Recent honors graduates reflect on their time at UNC Hussman
Seven seniors graduated with honors or highest honors this spring from the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media — Valentina Arismendi ’21, Molly Brice ’21, Megan Dennehy ’21, Miranda DiPaolo ’21, Anne Claire Foreman ’21, Alice (Sejin) Lim ’21 and Jake Schmitz ’21.
The UNC Hussman Honors Program serves undergraduate students wishing to pursue an original and substantial research or creative project under direct supervision of a faculty adviser during their senior year. Admission to the academically rigorous program requires a major GPA of 3.5 or better and a 3.3 GPA overall.
Students must maintain a 3.3 overall GPA throughout the program. Those who complete and successfully defend their theses at the end of the senior year will graduate with honors; students who write outstanding theses will graduate with highest honors.
“Disruption due to the pandemic made work on an honors thesis more challenging. All credit goes to these seniors for seeing their honors thesis through and to their faculty mentors for shepherding the work during a time of tremendous upheaval,” said Associate Professor Barbara Friedman, director of the honors program. “The topics students explored this year responded to issues of the moment, such as strategic communications during a global health crisis, and multimedia innovations for online education, and addressed enduring concerns, including gender violence, and environmental preservation.”
We caught up with this esteemed group of honors graduates to ask about their hopes for the future, their thoughts of the past and just what UNC Hussman has meant in their Carolina journey. Here is what they said.
Responses below have been edited for length and clarity.
Miranda DiPaolo ’21 was unable to take part in the Q&A due to travel. Her honors thesis is entitled “Indoctrination and Political Development in College.”
*Denotes a graduate with highest honors.
(Pictured left to right above: Arismendi with Emma Kenfield ’21 and UNC Hussman Dean Susan King at a UNC Hussman event.)
Hometown: Orlando, Florida
Major: Media and journalism (journalism track), minor in composition, rhetoric and digital literacy.
Why I chose UNC Hussman: The day I toured UNC Hussman my senior year of high school and heard “Dr. T’s” (Senior Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies and John H. Stembler Jr. Distinguished Professor Charlie Tuggle) spiel on how amazing the work students produce here was, I knew I had to give this place a shot.
Why I took part in the UNC Hussman Honors Program: I chose to do an honors thesis because it allowed me to take a deep-dive look into a topic that was of interest to me that may not have necessarily had a place in any singular course at UNC. My topic spanned three subjects: education, visual communication and psychology.
My capstone project: My thesis project, “Suddenly Online: The Use of Multimedia in Distance Learning Classrooms,” was on best practices for multimedia teaching materials in distance learning courses. During my junior year, I took my very first education course and was fascinated by its utility in being a vehicle for change in society. At the same time, I was getting into my upper-level graphic design courses. I wanted to find the intersection between the two and explore how the application of my design skills could be used to benefit education.
Most memorable class at UNC Hussman: One of my favorite classes was MEJO 581: User Experience Design and Usability with Associate Professor Laura Ruel. It was a very hands-on class where I got to apply a lot of different skills and interests at once. It was a perfect mix of graphic design, psychology, writing and communication. We had the chance to work with the Town of Chapel Hill on the usability of their new website. This was my first time presenting for a real world client — it made everything feel real.
Most memorable UNC Hussman professor: What I loved the most about UNC Hussman is having professors who not just know your name, but care about you as a person. Walter Spearman Distinguished Professor Terence Oliver has exemplified that and more. I met him at a conference my sophomore year, took two classes with him my junior year (in infographics and motion graphics) and worked on out-of-class projects with him my senior year. What makes Terence so special is that he takes the time to know what each one of his students want to accomplish, not just in his class but in their lives, and then does whatever he can to help them achieve that.
My Hussman "a-ha" moment: My sophomore year when walking to the Park Library for class, I came across all of the infographics on display along the hallway from students in Terence’s MEJO 484: Information Graphics course. I was late to class that day because I was staring at all of them in such detail. Many of them had won awards at the Society for News Design college competition. I knew in that moment I wanted to create something as eye-catching. Fast forward one year, I took Terence’s infographics course and my infographic for my final project won first place in the competition that year. It was in that full-circle moment that I knew I had made the right decision in choosing UNC Hussman for myself.
Career plans: Following graduation, I will be moving to San Francisco to work at Adobe as an educational marketing specialist. I interned there last summer and am very excited that I will be continuing my career there! I’ll be in charge of creating pitches for how Adobe Creative Cloud can better be integrated across the general education curriculum at higher ed institutions worldwide.
What excites me about the future: What excites me most is that visual communication is so applicable to everything we do. I cannot wait to see what sector it has an impact on next. A lot of times people think graphic design and they think of advertising agencies or other creative fields. What I wanted to show in my thesis, and what I hope to continue doing in the future, is applying visual communication to sectors it traditionally has not been considered for and showing why it does belong there.
Hometown: Charlotte, North Carolina
Major: Media and journalism (advertising and public relations track), minor in social and economic justice.
Why I chose UNC Hussman: I have always loved writing, and the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media gave me the opportunity to hone my writing and storytelling skills. I was also drawn to UNC Hussman because of the school's focus on giving students real-world experiences.
Why I took part in the UNC Hussman Honors Program: I wanted to be in the Honors Program because I wanted to challenge myself with an extended research project that allowed me to dive into a topic I was passionate about.
My capstone project: My capstone project, “Reading Between the Lines: Framing of Sexual Assault in Young-Adult Novels,” started with an independent study I did in spring 2019. I was interested to learn more about sexual assault prevention campaigns, as well as how they attempted to communicate their message to college-aged males. From there, my topic morphed into looking at how YA novels frame the issue of sexual assault. It was really interesting to apply framing theory, typically used in journalism studies, to a completely different form of media. I learned that YA texts can help teach adolescents about sexual assault, however, attention should be paid to how the text either dispels or perpetuates common myths around sexual assault.
Most memorable class at UNC Hussman: The most memorable class I took was MEJO 533: Crisis Communication with Teaching Professor Valerie Fields. This class helped me learn how to think on my feet and articulate myself more confidently, especially with controversial clients.
Most memorable UNC Hussman professor: It is impossible to choose just one! Fields because she emphasized the importance of putting people first and telling the truth as core public relations principles. Teaching Assistant Professor Livis Freeman for his campaigns expertise and genuine concern for his students. James H. Shumaker Term Professor Rhonda Gibson for her sense of humor and intelligent application of ethics to the different fields of media and journalism.
My Hussman “a-ha” moment: My Hussman a-ha moment was taking the MEJO 101: The Media Revolution: From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg and Beyond class that made me realize all the possibilities of public relations. The class really made me realize how applicable a degree in media and journalism could be!
Career plans: I am doing a six-month fellowship program with a public relations agency based in San Francisco called Strange Brew Strategies.
What excites me about the future: I am really interested to see how public relations can be used as a means of fostering positive social action, and I'm excited to see research into what makes campaigns effective.
Hometown: Greensboro, North Carolina
Majors: Media and journalism (advertising and public relations track) and political science.
Why I chose UNC Hussman: I visited the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media the spring before I came to Carolina and got to sit in on a few classes. The extremely welcoming students, faculty and staff, in combination with the stellar reputation of the UNC Hussman program, made the decision easy for me.
Why I took part in the UNC Hussman Honors Program: I wanted to be in the program to further challenge myself with a thesis project during my senior year. Although the project was challenging, it was equally rewarding to complete such an extensive research project with a great team surrounding me and supporting me!
My capstone project: My capstone project, “The Evolution of the ‘Shut Up and Dribble’ Mentality” examines the evolution of athlete activism throughout history and focuses on the influence of social media's introduction in recent history. I chose this topic because I want to find a career in sports, and I think understanding how different forms of media have been utilized to advance athletes' platforms and stances is extremely important.
Most memorable class at UNC Hussman: I've loved so many classes during my time in the UNC Hussman school, but my most memorable class was probably MEJO 533: Crisis Communication with Teaching Professor Valerie Fields. It really helped me further my presentation and planning skills, while simultaneously increasing my self-confidence with speaking in front of others.
Most memorable UNC Hussman professor: I can't choose just one! Professors John Sweeney, Livis Freeman and Gary Kayye have all given me advice that has shaped me into the young professional that I am, while also helping me make connections, search for jobs and providing a listening ear. I'm so thankful to have had such great professors like them during my time at Carolina!
My Hussman “a-ha” moment: There are so many moments that have reassured me that deciding to come to UNC, and specifically UNC Hussman, was the right decision, but my biggest "a-ha" moment came this semester in Teaching Assistant Professor Gary Kayye's MEJO 577: The Branding of Me course, where, before each class, Gary would have us do some sort of meditation or do something creative like sing and dance. Despite the course being held hybrid style, when Gary played “Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)” — the official song of the 2010 FIFA World Cup by Shakira — and had us all stand, sing and dance to the song, I felt true camaraderie between my classmates and my professor. The atmosphere of that moment embodied what the culture of Carolina means to me, and the fun-loving atmosphere that is present within the UNC Hussman school.
Career plans: I'm searching for a full-time job or internship in sports communications and media relations in the realm of professional and collegiate media relations and social media.
What excites me about the future: I think the future of public relations is extremely exciting because constantly evolving technology has changed the way professionals have been able to increase the impact their brands, clients and organizations can have on their respective publics.
Hometown: Elizabeth City, North Carolina
Major: Media and journalism (advertising and public relations track), environmental science minor.
Why I came to UNC Hussman: I came to Carolina for its impressive journalism school! I was confident that I wanted to be a UNC Hussman student since I was in high school, and I can honestly say that my experience as a UNC Hussman student exceeded all of my hopes and dreams.
Why I took part in the UNC Hussman Honors Program: I wanted to be a member of the program because of the standard of excellence that the community maintains. The range and topics in the honors classes are incredible, and my honors electives were some of my favorite classes at UNC.
My capstone project: I wrote my senior honors thesis, “A Mountains-to-Sea Communication Trail: Clearing the Path to Improved Strategic Communications for Environmental Nonprofit Organizations in North Carolina” as a best practices communications guide for environmental nonprofits in North Carolina. My study specifically investigated social media platforms and content related to climate change communication. I am a passionate environmentalist who strongly believes that climate change is the fight of my generation's life, and I wanted to create a useful study to make a difference regarding this issue.
Most memorable class at UNC Hussman: My most memorable class in the UNC Hussman school was MEJO 577: The Branding of Me. Teaching Assistant Professor Gary Kayye cares deeply about his students, both in and out of the classroom. This class inspired me to finally start a personal blog, a project I’ve been wanting to tackle for years. It also got me hooked on the practice of mindfulness and meditation, which I now try to work into my routine every day!
Most memorable UNC Hussman professor: Adjunct Instructor Marshéle Carter, who served as my thesis adviser. I was a student in her public relations writing class where we partnered with a local nonprofit. The class greatly strengthened my writing ability, and the useful portfolio of work we created has been an excellent resource in the job application process. Carter is the embodiment of a positive leader who cares about her students' successes, and I couldn’t have made it through my thesis journey without her.
My Hussman “a-ha” moment: My entire four years at UNC have been full of “a-ha” moments that have reiterated that UNC Hussman was the perfect place for me. A recent memory that stands out is my experience in the MEJO 437: Media in Asia course. Taking this class with my incredible professor, Joe Czabovsky, opened my eyes to see public relations from a global perspective.
Career plans: I currently have full-time job offers from public relation firms in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Nashville, Tennessee, and am waiting to hear back from a firm in Boston, Massachusetts, this week. I plan on working in a content strategist role in the industry and eventually going back to school to earn a law degree.
What excites me about the future: I am constantly excited about the future of public relations because it’s an ever-changing and growing field! I can’t wait to see where the industry goes in the future, especially in terms of new social media platforms and technology.
Hometown: Vancouver, Canada
Majors: Media and journalism (advertising and public relations track) and peace, war and defense, with a minor in history.
Why I chose UNC Hussman: I chose UNC Hussman because I am passionate about communication.
Why I took part in the UNC Hussman Honors Program: I wanted to be in the program because I was a research intern at the UNC Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media, and I was interested in research. I have also always wanted to be a professor, and this was a great chance to test the waters.
My capstone project: My topic, “Evaluating CDC’s Crisis Communication Strategy during the COVID-19 Pandemic,” is on the social media crisis communication tactics employed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. I was interested in this topic because of my interest in government communications and crisis communications, but also because I have realized that there is not much research done on public organizations' communication tactics.
Most memorable class at UNC Hussman: MEJO 533: Crisis Communication with Teaching Professor Valerie Fields. The class was my introduction to the world of crisis communications and really solidified my belief that public relations was the path for me.
Most memorable UNC Hussman professor: Assistant Professor Joe Czabovsky. As I was going through tough times during my senior year, he really went above and beyond to communicate with his students and really made me feel like I was more than just another PID on a list.
My Hussman “a-Ha” moment: My Hussman “a-ha” moment was MEJO 332: Public Relations Writing. During the finals season, I was in Davis Library, frantically editing and printing our public relations project for that class. Although my friends looked at me like I was crazy, I was on an adrenaline high and was enjoying the high-stress moment! The teamwork was great, and I loved seeing the public relations communication plan come together.
Career plans: Currently, I am looking for a job that would be in political or crisis communications. I am looking for a job that combines my interest in both politics and communications.
What excites me about the future: I am excited about the diversity in public relations. I have been told by other professors and professionals in public relations that they have been working tirelessly to make public relations a more diverse field, and have seen themselves some of the changes in diversity. I am excited to bring my viewpoint into the field of public relations.
(Pictured left to right above: Will Keegan, Schmitz, Morgan Carpenter.)
Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
Major: Media and journalism (journalism track).
Why I chose UNC Hussman: I knew the skills and knowledge I acquired on the journalism track at UNC Hussman would allow me to pursue any number of exciting careers.
Why I took part in the UNC Hussman Honors Program: Entering my senior year, I knew I wanted to attend law school after graduation. After doing some research about the Honors Program, I learned that my thesis could be a helpful introduction into the world of media law … and would serve as a perfect springboard for a career in law.
My capstone project: My thesis, “You Won’t Believe This Surprising New Field of Law! The Emerging World of Clickbait Defamation and Its Connection to Headline Defamation Law” is about clickbait defamation, an emerging field in the world of media law introduced by Harvard University Professor Lawrence Lessig via his 2019 suit against The New York Times. I was lucky enough, with massive help from Associate Professor Tori Ekstrand, to have Lessig on my defense committee, who provided the committee and myself with incredible insights into the field. The thesis discusses his suit, as well as the current state of journalism that incentivizes clickbait and the legal credibility of the field as informed by the existing world of headline defamation.
Most memorable class at UNC Hussman: MEJO 570: Data Driven Journalism with Associate Professor Ryan Thornburg. He is an incredibly caring and engaging teacher, and his passion for well-informed reporting was apparent from the beginning of class. The class itself taught me a lot about finding stories within hard data and about backing up your claims with facts, which can and should be applicable to all types of work.
Most memorable UNC Hussman professor: Ekstrand was my thesis adviser for the past year and without her constant support and patience, my thesis would not exist. She is simply the best.
My Hussman “a-ha” moment: My moment came during my first year at Carolina in Associate Professor Spencer Barnes’ graphic design class. Barnes was one of the first teachers I had that I could tell genuinely cared about his work and wanted to do it the right way. Although I did not end up pursuing a career in graphic design, he showed me what it meant to know a craft well and take pride in your work. I knew that a school filled with dedicated professors like Barnes was the place for me.
Career plans: I am going to Duke Law School.
What excites me most about the future: What excites me about media law’s future is the emergence of exciting fields like clickbait defamation. Journalism and media are rapidly changing, and the laws that govern them should be changing with them. To be at the forefront of these evolving fields would be incredibly exciting.