KINGSTON, R.I. – May 11, 2016 – For lots of University of Rhode Island seniors, completing a comprehensive capstone project can be the crowning achievement of their academic careers, while others can point to life-changing study abroad or community service experiences.
But for journalism majors, it would be hard to top what Allie Herrera experienced in her last weeks as a student at URI. She was among only 50 student journalists to participate in the first College Reporter Day, April 28, which gave the fledgling newshounds a chance to question President Barack Obama during a 30-minute press conference. Only 28 states were represented at the event.
“Press Secretary Josh Earnest was briefing the national press corps and the student reporters on a variety of current issues,” said the Greenwich, Conn. resident, who will earn her bachelor’s degree in journalism from URI on May 22. “All of a sudden President Obama walks in and says, “I hear there are some hotshot journalists here.’
“Everyone just gasped,” she said. “You are seeing one of the most influential people in the country and in the world. He was just 15 feet away. He is really, really funny and very down to earth. What you see in his press conferences and his addresses is exactly who he is.”
Herrera had a question for the president about whether the White House would continue the program, but she wasn’t selected. Other students asked about student loans and student debt, and other topics related to making college more accessible and affordable.
In addition to their chat with the president, the student reporters also met with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and White House correspondents Scott Horsley from National Public Radio, Toluse Olorunnipa of Bloomberg News; Christi Parsons of The Los Angeles Times, Carolyn Kaster, Associated Press photographer; Jonathan Karl of ABC News and Jennifer Bendery of The Huffington Post.
“We met with all of these national people who we admire and look up to, and it was great to see how passionate they are about their work,” Herrera said.
The funny thing is, if it hadn’t been for a journalist she met last year at a mentoring event for college students held by the Southern New England Association of Black Journalists at URI, she wouldn’t have even been aware of College Reporter Day.
Earlier this year, the White House sent a press release to select individuals and media outlets, and one of them happened to be Rony Camille, digital media producer at WBZ-TV in Boston, and the mentor she met last year. He let Herrera know about the opportunity, but she was lukewarm at first.
“I haven’t been that focused on politics and I told him it wasn’t among my major interests. But he told me to stop what I was doing and apply for this right now.”
So she submitted her application for what she described as an exciting and humbling experience.
“When it comes to this University, I am pretty well informed,” said Herrera, who helped put together a weekly campus news webcast (5 Cent Cigar News) this semester with fellow journalism major Marissa Tansino.
“But I was so impressed with the knowledge of these students at the White House,” said Herrera, who already has offers to do news reporting at three television stations.
”They were really on their game, and they knew how to ask hard questions.”
The students attended press briefings on student loans, academic scholarships and sexual assault.
“They gave us so much to bring back to our campuses with which to inform our communities,” Herrera said.
She said one of the goals of the event was for the White House to find out from the group why college students do not vote.
“This experience increased my understanding of politics and the complexity of the issues.”
But even as she prepares to make her own mark as a professional journalist, she realizes how much she has accomplished at the University.
“It just keeps getting better and better,” Herrera said. “I thought that producing 5 Cent Cigar News was the peak. But all of these experiences just show how much I have gotten out of URI. If I hadn’t made these contacts through URI, these opportunities would not have developed.
“Some days I am really excited about moving on and continuing to grow,” she said. “But some days, I am sad about leaving. I am going to miss URI and everyone who has made me what I am. I wouldn’t have gotten where I am were it not for a lot of the people I have met along the way.”
URI senior journalism major Allie Herrera stands at the podium in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room in the West Wing of the White House. The Greenwich, Conn. resident was one of 50 students to participate in the first College Reporter Day. Photos courtesy Allie Herrera.
URI senior journalism major Allie Herrera shoots some video at a White House press briefing.
URI senior journalism major Allie Herrera stands outside the White House proudly wearing her URI ball cap.