Six student standouts recognized as 2021 Carolina commencement is celebrated

by Barbara Wiedemann

UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media recognized six student standouts with awards and scholarships for their outstanding accomplishments this academic year. Valentina Arismendi ’21, Ashley Fox ’17, ’21 (M.A./J.D.), Giulia Heyward ’21 (M.A.), Natalie Rinehard ’21 and Jacob Rohde ’21 (Ph.D.) were five of approximately 390 UNC Hussman students among the nearly 6,300 Tar Heels to graduate this spring. A sixth, Elizabeth Baier ’20 (M.A.), graduated in December 2020, and took part in Carolina’s spring commencement ceremony.

Attendees enjoyed a bright Carolina blue sky day in Chapel Hill on Saturday, May 15, for a commencement ceremony at Kenan Stadium which included UNC Hussman graduates, one in a series of five in-person commencement events over three days in Kenan Stadium with pandemic precautions in place.

Graduates were addressed virtually by COVID-19 experts Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease doctor, and Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, a Carolina graduate whose team helped develop a COVID-19 vaccine at the National Institute of Health’s Vaccine Research Center.

UNC Hussman graduate Tamiya Troy ’21, senior class vice president and president of The UNC Black Student Movement, was recognized on stage by Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz.

Tar Heels in Kenan Stadium heard from UNC Hussman Dean and John Thomas Kerr Distinguished Professor Susan King on Saturday. She told them, “I couldn’t be more proud of each of you for your accomplishments and pure grace. You have shown that you are accomplished, ready and prepared for careers as ethical, focused, committed and passionate communicators and scholars. You understand the American ideal, and your role in this inter-connected world.”

Spring 2020 graduates will be celebrated during UNC’s 2021 Homecoming weekend in October, with plans for a Sunday, Oct. 10, Kenan Stadium commencement ceremony.



Valentina ArismendiHonors Carolina undergraduate student Valentina Chirinos Arismendi ’21 received the 2021 John Robert Bittner Outstanding Graduating Senior in Journalism Award in recognition of her outstanding contributions at Hussman.

“I’m so proud of her,” said Arismendi’s mentor and favorite professor, UNC Hussman Walter Spearman Distinguished Professor Terence Oliver.

What made Valentina stand out among many extremely talented journalism graduates?

“From the start it was clear that she was one of the most teachable, hard-working students that I'd have the honor of teaching,” Oliver said. “She possessed an incredible attitude and work-ethic, even under tough circumstances to the point that with one of her projects she took a big risk and changed the whole project idea a few days before the deadline, stayed up and was not only able to complete the project, but complete it with excellence.” That project ultimately won an international award.

Arismendi came to the U.S. from Venezuela in 2003 and to Carolina from Winter Springs, Florida, in 2017.

She entered Carolina under the Wood Family Scholars Program for leadership and went on to win additional financial support from UNC Hussman, including from the Ardis Cohoon Memorial Scholarship Fund, The Don and Barbara Curtis Excellence Fund for Extracurricular Activities and the Tucker Family Scholarship Fund.

This spring, she was awarded highest honors for her thesis “Suddenly Online: The Use of Multimedia in Distance Learning Classrooms.” Her infographics work was recognized with a first place award from the Society for News Design in 2020.

“Winning this award was the perfect ending to my senior year,” said Arismendi. ”I came into UNC Hussman with one goal: tell stories that sing. There was never a time this school failed to support me in that. Whether it was through the care of my professors or monetary support from donors, I knew if I could dream it then Hussman would find a way to help me materialize it.”

Arismendi said that she used the scholarship associated with her outstanding student award to purchase an iPad, which is allowing her to experiment with Adobe’s newest graphic design software, Adobe Fresco, which simulates real-life painting and drawing on the iPad.

“Right now, whenever I want that hand-painted look for my designs I have to actually paint on a piece of paper and then scan that into the computer,” she said. “This program takes away the need for that step with how closely it mimics brush strokes,” said the new graduate, who heads to San Francisco to join Adobe’s education marketing team full time after internship experiences and multiple Adobe MAX appearances as a Hussman student.

She has a bright future, and Adobe is lucky to now have her on their team,” said Oliver.

Arismendi envisions a future that keeps her at the intersection of visual communication and education.

“Through my experience taking classes at both UNC Hussman and the School of Education, I’ve been able to see the possibilities of what happens when the two are studied in relation to one another,” she said. “Grad school is definitely in my future, but until then I’m excited to get some real-world work experience in San Francisco.”



Liz BaierElizabeth Baier ’20 (M.A.), digital news editor at North Carolina Public Radio (WUNC 91.5), received the 2021 Outstanding M.A. Digital Communication Student Award. A 2003 University of Miami graduate, Baier was determined to stay on track in the school’s rigorous online program despite the challenges of 2020.

“She is fabulous at time management,” said UNC Hussman James H. Shumaker Term Professor Rhonda Gibson. “She was balancing the demands of a full-time job at WUNC, a newborn, part-time teaching, and a rigorous master's program, and she managed to do it all very well. She contributed to class discussions and projects in a manner that lifted everyone up.”

Gibson, Baier’s thesis committee chair, heard from multiple instructors that the MADC award-winner had the ability to identify insights that they hadn’t previously considered, and she did so in an unassuming and collaborative manner.

Baier called the award a lovely surprise. “To find out that all those long nights and work had been recognized was very fulfilling,” said Baier.

Her research at Hussman enabled Baier to explore ways to teach podcasting with an emphasis on online learning to reach more students, a topic that became extremely relevant during the pandemic.

Baier described her work as “a pedagogy-focused research project with very practical applications for instructors wanting to create curriculum that meets the needs of online students wanting to learn how to conceive, create, publish and distribute a podcast.” 

The newly-minted master’s graduate said that she is using new approaches every day on the job because of what she learned in the MADC program.

“The way I think of digital media now is more audience-centered,” she said, “and I have a better grasp of strategies and data-driven methods to reach, connect and serve those audiences.”

An adjunct instructor at UNC Hussman who has taught “MEJO 252: Audio Journalism,” Baier envisions a future where she is continuing to blend her interests in podcasting, online education and teaching journalism.

“I love mentoring younger reporters in the newsroom and I also love teaching radio in a classroom setting,” she said. “Whatever I’m doing in five years, I’m sure it’ll involve some form of coaching, mentoring or teaching others.”


ASHLEY FOX ’17, ’21 (M.A./J.D.)

Ashley FoxAshley Fox ’17, ’21 (M.A/J.D.) received one of two 2021 Outstanding M.A. Media And Communication Student Awards in recognition of her outstanding contributions at Hussman. Fox leaves Carolina after eight years with undergraduate degrees in media and journalism and political science from Carolina; a juris doctor from UNC School of Law and a master’s degree in mass communication from UNC Hussman.

Fox used work she’d done as a graduate student fellow at the UNC Center for Information, Technology, and Public Life with UNC Hussman Associate Professor Daniel Kreiss and Ph.D. candidate Bridget Barrett as a springboard for her master’s thesis. That work analyzed a federal appellate court case regarding the regulation of online political advertising, and included interviews with key attorneys and state regulators about the problems inherent in regulating online political advertising.

“It’s an incredibly thorough review of the legal issues and challenges, coupled with policy recommendations to address the issue,” wrote UNC Hussman Associate Professor Tori Ekstrand, Fox’s thesis committee chair. “In addition, Fox has captured some of the most prestigious clerkships and internships in her time with us, working for Judge Allyson Kay Duncan in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals and Judge Rudolph Contreras in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. She also garnered a coveted slot as an intern at the Department of Justice and she worked for U.S. Senator Dick Durbin.”

As an undergraduate with an advertising and public relations emphasis, Fox fell in love with the subject of media law in a junior year class with the late Associate Professor Emeritus Michael Hoefges.

“He was a very kind man,” she remembered, “who could make a difficult subject—not easy, because media law is not easy—but he could make media law engaging.”

“I loved his class,” she continued, “and he encouraged me to go further and apply to the dual degree J.D./M.A. program at Carolina.”

Fox has found her career path by studying both media and the law at UNC Hussman and the UNC School of Law.

“There are a lot of overlapping topics,” she said, “and that’s part of why I wanted to come to Hussman. You might think ‘the law is the law’— but there is a lot more to it than that. I have learned so much from others with related areas of expertise, and from the social science methods that help inform the law.”

This summer, Fox will study and take the North Carolina bar exam. In August, she will begin a clerkship with Chief Judge Martin Reidinger at the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina in Asheville.

She said the funds associated with her outstanding student award will help make her new Asheville apartment feel more like home when the time comes.

Her tips for acing media law as an undergraduate?

“Spend a lot of time reviewing your notes,” she advised. “I made flashcards and used those to hammer the concepts into my brain! It’s not always super-intuitive,” she added, “so ask questions when things are unclear.” She noted that UNC Hussman professors do a great job of explaining how media law principles apply to everyday life.



Giulia HeywardRoy H. Park Fellow Giulia Heyward ’21 (M.A.) received one of two 2021 Outstanding M.A. Media And Communication Student Awards in recognition of her outstanding contributions as an investigative journalist while a student at UNC Hussman. Heyward came to Carolina from her native state, where she graduated with a 4.0 from New College of Florida.

“I’m days away from officially having an M.A. in Journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill!” Heyward posted to Twitter earlier this month. “I juggled classes while interning, freelancing AND working full time as a TA each semester. It feels good to have finally made it to the final line.”

How does she do it all?

“She just works,” said Heyward’s committee chair, UNC Hussman Associate Professor Paul Cuadros. “She’s super-energetic. She gets going, and she keeps going. She’s highly organized. She delegates her time well. She’s ambitious. And… she just works.”

Heyward has published paid work in major publications like The Atlantic, The New Republic and The New York Times while a master’s student at Hussman. This spring, she worked as a Florida news intern for Politico. Last fall, she produced an average of four news stories a day as a part-time intern at and CNN digital. She spent last summer interning with The Washington Monthly magazine.

“At UNC Hussman, I got to work with incredible faculty members who encouraged me to take the assignments I wrote for my classes and pitch them elsewhere,” Heyward explained. “Having professors encourage me to prioritize my clips, and employment opportunities, really helped me make the most out of my time at Carolina.”

She added, modestly: “There are so many stories of national interest that come out of the Triangle—I think any student is capable of doing what I've done.”

In June, Heyward will use the money associated with her outstanding student award to defray some of her moving costs to New York City.

“The day I met Giulia, she said her goal was to report for The New York Times, like Hussman alumna Nikole Hannah-Jones, and now she’s doing it,” said fellow Park scholar Amari Pollard ’21 (M.A.) about Heyward’s upcoming yearlong fellowship on the national desk for the Times.

“Five years from now, I think Giulia will have a permanent position on the national desk of a legacy paper like The New York Times, The Los Angeles Time or The Washington Post,” Cuadros predicted.

“I'd love to get to work on some important national stories,” said Heyward, ”and think that alums like Nikole Hannah-Jones and Emily Steel have the exact kind of careers that I'm also aiming for.”

“And I’ve been encouraging her to write a book,” added Cuadros, whose own award-winning investigative reporting culminated in Carolina’s 2009 summer book read, “A Home on the Field: How One Championship Team Inspires Hope for the Revival of Small Town America.”

“Every journalist comes across a big story in their career. She’s savvy and smart enough to recognize a good story and turn it into something bigger,” said Cuadros. “I’m a big fan of her work,” he added, “and I hope to be for many years.”

“It's such an honor to be recognized by Hussman for my work,” said Heyward. “I have had the opportunity to work alongside so many other talented classmates and faculty—being presented with an Outstanding M.A. Student Award feels surreal. A lot of the work that I've been able to do is a direct result of how collaborative Carolina is.” 

“Even with the Covid-19 pandemic, I was able to make so many connections with fellow students, faculty and alumni,” said Heyward. “In a year that's felt pretty isolated, I've always felt at home.”



Natalie RinehardNatalie Rinehard ’21 received the 2021 Lois and H.C. Cranford Jr. Outstanding Graduating Senior Award in Public Relations.

“I honestly had to read it five times before I told anyone,” Rinehard said of the email informing her of the honor. “I was shocked at first, and then so appreciative! It felt very nice to know that other people were seeing my work ethic and appreciating that I was trying to do my best at all times.”

Rinehard, a Raleigh native, attended the N.C. Scholastic Media Institute  offered through UNC Hussman as a yearbook editor in her senior year in high school. She toured Carroll Hall that year as well, and that’s when she knew she wanted to be part of the school.

Entering Carolina with an interest in political journalism, Rinehard found that “MEJO 101: The Media Revolution from Gutenberg to Zuckerberg and Beyond” exposed her to different media and communications career paths. That inspired her to take some advertising, marketing and business communication courses, which in turn helped her define career path in advertising and public relations.

“I’m a psychology double major,” said Rinehard. “I’m interested in understanding why people do the things they do. I love the social science side of marketing, and learning how we can communicate better.”

Rinehard was the recipient of two generous fellowships offered by UNC Hussman supporters. The Lookout Fellows program provides funding to make students’ dream internships happen at leading companies in the U.S. and around the world. The Sharoky Fellows program provides a stipend that makes a summer internship with a Washington, D.C. employer financially possible for its recipients.

“Those fellowships had such a big impact,” said Rinehard, who interned with the American Academy of PAs in Alexandria, Virginia, in 2019, and was one of fewer than 100 individuals selected from 4,000 applicants to the Publicis Health Academy in 2020. “And it’s not just the money. We had the chance to ‘Zoom’ with the donors, and get to know them. The Sharokys even invited us to their beautiful house in Maryland in 2019.”

Associate Professor Lois Boynton advises the Crash Campaign, a student competition that takes place over 24 hours and involves teams who do research, develop strategy and implement solutions to local business and nonprofit organizations’ marketing challenges.  She has worked closely with Rinehard over the years.

“Natalie exemplifies an outstanding graduating senior,” said Boynton. “She has excelled academically and professionally. I’m proud to have worked with her throughout her academic career with the annual Crash Campaign. She served on planning committees and then led the annual 24-hour competition as president. She was an expert in making the transition from a ‘terra firma’ competition to all-online this spring. Despite the complexity of this undertaking, Natalie remained positive and a consummate professional. She’s a gem and has a bright future ahead.”

“We wanted to hold a Crash Campaign despite the pandemic,” said Rinehard. “Dean King and Dr. Boynton were very encouraging. They told us, ‘You figure it out! Let’s do it.’”

“The Crash Campaign was my favorite thing at Carolina,” Rinehard added. She enthusiastically described the local community aspect to serving clients from the area. “Chapel Hill the city is so much more than UNC,” she said. “Students had the opportunity to get to be part of that whole community, not siloed at the university.”

Any advice for incoming advertising and public relations students at Hussman?

Rinehard encouraged students to forge their own path, even within their area of interest.

“I knew I wanted to do things with data analytics,” she said as an example. “I needed to know creative and to know data. So I tried to be very intentional about taking classes that would allow me to do both.”

Rinehard has taken a position as a digital marketing analyst with Red Ventures in Charlotte. She’ll go armed with all of the professional subscriptions she ever dreamed of, thanks to the funds associated with her awards. “Chris Hill and I met last week and figured out what to do,” she said about the subscriptions to Ad Age, Ad Week, Fast Company and Business Insider; and the annual American Marketing Association and American Advertising Federation memberships the young communications professional added to her arsenal.


Jacob RohdeThe 2021 Outstanding Ph.D. Student Award went to Roy H. Park Fellow Jacob Rohde ’21 (Ph.D.). Rohde’s body of work researches how communication can be used to improve public health, much of it in the context of helping people with chronic disease improve their self-management skills, and in the area of tobacco control. 

Rohde said he was genuinely humbled when he awoke to the ‘ding’ of dozens of text messages on his phone alerting him to the win.

“I don’t like being singled out,” he said, “but it was something special to be recognized by my peers and colleagues for four years of hard work here.” Rohde said he is honored to be recognized in the company of the previous award winners.

“To know the caliber of the work that they’ve done, and now be part of that legacy and live up to that challenge, is inspiring and little bit nerve-racking,” he said.

“Jacob is a one-of-a-kind student who brings many talents and much passion to his research and teaching,” said UNC Hussman Professor Seth Noar, who is also a member of UNC’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. “He came into the program with many interests but he also allowed himself to evolve and grow as he encountered new ideas and opportunities.”

Noar added, “I’m so proud of the high-quality work that Jacob has conducted and it has been an absolute pleasure working with him. I can also tell you that faculty and students alike are very fond of Jacob, as he is one of those students who always showed up at events and helped cultivate and contribute to the Hussman community. He is also selfless and is always happy to lend a hand to his fellow students.”

Rohde is joining the National Cancer Institute for a four year fellowship, and the federal agency is sending him to Harvard University for a one-year master’s of public health program which he plans to wrap up in time to return to NCI’s headquarters in Rockville, Maryland, in June of 2022.

Rohde noted that he came to UNC Hussman to learn a particular set of skills from leading experts in health communication like Professor Noar, his dissertation committee chair. But he also sought an ability to broaden his horizons at Carolina.

“Hussman has such an interdisciplinary faculty,” said Rohde. “I learned how to be a better teacher from Professor Rhonda Gibson. I learned to code and integrate computational social science into my health communication work from Associate Professor Deen Freelon.” He also took advantage of opportunities to work with professors from UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health as a Hussman student.

“That’s the reason I came, and why I fell in love with the place,” said Rohde of the chance to work across departments within Hussman and across disciplines at Carolina as a graduate student.

The outstanding Ph.D. student, now a graduate, will use the award to help defray moving expenses to Harvard and promised to get his 2-1/2 year old dog, Daniel (pictured with Rohde above), some dog toys as well. And, after hearing about a European tradition of bestowing doctoral graduates with a sword as a symbol of defending the scientific rigor of their work, he has decided to purchase a replica lightsaber as a graduation gift to himself.