The digital-first, student-run magazine of the University of Massachusetts Amherst Journalism Department

Amherst Wire

UMass Journalism alumni inspire current students

(Mitch Scuzzarella/ Amherst Wire)

(Mitch Scuzzarella/ Amherst Wire)


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By the Editorial Staff

UMass journalism students got a glimpse of the future Tuesday when six of the program’s most prestigious alumni joined students and faculty for an all-star dinner and inspiring conversation.

Former journalism department director Karen List reached out to prestigious alumni with an invitation to return to campus and speak not only at Tuesday’s event, but in classrooms as well.

In Madeline Blais’s class on documentary filmmaking, UMass alum Bill Gallagher (’05) spoke to students after a viewing of his documentary “Racing Dreams,” of which Gallagher was the production manager. Meanwhile, students in Shaheen Pasha’s “International Changes in Journalism” class enjoyed a discussion with Aaron Schachter (’92), an editor at Public Radio International’s “The World.” Each of the other four all-stars attended classes, imparting wisdom from their own climb to professional success.

The all-star visit culminated Tuesday night when alumni joined students for dinner in a more relaxed atmosphere.

The conversation flowed easily at the table of Elisa Thomas (’95), the executive director of digital marketing at Clinique. She talked with students about what led her away from pursuing magazine editing, going to graduate school for photography and film and the opportunities that came with the rise of social media. Between questions about her career with Clinique in digital marketing and the her life in New York, she comforted anxious students and offered assistance where she could.

“It’s going to be alright,” said Thomas to a journalism student at her table who asked her about how to deal with graduation jitters. Thomas spoke that morning at an Entrepreneurial Journalism course and encouraged students to utilize social media, but also understand its obstacles. She outlined her journey beginning in 1995 when she was a UMass journalism student just like the ones she came to speak to.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve called B.J. crying about my failures,” she said, crediting journalism professor B.J. Roche as supporter and a confidante even after she graduated.

Thomas, Schacter and Gallagher were joined by S.P. Sullivan (’10), a reporter at NJ.com and the Star-Ledger; Ashleigh Barry (’99), reporter at KTVK/KPHO in Phoenix; and Mackenzie Issler Rigg (’07), reporter at Newsday. At the end of dinner, the all-star panel was opened by current journalism department chairwoman Kathy Forde, whose inspirational speech connected the United States Constitution with the important role journalists play in society.

Sullivan, who started the the panel by reaching for his microphone, reminded students that despite the lofty heights the alumni have reached, they all started at UMass.

“I learned all this at UVC-TV19,” quipped Sullivan.

Panelists began by describing their professional journeys, sharing triumphs and setbacks alike everywhere from the Middle-East to New York City. A common theme almost every alumni expressed was that above all else, they were storytellers.

Students eventually got the chance to ask questions and queried the panel on what they would have done differently in their professional work, the importance of mentors and on general advice making it in the field.

“Research and know what you’re getting into,” said Barry. “Ask people for help,” Schacter continued.

The final question of the evening turned the focus back to the future as Professor Karen List asked what the alumni wanted to do in the future. The resounding answer from the panel was that they wanted to mentor more students and future journalists. Based on the applause from the assembled crowd at the event, the alumni were off to a great start.

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The digital-first, student-run magazine of the University of Massachusetts Amherst Journalism Department
UMass Journalism alumni inspire current students