winners.

Art/Graphics

Breaking News Photography (Large) 10,000+ Students
Winner: Racial reckoning – by TJ Shaw, Syracuse University
Finalist: Walking out – by Dominick Sokotoff, University of Michigan
Finalist: Confrontation – by HG Biggs, University of Mississippi

Television

Best All-Around Television News Magazine
Winner: “Our America” – by staff, California State University, Fullerton
Finalist: “ViewFinder” – by staff, The University of Maryland
Finalist: “Hotty Toddy News” – by staff, University of Mississippi

Two University of Mississippi journalism students place in prestigious Hearst competition

Posted on: June 20th, 2022 by ldrucker

Congratulations to two University of Mississippi School of Journalism and New Media students who recently placed in the Top 20 in the prestigious national Hearst journalism competition in the team digital news/enterprise category.

Rabria Moore and Billy Schuerman were winners led by editor/adviser Ellen Meacham, according to Patricia Thompson, former director of the S. Gale Denley Student Media Center at Ole Miss.

Thompson said the project tied for 16th place in the Hearst contest with a project from Elon University. The Top 5 winners in that category were students from Western Kentucky, Syracuse, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the University of Oregon.

The project, about water supply problems in the community of Taylor, Mississippi, was published during the spring semester of 2021, and this is one of several major awards it has won since then, Thompson said.

Rabria Moore is pictured in the photo.

Rabria Moore is pictured in the photo.

Moore is entering her senior year at UM and is The Daily Mississippian editor-in-chief for 2022-23.

Schuerman graduated in 2021 and just completed his first year in the visual communication master’s program at Ohio University. He spent winter break as a photographer and writer at a newspaper in Colorado and has a photo internship this summer at the Virginian-Pilot, Thompson said.

Moore, 20, is a Durant, Mississippi native entering her senior year at the university studying journalism and political science.

“I was very excited to find out I received a Hearst award for this project,” Rabria said. “When I started this project, I didn’t think about winning any awards. My main goal was to tell a story about a woman who’s been fighting for access to water, and hopefully bring attention to the issue of water access, especially in Mississippi. I’m happy to receive the award, but I definitely take more pride in knowing that the story has reached a broader audience.”

Moore said working on this project was different from others.

“For months, I was able to visit Ms. Ilean’s home to hear about and see the problems she was facing without access to community water,” she said. “I hope others, especially people living in Mississippi, understand that not everyone has access to the same resources. Water is something we take for granted and something we don’t typically think about, but I hope people can appreciate the ‘small’ things that we don’t have to figure out on our own.”

She said learning to listen was one of the things she took away from the project.

“So many times, we think we know someone’s story or situation,” Moore said. “I think listening gives people the opportunity to tell their stories without us injecting ourselves into those stories.”

Billy Schuerman is pictured in this black and white photo.

Billy Schuerman is pictured in this black and white photo.

Schuerman, 23, who is from Houston, Texas, said he was elated to hear that their hard work was recognized in the competition.

“I am more hopeful that this recognition helps provide a future for the community we reported on,” he said. “Awards are secondary to the communities we serve.”

He said the project was meaningful.

“Before we are journalists, we are humans, and this is a human story,” he said. “This was not a project we could just walk into. We dedicated our time to telling a meaningful story about something that really matters. I hope other students can take away that in order to tell the rough draft of history, we must truly dedicate ourselves to the people we serve.”

His advice to other journalists is to find time to do important stories.

“Not everything you work on will come through,” he said, “but when you have an opportunity to really do something important, it’s important to take it head on.”

New director set to lead University of Mississippi’s S. Gale Denley Student Media Center

Posted on: June 6th, 2022 by ldrucker

A new director will soon lead the S. Gale Denley Student Media Center (SMC), which includes The Daily Mississippian newspaper, the campus television station NewsWatch, Rebel Radio and The Ole Miss yearbook.

Larz Roberts will be joining the University of Mississippi School of Journalism and New Media June 24 as the new SMC leader.

Roberts comes to UM from Arkansas State University, where he advised Red Wolf Radio and ASU-TV News. For the past 25 years, he has worked in student media and as a faculty member teaching radio, television, online and print courses. He earned his master’s degree from the University of Mississippi and his B.S. from Florida A&M.

“His students have won national, regional and state awards for their work,” said Interim Dean Debora Wenger, “and Larz tells us that his goal is to help our students ‘grow across platforms, think critically and gain practical experience.’ Larz joins an exceptional team in the SMC and will be able to build on what is an excellent foundation.”

Larz Roberts is the new director of the S. Gale Denley Media Center.

Larz Roberts is the new director of the S. Gale Denley Media Center.

Roberts said he has always been a “utility player,” and that helped him learn many aspects of operating a media organization.

“If the media outlet where I worked needed someone to do a variety of whatever, I was often one to toss myself or get tossed onto those tasks,” he said. “Once I got into academia, I relished being that utility player, being able to teach and coach a number of things both the students and my departments needed.”

Students now produce a newscast, but Roberts said he’d like to see them have an entire television channel to create a variety of television programs, telling stories from all over the area.

“I’d love to see any student with a skill set or interest they can put to use in the media center use that opportunity to stretch their legs,” he said. “Get practical, real experience with content they create added to their portfolios.”

Whether that is in journalism, advertising or marketing, Roberts hopes students will use the SMC to build their portfolios and tell stories that would not otherwise be told.

“The mass media landscape is such now that everyone should think of creating multi-platform content,” he said. “Or at least, creating content that can be adapted to run across the different media platforms.

“That’s what those who are hiring are looking at, so it’s important any students wanting media experience be aware of that as an expectation.”

Roberts said it’s important that students and the program earn recognition for their work.

“I want to see students bringing back multiple national and regional awards,” he said. “With what I’ve seen of the work they produce, it’s a realistic goal . . . My mind has been churning almost nonstop in the past couple of weeks. I love seeing the lightbulbs turn on over students’ heads.  I can hardly wait to work with the faculty and the students there to make all that happen.”

Roberts is the current president of the Arkansas College Media Association, and he is involved in the Central Arkansas Association of Black Journalists, Arkansas’ only National Association of Black Journalists chapter.

He is also the founding faculty co-adviser for the state’s first student NABJ chapter, the Arkansas State Association of Black Journalists.

Andrea Hickerson Named Dean of School of Journalism and New Media

Posted on: May 20th, 2022 by ldrucker
Andrea Hickerson, director of the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of South Carolina, as well as associate dean and professor, is the new dean of the UM School of Journalism and New Media. Hickerson is a respected researcher, educator and administrator whose vision for the school involves preparing students to succeed in an evolving modern media landscape and deal with ongoing technological and social changes. Submitted photo

Andrea Hickerson, director of the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of South Carolina, as well as associate dean and professor, is the new dean of the UM School of Journalism and New Media. Hickerson is a respected researcher, educator and administrator whose vision for the school involves preparing students to succeed in an evolving modern media landscape and deal with ongoing technological and social changes. Submitted photo

Respected administrator brings expertise in 21st century practices, research into deepfakes

OXFORD, Miss. – Andrea Hickerson, an internationally renowned researcher, educator and administrator, is joining the University of Mississippi as dean of the School of Journalism and New Media.

Her appointment was approved Thursday, May 19 by the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning board of trustees at its May meeting. Hickerson begins her new role July 1.

“The appointment of Dr. Hickerson resulted from a national search that attracted a well-qualified pool of applicants,” said Noel Wilkin, UM provost and executive vice chancellor for academic affairs.

“She is an accomplished researcher and scholar with experience studying deepfakes and issues facing international journalism. She is also an accomplished administrator, having served as a director at two universities.”

Hickerson earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism and international relations at Syracuse University, master’s degrees in journalism and Middle Eastern studies at the University of Texas, and a Ph.D. in communication at the University of Washington. She has served on the faculty at both the Rochester Institute of Technology and the University of South Carolina, where she most recently was director of the USC School of Journalism and Mass Communications, associate dean and professor.

The new dean said she is “incredibly positive” about coming to Ole Miss and Oxford.

“I love the setting and the history,” Hickerson said. “When I visited campus, I felt a great energy and sense of mission from faculty, staff and students. I was excited by their drive to serve local, state, national and international communities in creative ways.

“I thought we would make great partners and thrive off of each other.”

Hickerson has been a principal investigator, co-principal investigator or investigator on projects generating more than $1.6 million in external support from a range of sources that include the National Science Foundation, U.S. State Department, philanthropic foundations and news networks.

Hickerson said her vision for the school is to prepare students to meet the challenges of evolving modern media and deal with ongoing technological and social changes.

“A short-term goal is to enhance the things the school is already great at, like supporting student media and creating opportunities for experiential learning,” Hickerson said. “To do this, I look forward to listening to and learning from faculty, staff, students and alumni.

“I’m especially interested in traveling across the state and meeting current and future employers of the school’s graduates.”

Hickerson said she wants to make sure that the school is setting students up not just for their first job, but for successful careers.

“I also want to make sure our curriculum is well-rounded and has the right blend of skills classes and topical courses so our students can engage critically with key challenges facing citizens, especially those with backgrounds who differ from their own,” she said.

A long-term goal of Hickerson’s is to increase the school’s expertise and reputation as central to community problem solving.

“A pet peeve of mine is when people equate communication with ‘messaging’ or ‘publicity,’” she said. “Communication experts know how to listen, assess needs, contribute to solutions and communicate them to public and private audiences.”

The incoming dean said she hopes to accomplish this goal by prioritizing interdisciplinary projects and research, including grant-funded research.

“I also hope to achieve this through proactive programming and events that bring experts from different fields to campus to address a common problem,” she said. “I believe that if we take this initiative – creating spaces to discuss and iterate on problems – we can easily demonstrate our centrality to its analysis and solutions.”

A prolific scholar, Hickerson is the author or co-author of more than 25 peer-reviewed journal articles. She has also been a presenter at numerous national and international conferences, as well as at professional development training seminars.

Hickerson said her strong background in research – particularly on deepfakes, manipulated videos that can make it appear that a person said something that they did not – should be especially useful in her new role.

“My research on deepfakes is an example of how journalism and communication can be paired with tech fields to solve a community problem; in this case, fighting misinformation,” she said.

“Also, at the heart of this research is a deep commitment to verification. No matter how we challenge and create new storytelling forms, verification is a central practice.”

Hickerson has received many awards for her teaching and research. One of the most meaningful for her is the University of South Carolina’s Educational Foundation Research Award from Professional Schools. The award is one of the university’s highest research honors.

“I’m proud of it because it recognized how my research impacted the overall practice of journalism, particularly through my deepfake research,” she said.

Hickerson said she is also proud of and grateful for being asked to serve on the advisory board for a community-based research project concerning media portrayals of race in Rochester, New York, in 2018 and again in 2021.

“Both the results of those reports and the community members working on it taught me to question traditional journalism practices and to reconsider who tells community stories and even the definition of ‘newsworthy,’” she said.

Her professional activities and memberships include the editorial board for the Journal of Global Media and Diaspora, the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, the International Communication Association, and the International Association for Media and Communication Research.

Hickerson will bring “a thoughtful and measured approach” to leading the school, said Debora Rae Wenger, interim dean and professor of journalism.

“Dr. Hickerson appears to think deeply about the role that communication can, does and should play in our society,” Wenger said. “Under her leadership, I think we can reimagine the ways in which our school can contribute to the big conversation taking place around credibility, authenticity and accuracy of news and information in today’s tech-mediated world.”

Wenger said Hickerson’s plans to take the time she needs to understand the culture and to build strategically on past successes are also welcome.

“It’s always good to bring in fresh ideas and new approaches,” she said. “Dr. Hickerson’s previous administrative experience offers us the opportunity to grow.”

Meet some of the University of Mississippi School of Journalism and New Media’s outstanding 2022 graduates

Posted on: May 13th, 2022 by ldrucker

Journey to Commencement

The University of Mississippi School of Journalism and New Media congratulates the Class of 2022. Here are a few profiles of some of our outstanding graduates. The students shared thoughts on what drew them to UM, what they learned on their Journey to Commencement, their favorite classes and professors, and their future plans.

Click the images below to read their stories.

By LaReeca Rucker

WTVA multimedia reporter is among those graduating from UM School of Journalism and New Media with master’s degree

Posted on: May 7th, 2022 by ldrucker
Taylor Tucker graduated from UM in May of 2020. That year, she was hired as a multimedia journalist at WTVA in Tupelo. Now, the 2022 master's grad also works as the station's morning and weekend anchor.

Taylor Tucker graduated from UM in May of 2020. That year, she was hired as a multimedia journalist at WTVA in Tupelo. Now, the 2022 master’s grad also works as the station’s weekend morning anchor.

Taylor Tucker graduated from the University of Mississippi School of Journalism and New Media in May of 2020. That year, she was hired as a multimedia journalist at WTVA in Tupelo and received a promotion her first year. Now earning her graduate degree, the 2022 grad also works as the weekend morning anchor on WTVA from 5 a.m. until 7 a.m.

“News has earned my heart,” Tucker said, “and I plan to continue my journey as a news anchor and reporter. It’s comforting to know I now have my master’s and plan to utilize it later in my career.”

Tucker is just one of the school’s 2022 graduates who shared her Journey to Commencement.

Interim Dean Debora Wenger said one of the things that stands out about Tucker is her kindness.

“As a journalist, I know she will tell stories with compassion and care,” she said.

Wenger said Tucker is also one of the students who loves learning.

“She took advantage of opportunities to build her skills in the classroom and in the newsroom,” she said. “While still in graduate school, she started working as a reporter for WTVA in Tupelo, and the combination of professional experience and a master’s degree is going to take her far.”

The University of Mississippi School of Journalism and New Media has forged relationships with news directors across the state and around the region.

“When the folks at WTVA met Taylor, the saw huge potential and offered her a position,” Wenger said.

Tucker’s advice to fellow students: Take advantage of every opportunity. Don’t be afraid to ask for help to better perfect your craft.”

Read a previous story we wrote about Taylor below.

Taylor Tucker sits at the WTVA news desk.

Taylor Tucker sits at the WTVA news desk.

DaLakin Crawford
Oxford Stories
dkcrawfo@go.olemiss.edu

When interning as a freshman, Taylor Tucker said she felt as if she was not in the right career field because she didn’t know much about news stations and reporting in general and she was intimidated by the people who were already on the job.

“They were so much more advanced,” she said.

Taylor Tucker reporting for WTVA.

Taylor Tucker reporting for WTVA.

This made her feel behind and not in the right field. As a freshman, she became discouraged until she realized she was just getting started and still had more work to do.

When Tucker became a junior at UM, she received another internship. She knew what to expect and felt more confident because she realized she would learn as she goes.

While Tucker encountered some difficulties as an undergraduate on the road to becoming a journalist, she has also faced challenges as a young professional. One such challenge involved a February snowstorm.

It was Tucker’s first time reporting in those weather conditions. She had to drive on the roads and was afraid of what might happen. However, she managed to overcome that fear and get the job done.

“You never know what you are getting yourself into,” she said.

Each day, her job is different.  Tucker said she has to be mentally prepared because some days are challenging, but she wouldn’t want to do anything else.

DeAndria Turner, friend and former classmate of Tucker, graduated from the University of Mississippi in May 2020 and now works as a news reporter at Fox61 in Hartford, Connecticut. She described Tucker as a hardworking person who never gives up and is always willing to learn more about her career so she can improve as a journalist. Turner said those qualities are what she admires most about Tucker.

“She is always looking for ways to improve her craft,” said Turner. “She is always looking for ways to become more creative and engage the audience.”

Turner said Tucker feels she can never be too good or know enough. Therefore, she watches other journalists and learns from them.

“She isn’t afraid to ask questions, and she holds herself and others accountable,” Turner said.

Tucker may be graduating with a second degree, but she’s not ready to stop learning, yet.

“I think we all need continual growth and lessons to keep becoming better journalists,” Turner said. “Especially so we don’t get complacent in our craft.”

You can read the full story at OxfordStories.net.

It all started with a Tweet: Collierville native will pursue IMC sports career after graduation

Posted on: May 6th, 2022 by ldrucker
Jackson Sepko has worked for Ole Miss Athletics for three years and plans to pursue a career in digital marketing for a sports company.

Jackson Sepko’s college journey into social media marketing began with a Tweet.

“The summer before my freshman year, I sent a celebratory tweet after a big Ole Miss Baseball win that got a good number of likes and retweets,” he said.

When the dust settled, Sepko saw he had a message from someone named Debbie Hall, whose bio said she taught in the School of Journalism and New Media’s integrated marketing communications (IMC) program.

“She said, ‘You have a way with words. Are you by chance an IMC major?’ I said I was, and we got to meet early in the semester.”Hall recommended that Sepko pursue a social media internship at the Sanderson Farms Championship, a PGA Tour event in Jackson, and with her help, he became the first freshman ever hired there.

“That experience showed me that sports social and digital media was the path for me,” said Sepko, who is just one of the school’s 2022 graduates who shared his Journey to Commencement.

Following that internship, Hall introduced him to Scott Fiene, associate professor of integrated marketing communication, who was teaching a large introductory IMC class that semester.

Jackson Sepko stands in the Grove in front of Farley Hall.

“Mr. Fiene helped me get an internship covering sports and doing email marketing with HottyToddy.com,” Sepko said. “That experience, paired with my earlier social media work, led me to Ole Miss Athletics, where I’ve been a digital media marketing assistant for the past three years. This work helping to promote the teams I grew up cheering for has been so rewarding and confirmed that I want to continue working in this field.”

That role with Athletics also led Sepko to become involved with the School of Journalism and New Media’s social media, with a particular focus on Instagram. He said getting to highlight the accomplishments of his peers has been exciting.

In addition to his work with Ole Miss Athletics, Sepko is a member of the Honors College.

“That campus community has pushed me to be a better student and a more involved community member and has given me some of my very best friends,” he said. “I also got the opportunity to conduct my capstone thesis on college sports social media marketing, which I defended this November.

“Mrs. Hall and Mr. Fiene were my advisors, and getting to work with two professors who have been professional and personal mentors to me since my freshman year was really gratifying and a kind of ‘full-circle’ moment. That work exposed me to different approaches across five different athletic departments and seven team-specific accounts, and I have no doubt it will be a big help to me in my next professional steps.”

Sepko said he has enjoyed all of his classes, but two stand out. IMC 104, an introductory class, got him hooked on IMC.

“I had Mr. Fiene for that class, and I now have him for Honors IMC 455, the campaigns class,” he said. “Getting to have him again, work on one big campaign team with friends I’ve had for a long time, and apply all the IMC knowledge I’ve learned for this project for The Alluvian Hotel in Greenwood has been another cool ‘full-circle’ moment.”

In Oxford, Sepko works as an English tutor at Oxford High School, and he is a member of Pinelake Church.

“The teaching and community there have kept me and my perspective grounded and reminded me that we exist to be a light and serve others,” he said.

Going through COVID in the middle of college was a unique challenge for Sepko and others, but he said the way everyone united and returned to school and work taught him a lot about the importance of resilience and the power of community.

Jackson Sepko stands in the Grove in front of Farley Hall.

“I’m thankful to all our professors and school officials who worked to get us back on campus, and especially grateful for a relatively ‘normal’ close to college,” he said.

Sepko is interviewing for sports jobs in social and digital media right now.

“Sports jobs hire a little later than most other jobs coming out of school just because the off-season for most sports is the summer,” he said. “That’s a little nerve-wracking for sure, but I have wonderful bosses and professors who have all been huge help to me, and I’m excited to see where I end up.”

Fiene notes Sepko’s passion and expertise is in sports promotion and social media.

“This started in high school, where as a freshman, he volunteered to keep statistics for his high school football team,” Fiene said. “His creative and clever way of making the statistics interesting led him to become one of the football broadcast announcers halfway through the season, then he started announcing basketball.

“In his sophomore year, he worked with the school administration to upgrade the broadcasting equipment, took the show on the road and eventually assumed responsibility for the coaches program, which had previously been outsourced. Mind you, he was 15-16 years old at the time, but what this demonstrates is that his journey to excellence started well before Ole Miss, and he entered our program with more experience than some students leave with.”

This year, Sepko received the school’s Excellence in IMC award, but in his junior year, he received the Taylor Medal, the University’s highest academic honor. Typically, the award is only given to seniors, and Fiene said Sepko exemplifies all of the things that make our top students special:  Perfect 4.0 GPA, Honors College, Chancellor’s Honor Roll, Kappa Tau Alpha Honors Society, Phi Kappa Phi, Lambda Sigma, volunteer experiences, and several internships.

“He’s also tutored Oxford Middle School students in Latin literature and Greek-Roman history …,” said Fiene, “but what strikes me as his greatest strength is his drive, his passion, and his ability to apply his learning and make a difference in the media profession well before he finishes his undergraduate studies.”

Sepko said he initially thought he would need to double-major in communications, marketing or sports management.

“I then discovered the IMC program and realized I had been searching for IMC without realizing it,” he said.

His advice: “I would tell students to soak up every moment and take advantage of every opportunity because college goes by quickly, but it’s full of lots of wonderful opportunities. Don’t be shy about talking to your professors. That will lead to a lot of those opportunities.”

Sepko said UM journalism and IMC students are fortunate to learn from many people who are teaching from their own personal experience in the type of jobs students eventually want to land.

“So take advantage of their real-world connections and soak up all the professional experience you can in your four years,” he said. “Be sure to find the right balance and make lots of good memories with your friends along the way, too.”

This story was written by LaReeca Rucker.

Daily Mississippian sports editor will pursue sports communication career in NYC

Posted on: May 5th, 2022 by ldrucker
Orlando native Catherine Jeffers had a stellar academic career and earned a Taylor Medal for her hard work. After serving as sports editor for the Daily Mississippian - one of the few women who has ever done so - she is eager to move to New York City to pursue a career in sports communications.

Orlando native Catherine Jeffers has had a stellar academic career and earned a Taylor Medal for her hard work. After serving as sports editor for The Daily Mississippian – one of the few women who has ever done so – she plans to move to New York City to pursue a career in sports communications.

She is just one of the school’s 2022 graduates who shared her Journey to Commencement.

Jeffers earned a dual degree in journalism and integrated marketing communications with minors in English and business. She was also a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and Delta Gamma.

Orlando native Catherine Jeffers had a stellar academic career and earned a Taylor Medal for her hard work. After serving as sports editor for the Daily Mississippian - one of the few women who has ever done so - she is eager to move to New York City to pursue a career in sports communications.

“I’ve always had a strong passion for media writing, storytelling, and good communication, which led me to study journalism and IMC,” she said. “I’ve always had the desire to move to New York and start my career in communications.

“A goal of mine is to work in professional sports on the comms side, or work for an agency that works with athletes. I’m still currently applying for jobs, but I hope to move to the city after I graduate in May and land an entry-level position in communications.”

Debbie Woodrick Hall, a University of Mississippi  School of Journalism and New Media instructional assistant professor of integrated marketing communications said Jeffers is a “lifetime learner.”

“For her Honors College thesis, she analyzed 50 years of Title IX and its impact (and sometimes lack of impact) on women’s sports,” Hall said. “She was always very open to suggestions offered by Professor Cynthia Joyce, Professor Vanessa Gregory, and me. She is a confident young woman who has been an excellent student while in the IMC/journalism programs at Ole Miss. I expect great things from her.”

Orlando native Catherine Jeffers had a stellar academic career and earned a Taylor Medal for her hard work. After serving as sports editor for the Daily Mississippian - one of the few women who has ever done so - she is eager to move to New York City to pursue a career in sports communications. She is standing on a field.

Dennis Moore, student media editorial director, said Jeffers had not worked on The Daily Mississippian staff before being named Sports Editor last year, but she led The DM’s team of sports editors and writers like a seasoned pro from day one.

“With her guidance, coverage of men’s and women’s sports was equally celebratory and critical when warranted, which gained readers’, players’ and coaches’ respect,” Moore said. “In the newsroom, she was invariably smart, efficient, positive and insightful — and never reticent about offering suggestions to improve content beyond sports coverage, as well, but doing so in a way that did not make her colleagues defensive.”

On his first day as editorial advisor in The DM newsroom, Moore said Jeffers asked for his help with a sensitive story.

“I learned quickly that collaborating with her would be a pleasure — not only on that story but also on every subsequent story,” he said.

Jeffers said she was “floored” when she received an email that she had been nominated for a Taylor Medal, the highest academic honor a student can receive at Ole Miss. It recognizes outstanding academic performance and is given to no more than one percent of the student body.

“I remembered going into the (Student Media Center) and telling a few of my coworkers and friends who let me know how important the honor was to even be nominated,” she said. “After I submitted my application after nomination, I remember how proud I was of myself to even be thought of as a potential medalist. When I received the email that I was selected as a Taylor Medalist, I was still shocked.”

Jeffers said she is proud of all that she has accomplished at UM.

“It is rewarding to be recognized for it all,” she said. “I’m very humbled to be honored alongside my peers, and I can’t wait to see all that they achieve after graduation.”

This story was written by LaReeca Rucker.

Hard Work Pays Off: North Carolina IMC grad juggles internships and school to finish strong

Posted on: May 4th, 2022 by ldrucker
Mary Chapman Johnson is one graduate who has proven that hard work pays off. The graphic features a graduation cap.

For Mary Chapman Johnson, 22, earning a degree in integrated marketing communications (IMC) with a minor in business required work inside and outside of the classroom.

“I worked 30+ hours a week with my internship on top of being a full-time student,” said Johnson, who is just one of the school’s 2022 graduates who shared her Journey to Commencement.

The Winston-Salem native was involved in in her sorority, Kappa Kappa Gamma, and she served on the executive board for Turning Point USA, an organization that advocates for conservative values on high school, college, and university campuses.

She also interned for Carmigo, a website that helps people sell their cars.

“In my senior year of high school, I applied to 12 colleges,” Johnson said. “One would think that it would be hard to decide with so many options, but as soon as I got my Ole Miss admission packet, I knew this was the place for me.”

Johnson said her biggest personal and educational challenges were pandemic-related.

Mary Chapman Johnson

“Shifting to an online learning and social environment was hard for me, as I am very sociable,” she said. “It was hard for me to engage as authentically as I would have if the class were in person.”

Despite those challenges, Michael Tonos, an instructional assistant professor of integrated marketing communications, said Johnson was a memorable student.

“Mary Chapman was what I call a front-row student,” he said, “not just because she literally chose to sit in the front row, but because she was interested, engaged and eager to improve.

“She came into IMC 205 with solid skills and built on them to earn one of the best grades in the class. She asked good questions and sought feedback. She was pleasant to work with, but also would speak up when she had her own opinion.”

Tonos said he also worked with Johnson as an adviser, helping her chart her academic path.

After graduation, Johnson said she plans to begin working in a business development position with alliantgroup, a Houston, Texas-based national tax consulting services firm.

Scott Fiene, associate professor of integrated marketing communications, said Johnson was in his Introduction to IMC class during the fall of her freshmen semester. She also took his IMC capstone campaigns course in the spring semester of her senior year.

“She’s been a student of mine at the beginning and the end of the program,” he said. “I love it when that happens.”

Fiene said Johnson seems to love learning.

“One of the things I’ve enjoyed most is her inquisitiveness,” he said. “She doesn’t just take notes in class, but she asks questions and engages (and leads) class discussions. She’s always wanting to know more, do more, learn more. It’s a delight to have students like her.”

Johnson’s advice to students: “Engage in your classes and build strong relationships with your professors, even as a freshman. My favorite professor from freshman year helped me get an internship. Your professors have great connections and are here to help you be successful, not only in the classroom but also after college.”

This story was written by LaReeca Rucker.

NewsWatch leader will pursue sports journalism and legal career

Posted on: May 3rd, 2022 by ldrucker
A. J. Norwood dreams of becoming a national sports reporter and an attorney. The graphic features hands stacking blocks with icons on them. The top block features a graduation cap.

He has dreams of rising in the ranks as a national sports reporter and becoming an attorney.

The sky is the limit for A.J. Norwood, a Batesville native whose desire and ability to achieve excellence left a memorable impression on University of Mississippi School of Journalism and New Media leaders. He is just one of the school’s 2022 graduates who shared his Journey to Commencement.

“I came into college knowing that I wanted to be a broadcast journalist,” said Norwood. “More specifically, I knew I wanted to be a sports broadcaster.”

The broadcast journalism major with a minor in legal studies has worked for NewsWatch – UM’s live, student-run news broadcast, since his freshmen year.

“Auditioning for NewsWatch Ole Miss and getting hired there was pretty much how I got my start doing that,” he said. “It opened up a lot of opportunities for me due to the work that I put in, and I was blessed to be able to make things happen as a result of it.”

Norwood started out as a sports anchor with NewsWatch, then worked his way up to sports director, overseeing sports reporters and anchors.

He also served as a school ambassador, leadership and engagement ambassador, a Luckyday team leader and media specialist, and president of the University of Mississippi Association of Black Journalists during his college career.

“Sports journalism was my first goal,” he said. “Being in college now and getting real-world experience, I know I can do news and sports.”

Student A.J. Norwood sits behind the anchor desk at NewsWatch. Norwood said he was drawn to UM because of its journalism program, and his older sister, Taylor, graduated from UM in 2020. 

He became interested in law during his sophomore year while taking JOUR 371 Communications Law, and decided to pursue legal studies as a minor. He said he’ll most likely pursue journalism first after graduating.

Assistant Dean Patricia Thompson, who leads the Student Media Center, said she has worked extensively with Norwood in her role as student media director and faculty adviser for the UMABJ.

“I recognized A.J.’s strengths as a young sports journalist and his leadership potential and helped recruit him for NewsWatch and UMABJ,” she said. “He’s here with NewsWatch five afternoons a week.

“Like many of our top high-achieving, hard-working students, he runs the risk of being tapped by different departments for too many campus activities. He rarely says no to any opportunity, and he still manages to excel in his work at the (Student Media Center), with UMABJ and in his internships.

“He was one of the students we sent to cover the Sugar Bowl for the SMC. I have no doubt he is going to have an awesome career. Any TV station in the nation would be lucky to land him.”  

LaReeca Rucker, adjunct instructional assistant professor of journalism, said Norwood showed great promise early on in a beginning journalism course.

“Some people stand out because they demand attention, and some stand out because they demonstrate a quiet excellence,” she said. “A.J. always knocked every assignment out of the ballpark. His work spoke for itself, and he took home the top honor in my class.”

Assistant Dean Jennifer Simmons said Norwood has the drive and determination for the goals he sets for himself.

“A.J. has the talent, skills, and personality to be a phenomenal broadcast journalist,” she said.

Interim Dean Debora Wenger said Norwood is a gifted communicator.

“I know he is going to be a success,” she said. “He has many talents, but he remains humble and willing to learn from everyone he encounters. No matter where he goes, he will be an asset to the organization as he was to our school — a good student, a good journalist, a good person.”

Norwood believes hands-on experience has given him the tools he needs for success.

“I think I am pretty prepared for whatever I need to do after college,” he said.

He also enjoys photography and has worked as a media specialist for Luckyday Residential College.

“I kind of do photography for both work and fun,” he said. “I figured out that it was something that I can be really good at if I just put in the time to do it.”

Norwood encourages students to pursue their interests in college.

“If there is something you are passionate about, believe in yourself and take that step,” he said. “Do it. You want to always be able to look back and say, ‘I had no regrets while I was here,’ but obviously make good decisions.”

When he’s not reporting, shooting photos, or attending classes, he enjoys spending time with friends. Some of his best memories are late-night runs to Insomnia Cookies on the Oxford Square.

Norwood, one of four children, graduated from South Panola High School, where he played football and soccer while participating in organizations and honor societies.

“Following graduation, I plan to either attend law school or pursue a career as a professional journalist,” he said. “I have a few job offers, but it’s a matter of figuring out the best decision to make for myself right now.”

His advice to students: “Do something (you’re) happy doing in college, in terms of a major. Regardless of how difficult the course load is … if you have a dream job, pursue it. Nothing is going to come easy, but the payoff will be greater in the end.

“I would also tell younger students to make the most of their time in undergrad. I understand that we are all here to get a degree, but these are supposed to be some of the best years of your life. Don’t take it for granted.”

Jena Stallings contributed to this story.