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By Yelena Serrato / FHS Correspondent—
PRINCETON, NJ—I was one of thirty students chosen from a competitive poll of 350 junior applicants to attend the Princeton Summer Journalism Program (PSJP) last summer.
I was selected based on academics, teacher recommendations, submitted writing samples and an interview via telephone.
The Princeton Summer Journalism Program was founded in 2002 by Richard Just, Michael Koike, Gregory Mancini and Rich Tucker — four alumni of the Princeton University Class of 2001 and editors for the Daily Princetonian.
Their goal was to diversify college and professional newsrooms, where women, people of color, and from lower-income and middle-class backgrounds, rural communities and other parts of the country had been historically underrepresented. It thanks to these four individuals that I was given the opportunity to participate in this once in a lifetime experience.
The program was a 10-day all-expense paid trip to Princeton, New Jersey where I stayed on campus in an underclassmen residence hall and ate in one of the university’s dining halls.
I attended workshops and lectures taught by program alumni and reporters and editors from The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Yorker, New York Magazine, The Daily Beast, Politico, Sports Illustrated and CNN, among other media outlets. I also sat through sessions with renowned Princeton professors, as well as the president and representatives of the Office of Undergraduate Admissions to experience first-hand Princeton’s approach to the liberal arts.
During my time at the program, I interviewed Andrew Zwicker, a state assemblyman of New Jersey over his reelection campaign. I reported on who residents of Princeton will be voting for in the upcoming presidential election and how two Princeton natives Winona Guo and Priya Vulchi built CHOOSE, a program promoting racial literacy in school.
I also toured major news publications in New York City such as the New York Times, Bloomberg, Sports Illustrated and NBC. While in NYC, students and I took the streets and reported on how New Yorkers felt about their mayor, Bill de Blasio, running for president.
At PSJP we even explored investigative reporting by heading to Trenton and New Brunswick where we conducted research in stores in central New Jersey to see if they were stocking expired products. To my surprise, many stores were.
We found expired children’s ibuprofen, Pepto Bismol, baby food, condoms, allergy medicine, cold and flu medication, just to name a few. The stores that had expired products were Rite Aid, Walgreens, CVS, 7-Eleven, Tropical Supermarket, Colonial Farms and Family Dollar.
Many of us student journalists were asked to leave the stores when we confronted store owners and managers over the expired products found. Rite Aid and Family Dollar were the only stores who reached out to us for further comments.
We were also taught about sports journalism which we learned more about in the best way possible by traveling to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to watch an NFL preseason matchup between the Philadelphia Eagles and Tennessee Titans. We watched the game behind the glass of an official press box surrounded by a room full of professional sports journalists. Not to mention an array food provided by the Eagles. Loyal fans filled the stadium with their full support and excitement as if it were opening day made it such an amazing atmosphere to witness.
All the stories we reported on during the program we used to produce The Princeton Summer Journal, a newspaper written and published by student journalists.
Being a first-generation college student, I had many concerns and questions going into the college application process this year. Thankfully, PSJP prepared me. Towards the end of the program, students and I attended seminars on every aspect of the college admissions process, including test prep, writing personal narratives, choosing the best fit college, and understanding financial aid. I along with every student was paired with a college admissions counselor who helped us create a college list, write our personal essays, complete our college applications and offer their support. My counselor was Marin Cogan, a journalist at Pop-Up magazine. She provided her service at every minute of every day and she is ultimately who I extend my gratitude for helping me confidently submit an application to UT Austin.
Attending SJP provided me more than just a pathway to my future, it gave me a support system which I found through the people I met at the program who turned into some of my closest friends. I met people from all around the nation. New York, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, Alaska, Florida, California, Nevada, South Carolina, Maryland, Georgia, Pennsylvania and of course some fellow Texans.
I was able to hear some inspiring stories from the friends I made. Rabeya Sultana of New York moved from Bangladesh at just 14 years old and knowing the adversity she had to overcome to be where she is today is simply amazing. Laila Nasher of Michigan, the first friend I made while riding the train to Princeton, told me about her experience living in a Yemen community and how it is unheard of for young women to purse an education much less a college education. Yet, Laila is doing it. In fact, she will be receiving her education from one of the world’s best university—Harvard.
PSJP Class of 2019 will be heading to Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown, Dartmouth, Georgetown, Duke, Bowdoin, Stanford, UC Berkeley, Williams, Wesleyan, Amherst, Northwestern, UT, Oregon University, Bates and Mt. Holyoke. We are all headed towards exciting new beginnings thanks to program who invested their time in us and allowed us to believe in ourselves.
The Princeton Summer Journalism Program allowed me to see the full potential in myself. Before, I was afraid of what the future held but now I feel prepared to tackle it. I
am thankful for this experience and the education I have received at Floydada High School under astonishing educators. It is opportunities like these I hope students in our community take advantage of because if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be here writing for the Hesperian and sharing this with you all.