California journalism program recruits students for diversity

One of my favorite memories of 2010 was seeing a Chico State banner hanging prominently in a newsroom about 600 miles from Chico, CA. I spotted it while on a recruitment trip to The Sun, a student newspaper at Southwestern College in Chula Vista, CA. The banner’s presence is evidence of a remarkable relationship between two far-flung journalism programs.

Recruiting students from diverse communities to learn journalism at Chico State has been one of my most rewarding endeavors as a teacher. My recruitment efforts—and nowhere have they been more fruitful or more personally gratifying than with Southwestern College—were inspired by a 2003 accreditation report on Chico State’s journalism department. It encouraged us to recruit with more vigor in the nation’s most diverse state. So during a semester’s sabbatical in 2006, I traversed California and made connections with strong high school and community college journalism programs in diverse communities.

Of critical importance, MediaNews Group and Chico State forged a partnership in which the corporation provided $59,000 for four years for recruitment, scholarships and internship stipends. Late last year, MediaNews Group regretfully declined our request to renew that funding.

We would not have been able to change the face of Chico State’s journalism program, as we have done during the past several years, without the company’s financial backing. Fortunately, a wealthy philanthropist and great friend to California journalism wrote a five-figure check that will allow us to maintain our momentum through 2011 as we seek longer-term funding.

A successful recruitment effort of the sort we’ve achieved in journalism at Chico State is all about building and maintaining relationships. We’ve done pretty well at that, I think, despite the burdens of a state higher education system in serious decline.

I remember introducing myself to Max Branscomb, adviser to The Sun and a journalism professor at Southwestern College, at a convention several years ago. A short time later, Branscomb invited me to visit The Sun, and I’ve since made several trips to Chula Vista.

Branscomb, who I consider a fellow foot soldier in the struggle to diversify the news media, recruits young people out of barrios just north of Mexico and molds them into journalists. He has worked overtime to help me build relationships with his brightest students. In 2009, Branscomb brought about two dozen of his students to spend a day in Chico and at Chico State—a campus whose beauty is one of the most powerful weapons in my recruitment arsenal. He flew up with a dozen students last year and brought up another caravan of 20 students on April 6.

Southwestern, situated south of San Diego, is one of the most distant of California’s 112 community colleges from Chico State. Branscomb has told me of the limited experiences of many of his students, a large majority of whom have never ventured any farther north than Disneyland. As Branscomb has so eloquently written, Chico State’s “outreach program that funds travel for talented but sheltered journalism students has been transformative. Students’ eyes are opened to new possibilities and their horizons expand dramatically overnight.”

For me, success for each of my recruits is defined by a single standard: a four-year college degree. Anything less is failure. My first class of diversity recruits, including six Sun alumni, will graduate in May with degrees in journalism from Chico State. The Sun alums include three members of The Orion’s fall editorial board—Art Director Mark Rojas, Online Editor Esmeralda Ramirez, and Features Editor Almendra Carpizo. This spring, Sun alumnus Gerardo Rocha Jr. is the newspaper’s online editor, while Carpizo was elevated to the post of managing editor. Three new Southwestern recruits arrived at Chico State last fall (and two are writing for The Orion this semester), and I expect a half-dozen or more “Sunistas” to choose Chico and journalism this coming fall.

May this unlikely 600-mile pipeline of journalism students continue to flow for many years to come.

© Dave Waddell 2011

Dave Waddell, who was the California Journalism Education Coalition’s educator of the year at the university level in 2009, has advised The Orion and taught journalism at California State University, Chico, since 1996.


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