Commencement 2018: URI graduate excels in journalism, leadership, women’s studies

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Chelsea Opong-Wadeer
Chelsea Opong-Wadeer, 22, a senior from Flanders, N.J., who will graduate with a degree in journalism. Photo by Michael Salerno.

KINGSTON, R.I., April 12, 2018—For a budding newspaper reporter, getting a first byline can be a thrill. Chelsea Opong-Wadeer was so excited she framed her debut and hung it on her bedroom wall.

Four years later, and the University of Rhode Island senior is still accumulating bylines, not only for “The Good 5 Cent Cigar,” but also her hometown paper and national websites.

What’s more, she’s expanded into the world of broadcast journalism, accumulating video clips she can show prospective employers and shadowing local television reporters during her internship.

“URI has given me everything and more,” says Opong-Wadeer, who will graduate in May with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. “I truly love it here.”

Opong-Wadeer grew up in Flanders, a small town in northern New Jersey. Her parents, who moved to the United States from Ghana in the 1980s, valued education and expected their children to work hard in school.

It was love at first sight when Opong-Wadeer visited the Kingston campus as a junior at Mount Olive High School. The students seemed happy and eager to see each other succeed.

Her freshman year she wrote a review of “Hunger Games: Mocking Jay” for the “Cigar.”

That led to an offer to become a staff reporter, writing two URI-focused entertainment stories a week.

She took those reporting skills to “The Mount Olive News,” where she wrote news and feature stories about her community one summer, and to the app, Inscoop, where she coordinated a social media plan the fall of her junior year while taking a full load of classes.

Her sophomore year Opong-Wadeer jumped from print to television after taking a broadcast journalism class taught by Barbara Meagher, a former TV reporter. “I loved it,” she says. “Being able to add video and photos to the story really allows the viewer to connect with the subject. I was hooked.”

She covered stories on campus—one was a feminist-inspired piece about no-makeup Monday—and edited them with equipment from the Harrington School of Communication and Media. Since January, she’s been interning at Channel 10, a highly-respected Rhode Island TV station. She’s shadowing reporters, practicing reading the news and following up on story tips.

“I’m learning something new about the field every week,” she says. “It’s been an amazing experience. I’m very grateful.”

Friendly and upbeat, Opong-Wadeer also discovered at URI her natural ability to lead, even minoring in leadership studies. She was a campus tour guide; a URI 101 mentor; a host for a multicultural program for accepted students; and a member of the Student Entertainment Committee, rising to become a recruitment coordinator.

“All the leadership work changed my life,” she says. “Up until then, I didn’t have a word to describe my personality. The leadership courses I took gave me names—positive, communicative, inclusive, strategic.”

Women and gender studies is her second minor, a field that highlights her commitment to social justice and gender equity. “I’ve met people from all walks of life, and I believe the only way we can be inclusive is to understand their experience in regard to self-identity.”

A semester abroad in Florence during her junior year—her first visit to Europe—made her even more independent and transformed her into an Italophile. She and nine other students shared an apartment overlooking the iconic Ponte Vecchio bridge. On weekends, she traveled to Amsterdam, Venice, Paris, Berlin, Brussels and Prague.

“I ate truffles,” she says. “And I liked them.”

After graduation, she hopes to get a job at MTV in New York as a production assistant or news writer. She’s already had an informal interview with a URI alumnus who works there. “That was huge for me,” she says. “It was very exciting. A true dream moment.”