Celebrating UNC Hussman's 2024 outstanding graduates

By Hannah Rosenberger '24


Every year, UNC Hussman honors several of its graduates with outstanding student awards in recognition of their remarkable achievements as top students within each of their respective programs.

These five outstanding graduates were nominated and selected by UNC Hussman faculty across the school’s undergraduate programs in journalism and advertising/public relations, along with its master’s in digital communication, master’s in media and communication and doctoral programs. They’ll be recognized at the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media’s commencement ceremony on May 11.

Learn more about the Class of 2024 outstanding graduate award winners below:


Sinclair Holian ’24 was named this year’s John Robert Bittner Outstanding Graduating Senior in Journalism.

Holian will compete in the Hearst National Journalism Awards Championship in San Francisco in June, after being recognized by the Hearst Feature Writing competition for her fall UNC Media Hub story "Land Loss and Legacy on Historic Black-owned Farmland."

She said she’s had a love for storytelling since she was little, and the community she’s built at UNC Hussman — whether it’s classmates from Angelia Herrin’s feature writing class, her peers across the University or her network of past professors — has shaped her into the writer and journalist she is today.

“In my career moving forward, I plan to maintain my commitment to empathetic, narrative reporting that shines light on under-covered issues and communities,” Holian said. “I'm lucky to have a wonderful support system in my mentors, family and friends, and I'm excited for the path ahead.”


This year’s Lois & H.C. Cranford Outstanding Graduating Senior in Advertising and Public Relations is Josh Tu ’24.

Tu said he likes to tell stories, capture moments and create art.

As co-creative director for “MEJO 477: New Media Technologies” with Assistant Professor Gary Kayye this semester, he lead his classmates in the creation of “Dook It Out” — a massive rock-paper-scissors competition that drew over 300 students hopeful of winning the event’s big promotional prize: tickets to the UNC-Duke basketball game.

“That was a really special event that drew the community together that I'm really proud of,” Tu said. “Working with and managing the 50 students in our class to put on and promote the event was a phenomenal learning experience.”


Megan Zehnder ’23 (M.A.) was named this year’s Outstanding Student in the M.A. in Digital Communication program.

She said she loves using technology to communicate ideas in ways that are both helpful and engaging, and her relationships with UNC Hussman instructors like Lexi Namer and Kate Sheppard gave her the foundational tools she needed for understanding user experience best practices for creating simple, useful designs.

Partway through her master’s program, Zehnder also began full-time contract work with the Department of Veterans Affairs, and she hopes to continue to approach that work with the lens of making digital content more consistent, clear and user-friendly for all. Now that she has (slightly) more time on her hands, she hopes to be a better Carolina sports fan.

“You can't always give 100% of your effort to every aspect of your life,” Zehnder said, in advice to new students starting at UNC Hussman. “You have to choose which things are the most critical at the moment, do them the best you can, and give yourself some grace for the other things. Work on making the best choices for what to focus on each day.”


In the M.A. in Media and Communication program, Clay Williams ’24 (M.A.) was named the 2024 Outstanding Student.

Williams’ interest in communications research began during his undergraduate years at Virginia Tech, where he grew to love the combination of creativity and logic through designing research projects.

His master’s thesis at UNC Hussman — under the guidance of his mentor and biggest Hussman influence Rhonda Gibson — examined the impact of LGBTQ+ artists’ music videos and other factors on the self-esteem and body satisfaction of LGBTQ+ viewers. He’ll remain in Chapel Hill to pursue his Ph.D., with the hope of one day becoming a professor and passing on his love of research to future media students.

“Some of the most valuable insights I've received came from professors who had never studied my specific area of interest,” Williams said. “Everyone brings a unique perspective, so capitalize on that to explore different avenues and ways of thinking.”


Heesoo Jang ’24 (Ph.D.) was named this year’s Outstanding Ph.D. Graduate in Media and Communication.

Jang has developed a passion for journalism, fact-checking and the impact of technology (especially AI) on information, and her UNC Hussman Ph.D. allowed her to explore interdisciplinary research and communication frameworks that expanded on her experiences with these topics.

In the fall, she will join the faculty of the journalism department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst as an assistant professor of law and ethics — a “dream job come true,” she said — and is excited to continue to support both her new cohort of students at UMass and her community back at UNC Hussman.

“I'll continue researching the transnational harms of digital platforms and AI in journalism and public relations, bringing my research to classrooms!” Jang said. “I'm passionate about ensuring equitable access to education and technology. My teaching is driven by a dedication to inclusion and diversity, ensuring that students engage with diverse perspectives and critically assess the impact of technology on society. Most of all, I want to contribute to people coming together to support, challenge and inspire one another.”