Recent graduate, Sam Perez, writes first book

As Sam Perez (AB ’22) was finishing her journalism major at Grady College and her major in Spanish during the 2021-2022 year, she took capstone classes like Newsource and completed her NMI certificate. She worked as a Yarbrough Fellow and CNN intern. She was a member of Chi Omega and served as a Grady Ambassador. And, she wrote a book.

“Deviate from Denial,” an introspective look at personal stories of people who fight drug addiction and an inspirational account of what can be done to help, was published in September and was largely written while Perez was finishing her studies at UGA.

“Anytime I take something on, I have that initial thought, ‘oh no, what did I get myself into?,” admits Perez, who started work as a multi-media journalist at WLTX News 19 in Columbia, SC, in June. “But, once I commit, I am going to follow through. One thing I’ve learned, is that anything is possible.”

The idea of writing a book was inspired by a class assignment Perez had her junior year. She took Multiplatform Story Production, JOUR 4090, her junior year. Students were assigned to select two topics to write about throughout the semester and the subject of recovery from drug addiction was one focus she chose. She admitted there was a lot of information to cover on the subject and she barely scratched the surface.

Recovery from drug addiction is a subject Perez is passionate about, thanks to her parents, Rob and Diane, who operate restaurants in Lexington, Kentucky, called DV8 Kitchen. The restaurants provide employment opportunities to those recovering from drug addiction. Perez had a front row seat seeing the agony of drug use when her parents opened their first restaurant, but she also witnessed the sources of hope and optimism that employment opportunities provide.

“Drug addiction has so much stigma,” Perez said. “I think people see it as a choice, but it’s a really complex issue. What a lot of people don’t realize is that there are a lot of factors involved, especially for those people who don’t have good role models to look up to and a good support system.”

Also, there is a whole other category of addiction dealing with the opioid epidemic that is misunderstood since many people become addicted based on prescribed medications.

The most salient themes of the book are the interviews Perez conducted with those who have suffered from drug addiction. In the section titled “Stories of Strength and Hope,” Perez tells the stories of Tara who spent years in and out of recovery and homelessness; the mother of Gene who died of a drug overdose after several recoveries…followed by relapses; and Emily, whose mother asked her to take drug tests in her place so future employers wouldn’t know she had a problem.

Perez said it was not hard to get people to agree to be interviewed for the book.

“There was a real drive and determination from them,” Perez said of the people she asked to share their stories. “I feel like when I told them I wanted to write it, they had a desire to make things happen. They were all super big on vulnerability and transparency and were super willing to tell their story. It shows a lot about the issue at hand. They want to find a community of others with shared experiences, which makes them so trusting and so vulnerable.”

Perez was driven to write the book for several reasons. She felt a need to start the conversation to help erase the stigma. She believes addiction is a subject that is not talked about enough, and that everyone is deserving of a second chance.

“Everyone is deserving of grace — everyone should show compassion and try to understand,” Perez said.
Sam Perez in her graduation cap and gown with her parents Rob and Diane.
Sam Perez with her parents, Rob and Diane, at the Grady Graduation Celebration on May 13, 2022. (Photo: Sarah E. Freeman)

She also saw the incredible example her parents set forth in their community and wanted to provide hope and resources to others who needed it. The book includes chapters dedicated to the DV8 employment model, innovative programs that other communities are trying like needle exchanges and resources for recovery.

“I believe that everyone has some way they can help contribute to erasing the stigma,” Perez concludes. “Now that looks different for everyone, but I feel like my way to contribute to the conversation and to help is to share stories since that’s what I love doing and that’s what I’ve been trained to do.”

And, while she has no plans to follow up with another book anytime soon, Perez is focusing on her new job and continuing to practice those interview skills she learned in class at Grady College.

“There are just so many more stories to share.”

To view more interviews with Perez about her book, Deviate from Denial, please see the following:


#ProfilesofTenacity: Alander Rocha

Alander Rocha is a second year masters student with a concentration in health and medical journalism. Currently, he is the health editor for The Red and Black and he is a research assistant at Grady’s digital media and attention lab. This summer, Rocha interned in the Southeastern bureau for Kaiser Health News.

What is your most memorable Grady experience?

Over the summer, I received a travel scholarship to attend the NAHJxNABJ conference in Las Vegas, and that was probably the most memorable experience I’ve had not just through Grady, but perhaps out of my past professional experience. Not only was it a validating experience to be surrounded by Black and Latine journalists from all walks of life, but I also got to meet professionals I look up to, who influenced my decision to enter journalism. I took a picture with Yamiche Alcidor after we briefly spoke, and I sat through a discussion with White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, where she spoke about the challenges she’s faced as a Black woman from a Haitian immigrant family in media. After the career fair, I was invited to an upstairs suite to meet the managing editor of a major legacy newspaper, and that’s one of the coolest things I’ve been able to say out loud. Overall, I’m thankful for the many opportunities professors at Grady entrusted me with in the past year.

alander takes a selfie in a conference room with a presentation about that NAHJxNABJ conference in the background
Alander received a scholarship to attend the NAHJxNABJ conference in Las Vegas this summer. (Photo/submitted)
What does tenacity mean to you?

To me, tenacity means getting up every day with a purpose despite the challenges I’ve faced in the past. It means that obstacles may still be ahead, but I have the confidence to meet them head-on.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

As a lifelong learner, I hope to still be growing as a journalist, whether that’s in reporting or in a leadership position.

What motivates you?

Knowing that I’m contributing to my community is a major source of motivation for myself. Public service has always been at the core of what I’ve done, and it’s how I found my way into journalism. I’ve been thanked a few times for the stories I covered in migrant communities, a considerably under covered population in news, and each time, I feel tremendously proud that people feel seen through my work.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve received?

The best piece of advice I’ve received is to talk to as many established journalists as possible. Fostering these relationships can help early career journalists, from providing mentorship to possibly being pointed toward career opportunities.

What would people be surprised to know about you?
Alander interviews senator Jon Ossoff. (Photo/submitted)

People may find it surprising that I love the outdoors. While I served in the Peace Corps in Ecuador, I discovered my love for hiking. I even summitted Ruco Pichincha, a peak that nearly reaches 15,500 feet. I’m not an athletic person, but hiking, although physically grueling, does not feel like I’m working out. I feel it’s meditative, often rewarding me with hours of reflection.

alander stands in front of a group of kids with the mountains in the background in Ecaudor
Alander worked for the Peace Corps in Ecuador as a trainer for Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL). (Photo/submitted)
What has been your biggest accomplishment in the past year?

My biggest accomplishment in the past year was interning at Kaiser Health News under Andy Miller, who’s been a healthcare journalist in Georgia for the last 30 years. Through his mentorship, my growth was exponential, and I became a much more capable journalist than I imagined.

Where is your go-to restaurant in Athens?

My go-to restaurant in Athens is probably New Red Bowl on Barnett Shoals. Aside from typical American Chinese dishes, they have traditional Szechuan cuisine, which is amazing if you can handle the spice.

#ProfilesofTenacity: Justin Nemetz

Fifth-year journalism major Justin Nemetz is passionate about the visual medium. He has been fascinated by film and television from a young age and he has a minor in film studies here at the University of Georgia. As Nemetz continues his educational journey, he is excited to keep learning about video editing and the visual medium.

What does “tenacity” mean to you?

It’s all about resilience. It’s about putting yourself in situations that challenge you. It’s so much easier to learn from mistakes than staying in your comfort zone. The more you search for those opportunities, the more confidence you grow.

Why did you choose your major?

I got really interested in politics during the 2016 election. I think that cycle exposed a war of information brought on by the internet and social media. That necessity for credible information is at an all time high, and I like to think of myself as honest. I have always been into video, so the idea of telling real stories in the visual medium was a pulling factor. I also love sports, so the idea of working on a broadcast was always a big dream.

Who is your favorite Grady professor and why?

I can’t choose one. Professor Vassileva is an incredibly patient and kind teacher, and her calm demeanor really helps balance the demand of Newsource. Professor Cantrell sees the best in you and pushes your talents everyday. She can also be funny and witty, which helps in a hectic newsroom atmosphere. But I guess I have to give it to Professor Shumway, not only is he super chill but I can credit him for honing my video skills. He also puts me at ease when I am stressed about my career.

Nemetz fills in for his assistant director at a Northwoods League broadcast. (Photo:submitted)
What are you passionate about?

The visual medium. As a kid, the incredible detail of our world fascinated me. I remember in 7th grade, my vision started to blur. I became nearsighted, and every time I watched a movie or TV shot composition blew my mind with its detail, since I wasn’t able to see this way before correction. Once I got contacts, the observance of my world changed; everything was crisp and clear. That got me into video. Once I began to learn how powerfully and purposefully every shot is composed in a feature film, I was hooked. I made my first video the next year for a school project, and then I would do them for classes even if they weren’t an option. Since then, it’s the one thing I want to get better at. I love video editing, and it both scares and excites me with how much I still have to learn.

What has been your biggest accomplishment in the past year?
Nemetz and his friend and fellow journalism major, Gabriel Kahaian, take a picture in Bill Taunton Stadium after the last game in Willmar, Minnesota where Nemetz had an internship as a technical director. (Photo:submitted)

I technical directed a baseball team’s broadcast in the Northwoods League. It was the smallest market team, their setup had many problems, and every camera operator was in high school. Most teams had a group of six to ten interns working their broadcast; we had two. The league also made a deal with ESPN+ and sadly, my team was not selected for any season games due to past broadcasts. Through my hard work, I was able to turn their reputation around, and was able to secure 4 ESPN+ home games, including the playoffs. I technical directed multiple ESPN+ games.

What is one piece of advice that you would give to other Grady students?

Find your niche, whether its video, photojournalism, scriptwriting, graphic design, sports etc. Whatever your skills are will be the best way you express yourself through your work. Do as much as you can outside of school to build upon those skills. You can never stop improving.

Who is your professional hero?

Matt Pearl. The way he tells stories is incredibly engaging, and his attention to video structure just helps send that home. The way he writes for video and what he chooses to show you draws you in, no matter the story. I want to get as good as him.

What is one thing that people would be surprised to know about you?

I am left handed and right footed, but also kind of ambidextrous. I write with my left, but cast a fishing reel with my right hand. When I played baseball, I was a right handed batter but I threw with my left hand. When I played soccer, my right foot was my dominant. I like to think my left and right brain are always kinesthetically at war with each other.

Photo of Bill Taunton Stadium taken by Nemetz after a Sunday game. (Photo:submitted)
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing. It can be easy to compare yourself with others, but this university has people from all around the world, with different backgrounds and upbringings. You have the rest of your life to work, so learn from your own college experience.

What is your most memorable Grady experience?

The first day of classes in Fall of 2021. I transferred during the Covid Spring of 2020, so my first couple of semesters were as weird as many remember. Once students came back that first day, it felt very promising, and as a college community we were beginning to move forward. I was more optimistic about my Grady career.

Grady professors explore niche topics through first-year odyssey seminars

Eleven Grady College professors are teaching first-year odyssey seminars this semester. The goal of these seminars are to provide first-year students with the opportunity to engage with faculty members and other first-year students in a small classroom setting.

Professors chose a topic of their interest and craft a course tailored to first-year students. Courses span across all departments, and topics this fall range from telenovelas to film festivals to fake news.

Dean Krugman, Booker T. Mattison and Ivanka Pjesivac share their experience teaching first-year seminars this fall.

Developing a Perspective on the Changing Media Landscape

Dean Krugman is a professor emeritus in the Department of Advertising and Public Relations. Prior to his official retirement in 2011, he taught courses in advertising management and advertising and society to undergraduates, as well as a graduate course in advertising management and communication theory.

Professor Dean Krugman meets with students in his first-year odyssey seminar on the first day of class. Krugman has previously taught courses on changing media, but this is the first time he is teaching the course to first-year students. (Photo/Jackson Schroeder)

Krugman held positions including department head and senior associate dean, “but nothing was as rewarding as teaching and doing research,” he said.

This year, he has returned to Grady College to teach a first-year odyssey seminar in changing media.

“This presented a great opportunity to come back and get in touch with students. It’s been really, really enjoyable,” he said.

His course on changing media is designed for students to understand how they consume media.

“The idea is for the students to build an intelligent and critical perspective of the media they’re using,” Krugman said.

Krugman says the classroom has always energized him, but that it’s been great to see how enthusiastic his students have been about sharing their views and receiving feedback. During the second week of class, students were assigned with writing a critique. Krugman said when he walked into class that day and asked if anyone wanted to share their critique, all 17 hands went up.

Krugman says the most rewarding part of teaching the course so far has been watching students grasp concepts, build on those concepts, and use those concepts in their work.

He says the first-year odyssey program is an enriching experience for students, and he credits UGA’s central administration for holding onto and championing this program.

The Short Film – A Lens of the Human Experience

Professor Booker T. Mattison’s course on short films uses films as both a genre and as an opportunity to examine humanity.

As a working writer and director, Mattison says “it’s nice to share with students not just what they learn in the textbook, but what’s happening in real time in the industry.”

Each week, Mattison screens a different short film – four of which he directed.

Booker T. Mattison sits and teaches in front of students
Mattison says his favorite part about teaching the first-year odyssey seminar is meeting first-year students. (Photo/Jackson Schroeder)

Students then write a response in class.

Mattison says it’s important for students to respond in real time so that other students do not influence their opinions. He says he hopes by doing it this way, discussions in his course are unvarnished.

For the final assignment, Mattison’s students will choose one of the films they’ve reviewed this semester and write an analysis.

He hopes the main takeaway for students in this course is that they will be able to look at visual media more critically, see themselves in visual media, and use that knowledge to better interact with others.

“The unique thing about film is that 100% of students on this campus watch movies,” he says. “The opportunity to then talk to a filmmaker and ask questions is pretty unique.” 

Fake News, Misinformation and Propaganda: How to Deal with Information Disorder

Dr. Ivanka Pjesivac’s course covers topics of misinformation, disinformation and propaganda in the digital world. Pjesivac’s course begins with an explanation of misinformation, and then delves into a historical perspective of misinformation.

Pjesivac says it’s important to teach this to first-year students, who are more vulnerable to misinformation.

“I think it’s important for young people to get digital media literacy skills as soon as they can,” she says. “It’s especially important for first-year students to be familiarized with some of the characteristics of misinformation, and how to distinguish true information from false information.” 

She says it’s important to expose first-year students to the research potential at UGA. In addition to lectures, she takes her students to the special collections library to view first-hand propaganda material, and takes the class to visit some of the research labs in Grady.

Pjesivac says it’s exciting to see an interest in news and misinformation among her students, many of whom are not pre-journalism or pre-Grady students.

“I see that there is a general interest among a variety of young people to learn about our current digital media ecosystem and how to navigate it,” she says.

By the end of the course, she hopes her students will have the tools to identify suspicious information and justify their skepticism.

Pjesivac says the most rewarding part of teaching this seminar is being able to apply her research to a class setting, and to expand the knowledge at Grady College to other majors.


Editor’s Note: Comments trimmed for length and clarity.


Four students named Yarbrough-Grady Fellows for Fall 2022

The University of Georgia Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication has named four students Yarbrough-Grady Fellows for the Fall of 2022: Emily Alexander, Ashley Balsavias, Elise Kim and Emma Stefanik.

Alexander and Stefanik are Yarbrough-Grady Crisis Fellows, and some of their responsibilities include planning for the 2023 Crisis Communication Think Tank Conference, developing social media content, Crisis Communication Coalition member outreach and active discussion of current crisis trends.

Balsavias and Kim are Yarbrough-Grady Communications Fellows, and some of their responsibilities include content and graphic creation, helping to develop communications strategies, writing articles and helping to manage Grady College’s social media accounts.

Alexander is a fourth-year public relations student with a minor in English from Louisville, Kentucky. Throughout her time at UGA, she has been involved in many student organizations, such as Alpha Delta Pi sorority and UGA Miracle. She has also served as the public relations assistant for Strike Magazine.

Additionally, Alexander has had multiple internships at both Verde Brand Communications and Heaven Hill Brand.

Upon graduating in May of 2023, Alexander hopes to move to Chicago to pursue a career at a consumer or entertainment-focused public relations agency.

Balsavias is a fourth-year journalism student with a minor in law, jurisprudence and the state and a certificate in news literacy. She is from St. Louis, Missouri, and during her time at UGA, Balsavias has served as a reporter for the Grady Newsource Election Show, a production manager for Grady Newsource and the digital director for Online News Association and Society of Professional Journalists at UGA. She is also a member of DiGamma Kappa and Delta Zeta sorority.

In the summer of 2022, Balsavias was a news and sports intern for Atmosphere TV in Austin, Texas. She was also a Yarbrough-Grady fellow over the summer and is excited to be continuing that role into this semester.

“My favorite part about being a Yarbrough fellow—besides working with the amazing communications team—is that I’m given the freedom to work on projects that I’m interested in,” Balsavias said. “I recently expressed interest in writing more, and now I am working on two feature stories for the college website. I love that I am given the trust and responsibility to work on projects that spark my interest.”

After graduating in May of 2023, she plans to pursue a career as an on-air reporter.

Kim is also a fourth-year student studying journalism and international affairs with a minor in Spanish and a certificate in public affairs communications. She is from Greenville, South Carolina.

Throughout her time at UGA, Kim has been heavily involved in UGA HEROs, serving as a team leader, the recruitment chair and presently the co-executive director. She is also a student tour guide at the UGA Visitors Center and she is a member of Gamma Phi Beta sorority. Over the summer of 2022, Kim was selected to participate in the Grady in D.C. study away program and she lived in Delta Hall while interning with PLUS Communications and the Student Press Law Center.

Upon graduating in May of 2023, Kim hopes to move to New York City or to move back to D.C. to work in the communications industry.

Stefanik is a fourth-year public relations major with a fashion merchandising minor from Richmond, Virginia.

She is also a public relations specialist with Talking Dog Agency, a student-led advertising and public relations agency at UGA that gives members the opportunity to create and implement real campaigns for different brands and, in turn, get hands-on experience in the advertising and public relations sphere.

Stefanik has also interned with Strait Insights in Charlotte, North Carolina. After graduation in May of 2023, Stefanik hopes to work at a public relations agency.

The Yarbrough-Grady Fellowship is funded by Dick Yarbrough (ABJ ‘59), an alumnus of Grady College who has helped promote the success of Grady students for many years. Yarbrough also gives back to students via the C. Richard Yarbrough Student Support Fund, which has provided stipends to hundreds of Grady students for more than a decade.

“I am honored to be able to fund fellowships at Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Georgia,” said Yarbrough. “I can never repay my alma mater for what it has meant to me.  I am so impressed with the quality of the students there today and hope that perhaps the fellowship will give the recipients a learning opportunity they might not have been able to receive otherwise.  The only thing I ask in return is that when they are able, they give back to the next generation that will succeed them.”

#ProfilesOfTenacity: Sydney Hood

Journalism major Sydney Hood balances her time at Grady with working as a weekend multimedia journalist for WRDW/WAGT News 12 NBC 26. She also serves as the president of DiGamma Kappa Broadcast Society, works as a senior production manager for Grady Newsource, is a reporter for the Newsource election show, and she writes for the Cox Institute’s Covering Poverty Initiative.

What does tenacity mean to you?

Being tenacious is all about stepping up to the plate when life knocks you down. It’s working for the life you’ve always dreamed of despite criticism and hardships. It’s embracing the uncomfortableness and facing adversity head-on. Tenacity means being fearless in pursuing what sets you apart from the rest and finding what makes YOU special. 

What is the best piece of advice you’ve received?

Do not take yourself too seriously. Take your job seriously, but not yourself. I am a ridiculously goofy person. I cut up and laugh (cackle actually) at every little (and silly) mistake and stay optimistic about the obstacles. When it comes to spaces with rules (school, work, meetings), my quiet, no-nonsense side creeps out. I practice rigorous self-judgment and hold myself to the highest of high standards. It’s an approach that robs me of the peace that comes with self-acceptance and celebrating those smaller but just as big goals. I am slowly realizing that not taking myself seriously allows for people to see the real, genuine me. The silly, quirky, hardworking and determined me. The human in me. It’s a practice I am constantly improving on everyday, but I believe that loosening up on yourself allows for exploration and change.

Sydney doing a liveshot on camera, holding a microphone and pointing to a group of people at a health fair
Sydney was a “future focus” intern for WRDW/WAGT News 12 NBC 26 this summer in Augusta. (Photo:submitted)
Why did you choose your major?

I’ve always had an itch for writing – whether it was an essay for school or an entry in my journal. I am a naturally curious (borderline nosey) person. I love history. I enjoy digesting new information and the ability I have to captivate one’s attention by explaining this information. With all of this said, journalism was always in the back of my head growing up. As a soft-spoken and shy person afraid to leave her comfort zone, I didn’t think this was possible for me. Ultimately I let that fear get to me and abandoned my dream. I started college as a biology major and it took a mid-semester crisis (and UGA chemistry) my freshman year to realize that was not for me. Ultimately, sitting in the middle of my dorm room crying my eyes out because I didn’t know what to do with my life, I pulled myself together and finally declared myself as a journalism major. I always look back and think of this as an “ah-ha” moment because it was truly  the first time I really walked out of my comfort zone. It really is true that nothing good comes from staying in your comfort zone. I’ve realized my passion for storytelling was far bigger than my fear of not succeeding. Grady has shown me that journalism is much, much more than writing and telling stories. This place has taught me – and continues to teach me – how I can go from good to great and be the best in my field. Long story short, I am forever grateful 18-year-old Sydney took a leap of faith.  

What motivates you?

I am motivated by my constant fear of being just average. I do not want to go through life feeling like I had all this potential and never touched or used it. I always strive to be intentional in everything I do. I am also motivated by the word “can’t.” I am often told I can’t handle everything I am involved in from school to work and everything in between. When someone tells me I can’t do something, I make it my mission to not only do it, but do it better. 

Students gather for a group picture outside a building in Copenhagen
Sydney says her most memorable Grady experience was going on the travel writing program to Copenhagen. (Photo: R. Vassileva)
What is your most memorable Grady experience?

This past summer, I lived in Copenhagen for a month and studied travel journalism with some pretty amazing people. To say this was an experience I’ll never forget in quite the understatement. I tested all of my creative outlets, pushed myself beyond my comfort zone and opened my eyes to understand the flow of global news. This trip also instilled in me some practical knowledge of solutions journalism: what it is, what it is not and the importance of this type of journalism. All of this I still carry with me and will continue to do so beyond my career at Grady.

What are you passionate about?

I love putting a story together, hearing what people are passionate about and understanding what drives them. The people you meet and speak to are the ones who create and tell the story. It’s exciting to connect with people, listen to their extraordinary stories and provide a voice for them. I am always amazed at how a simple idea at a 9:30 a.m. pitch meeting formulates into a 6 p.m. story with real people and real life impact. 

What is an example of a time you used your skills in a real-world experience?

Every time I am out in the field or in the newsroom, I always think back to the tips from various professors. The “SWEFF” checklist from Professor Shumway is tattooed in my brain. “Write to the video you have and not the video you wish you had,” from Professor Cantrell is something I have to remind myself each time I sit down to write a script. I learned all the fundamentals in the classroom, but it is outside of the classroom where I put all of my tools into practice and learn beyond the walls of Grady. Before Grady, I did not know how to shoot video. I didn’t know how to white balance or frame a camera. I didn’t know where to find sources or how to find people. I’d never published a story before. Now, I shoot, write and edit all on my own. 

Sydney gets footage of a pony
Sydney gets footage of a pony while working on a story for WRDW/WAGT about how the Aiken Equine Horse Rescue was able to recover after a fire. (Photo:submitted)
Who is your professional hero?

Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric, Robin Roberts, Judy Woodruff, Barabara Walters – all for the obvious reasons.  

What would people be surprised to know about you?

I do not have it together all the time. I am bad about putting up a perfect front and acting like I have all of my ducks lined up in a row (when in fact a lot of them are at the bottom of the  pond). It is important to share the lows in life just as much as we share the highs. College is hard. Work is hard. Life is hard. And that is all okay. Sure you are going to have days where you are stressed and overwhelmed. But in the end trust that it is going to all be okay.  

I also enjoy running (like, a lot). Everyday I set aside at least one hour for a run – rain or shine, day or night. I do this not only for my physical health, but also for my mental health. It’s the one time in my day I can clear my head and step away from reality. I ran my first 5k when I was six and haven’t stopped since. I trained for and ran two full marathons before graduating high school (for the awkward 12-year-old Sydney who couldn’t run a mile without crying, this was (and still is) a big deal for her). I also love a good half-marathon – I signed up for one out of the blue while studying abroad in Copenhagen to get familiar with the city (I still needed to use Google Maps afterwards to find my way around the city but it was worth a try!). 


40 Under 40 honorees visit Grady College

five 40 U 40 honorees and Darby Taylor in PAF for 40 U 40 panel
Darby Taylor moderated “A Message to my Younger Self” panel. (Photo:Jackson Schroeder)

Five Grady College graduates named to the UGA Alumni Association’s 40 Under 40 class attended the “A Message to my Younger Self” panel on Friday, Sept. 9, offering insight to current students about their paths to success.

Emily Curl (ABJ ’14), Lauren Culbertson Grieco (ABJ ’09), Chad Mumm (ABJ ’08), Kevin Schatell (ABJ ’16) and Michael Waldron (ABJ ’10) attended. Christie Johnson (ABJ ’07) was not able to attend the panel.

Dean Davis welcomed the alumni and students, saying the honorees exhibit “the leadership of this college and the careers that people launch from this college.”

Darby Taylor, a fourth year entertainment and media studies student and Grady Ambassador, moderated. The following are highlights of questions from Taylor and attending students, along with select responses from honorees.

What is one piece of advice you would tell your younger self about breaking into various areas of the industry?

Mumm: “Don’t be afraid to just go out and do it. Pick up a camera or write a screenplay. Use your early part of your career to make those mistakes. I think my biggest mistake probably was I felt like I had to do it all myself. When I moved to New York, I wanted to do it all on my own and I didn’t ask for help, but I wish I would have.”

Emily Curl smiles at Kevin Schatell
Emily Curl and Kevin Schatell have remained best friends after working together at the UGA Visitors Center as undergraduates. (Photo:Jackson Schroeder)

Grieco: “I completely agree with asking for help. If you want to work in the field of politics, the beginnings can be pretty brutal, but they’re totally fun and worth it. I worked on a campaign, but another option would be to get an internship or entry-level role on Capitol Hill.”

Curl: “I think what I would tell myself looking back is just take your time and don’t worry so much. I think it takes a long time to find your voice and to find out what you want to say and what you want to put out into the world.”

Schatell: “One of the best pieces of advice I got working in my first job was ‘You have nothing to prove, only to share.’ This has stuck with me, and it reminds me that your worth is not in what other people think of you, you just have skills and experiences to share. Something else I wish I would have developed early on is the art of asking good questions. As a producer, it’s all about asking the right questions and being genuinely curious.”

Waldron: “When working on projects, it’s easy to have a creative idea. But, to actually start something and to see it all the way through is where the brilliance in any creative work comes from. I think the earlier in your careers, if you can learn the value of just finishing things, that’s hugely important. The other thing is to know what you want to do and tell people that. Even when I was changing toilet seats, I made sure that everybody at ‘Rick and Morty’ knew I wanted to be a writer. Don’t be afraid to call your shots.”

All of you made a big geographic move after graduation. What tips do you have for students who want to move to big cities such as New York or L.A. after graduating?

Waldron: “Spending time here in Athens is amazing, but by moving away, you will grow as a person in ways you simply can’t imagine. Just getting out to another part of the country and other parts of the world is the best thing you can do.”

Grieco: “You will grow so much by getting different experiences. Travel has been one of those things I’ve done in my personal life that has made such an impact on my professional life. It really not only changes your perspective, but it also helps you reflect on who you are as a person and what you value. It gives you a completely a new new lens on life and the work that you do.”

What is the best way to reach out to alumni and build a connection with them?

Mumm: “With Dean Davis and all that the college has done, they’ve created so many opportunities here such as the mentorship program and Grady LA. When it comes to making connections, just ask for that intro. I get a lot of emails and introductions, and sometimes I miss it the first time around. Don’t hesitate to follow up. If someone is nice enough to connect you to someone else and they don’t respond right away, don’t be afraid to send a follow up note checking back in.”

Grieco: “Ask your professors. I’ve met so many people through Karen Russell and the dean.”

Waldron: “Never feel bad about following up again…I think anyone who went to Georgia, and especially those who are working in similar industries as us would be more than happy to talk to students.”

When you first started, what was your first major setback and how did you overcome it?

Schatell: “Moving to New York, although was the fulfillment of a dream of mine, was also pretty difficult. There was a season, especially toward the beginning, when I was slammed with anxiety. I’m not talking about the butterflies in your stomach because you’re excited kind of anxiety, but actual anxiety. I had to navigate learning to understand what was happening to my body when I had a panic attack, what was triggering it, and getting the help to fix that.”

Curl: “To quote my queen Kacey Musgraves, ‘You can’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but why would you want to be?’ I like that quote because when you’re in a public facing job, there’s always going to be someone who doesn’t get it – but there’s going to be someone who does, and there’s an audience for everyone. Keep perfecting your craft. People are going to tell you no, but you have to believe in yourself.”

Chad Mumm speaks at a Grady College panel
Mumm explains how he overcame the setbacks he experienced when moving to New York after graduation (Photo:Ashley Balsavias)

Waldron: “I wrote a spec episode for the show ‘Workaholics’, which I thought was super funny. It turns out that someone I knew happened to know the editor for the show, and I asked them to pass along my script to them. I then anxiously awaited the life-changing call saying ‘This the best script we’ve ever read, we’d like to bring you on, etc.’ But, I got an email back about two weeks later that was so scathing. I think the first sentence was ‘I don’t even know what to say,’ and it just got more punishing from there. The truth is, in any creative work, you fail 99 times a day, but you just got to get it right once. One good idea makes for a successful day. That was my first brush with serious rejection, and then I realized that it doesn’t kill you, it doesn’t really have any reflection on who you are as a person. Then you get up and you write a better script that isn’t a spec of ‘Workaholics’ and keep going.”

Mumm: “When I first moved to New York, it was at the height of the financial crisis. I was frustrated that I couldn’t get a job immediately. I was thinking that I would just walk into the city and immediately be on the 51st floor at NBCU. I remember walking around with resumes that I printed out bought very expensive paper for (because I thought that was going to matter), and I was going to HBO offices and NBCU, handing the security guards my resume. That didn’t work out of course, so I ended up taking a job for a commercial director who needed someone to change the toilets and clean the place…I get asked a lot by students what my goals are, and I honestly don’t have goals, I just have a direction. I just think, ‘Am I going north still?’ To me, that means pick your direction and stay at it. I think that kind of perseverance will take you super far. You just have to keep grinding and sticking with the things you believe in, and great things will happen.”

What was a moment in your career where you felt that you had “made it’?
Lauren Culbertson Greico speaks at the panel
One of Lauren Culbertson Greico’s defining moments in her career was arranging an interview between former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and former president Trump. (Photo:Ashley Balsavias)

Schatell: “For me, it was Dec. 8 of  2017. It was the day I arrived at work and Ed Sheeran was there, but so was Zac Efron. That was truly a milestone for me. I emcee the experience on our plaza every day, and every single one of the hundreds of people in that crowd knew how excited I was to meet that guy. It was one of those major ‘pinch me’ moments in my career. Whatever the ultimate dream is, it will happen, and your Dec. 8 of 2017 will come too.”

Grieco: “My ‘We’re not in Kansas anymore’ moment was when I staffed a meeting at the White House between our former CEO Jack Dorsey and former president Trump. I just sat there and I was like, ‘This is the most surreal moment of my life. How did Lauren from Marietta, Georgia, get here?'”

Mumm: “I don’t honestly have a moment that I could pinpoint as ‘the thing’. I like to use a stair analogy a lot. Sometimes you’re on the stairs, sometimes you’re on a landing, and you’ve just got to find more stairs. I like to think about it as one foot after the other.”

Curl: My ultimate dream was to work for E! News. I ended up auditioning for them and made it to the final rounds until I got a call from them saying they were going to go in a different direction. That was crushing, but looking back, I’m so glad I am where I am now and it all worked out. When I got the call from iHeartRadio, I got full body chills and started screaming. Something about that moment solidified it for me, where it was like, ‘Okay, I’m officially a host. I don’t have to pretend that this is a dream anymore. I’m actually doing it.’ All that is to say keep your options open – obviously have those goals and those dreams – but it’s okay to allow yourself the space that if those goals and dreams change, that’s going to be for the best for you too.

Thank you to our alumni for taking the time to offer students advice.

Editor’s Note: Please visit the Grady College YouTube page to view a video of the entire 40 under 40 panel discussion. Please visit the UGAGrady Flickr page to view pictures of the 40 under 40 panel.


  • Kevin Schatell and Emily Curl take a photo with Dean Davis. (Photo:Jackson Schroeder)


Podcast: How Grady College will approach being one of nation’s first solutions journalism hubs

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At the beginning of August, the Solutions Journalism Network named Grady College one of the nation’s first solutions journalism hubs, a designation given to only three other colleges in the United States. In this role, Grady College’s Department of Journalism will be tasked with continuing to serve as an incubator for creativity, innovation and research in solutions journalism and function as a resource for students and professionals in the region who are interested in the field.

To further unpack what this designation means, solutions journalism experts Dr. Amanda Bright, director of the Cox Institute Journalism Innovation Lab, Dr. Kyser Lough, an assistant professor in Journalism, and Ralitsa Vassileva, a lecturer in Journalism, were recently interviewed as a part of Grady College’s Grady Research Radio podcast

Below is a transcription of the podcast, edited for clarity and brevity. 

Grady College: What is solutions journalism, and why is there a need for it? A quote from Kyser Lough about the definition of solutions journalism.

Kyser Lough: Well, solutions journalism is a method of reporting where the reporter goes out and, instead of just reporting on the problems communities are facing, they also look for what people are doing about it. 

It’s not advocacy. It’s not opinion journalism. The journalist is not creating the solution. They are simply using their same set of journalistic skills and tools to go out and report on what’s being done in response to a problem. 

It was kind of born out of this idea that we sometimes focus too much on problems. I mean, it’s good. We have to uncover and thoroughly define the problems a community is facing. That’s a very important purpose of journalism. But if we only focus on that, then all we’re showing our readers is that, you know, it’s just doom and gloom all the time, and we know that’s not true. We know there are people out there trying to address these problems. So why aren’t we reporting on that, too?

A lot of people just call it just good journalism. I think putting a name on it was important to help really define what it is, but at the end of the day, it’s something a lot of journalists have been doing. It’s just that we feel a lot of folks haven’t been doing it enough.

Grady College: Amanda Bright explained that solutions journalism entered the curricula at the college roughly four years ago as a very small piece of the capstone undergraduate reporting classes in journalism. Since then, though, solutions journalism has become a part of every undergraduate capstone class. At this point, every journalism student at Grady College leaves with knowledge in some practical application of solutions journalism. 

Many student-made solutions journalism pieces are available online at While looking through some of those pieces, I noticed that they are far from your standard text-based news stories. The students who make the pieces often weave in both audio and visual components. So, I asked Ralitsa Vassileva about teaching multimedia solutions journalism storytelling in her classes. 

Four students and two faculty pose for a picture in Utah in front of a grove of trees with a mountain in the background.
Kyser Lough and Ralitsa Vassileva (second from right) took a small group of students to the Journalism Solutions Summit in Utah.

Ralitsa Vassileva: In my sustainability multiplatform class, I required students to use four different media platforms to tell (a solutions journalism story) besides text. It could be video. It could be audio. It could be graphics. Whatever the story requires. While for my broadcast students, I challenge them at the end of the semester to produce short videos of a solution story, again, sticking to those principles of solutions journalism for rigorous reporting, which is not easy in a minute and a half to two minutes. But with the growing importance of short videos, this is a very effective way to reach audiences.

Grady College: What does this designation, being named a solutions journalism hub, mean? 

Amanda Bright: You know, we’re still trying to figure some of that out. Our four hub schools, we’ve had lots of conversations already about what that’s going to look like on each of our university campuses and what it’s gonna look like in our regions, because we’re really representing the Southeast. 

I think a lot of that is coming to fruition as it develops, but our goal is to be a place of teaching, training, learning and resource for our geographic area. We have several faculty members who are passionate about this. We have been practicing it for a while now, so we’ve learned some things. 

We want to bring in students who want to do this kind of work, researchers who want to do this kind of work, and industry partners and news organizations that want to do this and try to marshal those resources to grow what solutions journalism is and what it means for communities.

Grady College: What does this designation mean in terms of advancing solutions journalism research? What opportunities are there for collaboration with students and professional journalists in the region who are interested in this research? 

Kyser Lough: For me, the designation means a lot when it comes to research, because it further legitimizes what we’re doing here.

It can be difficult, as a scholar, to reach out to journalists and ask them, “Hey, can I interview you and (confidentially) ask you, you know, some of these complicated questions about the work you do.” Even just getting a response can be difficult. 

Or, if we want to partner with a newsroom, sometimes it’s not enough just to be somebody at the University of Georgia. They’re skeptical about what participating in this research means. Being able to come at it from, you know, “We’re from the solutions journalism hub. This is what we study. This is what we do,” I think that’s going to add a lot of oomf in our research and any grant applications that we’re doing. It’s important just in getting the visibility out there that this is a legitimate site of study. We’re a place where people who have questions can come to. If they are an editor of a newsroom and they want to know if this is having any impact, they can come to us and we can look at surveys, focus groups and other ways to assess what’s going on in their newsroom when it comes to solutions journalism and the audience.

I have several studies that I’m currently working on that I’m always excited to have other people come on board with. I’m also excited to have people come pitch an idea, and we’ll talk about the potential. 

Students who are interested can come to our Master’s program or our PhD program, and they can incorporate that into their studies. We can talk about independent study. We could also work that into their actual program of work for their thesis or dissertation. 

There are so many different ways you can take this and apply it, especially to different reporting topics, which is another thing that we’ve been hoping to expand on in the research. How does this play out in health reporting? How does this play out in education reporting, where you’re constantly hearing that either a school has super high scores or super low scores. We never really hear about what schools are doing to try and address those issues.

There’s lots of different topics we can apply it to. Somebody doesn’t have to come here and be a solutions scholar. They can come here being very interested in political coverage. As part of that, we look at solutions journalism and how that can apply to that specific topic.

Grady College: The experts included in this interview want to hear from you, the current and future students, educators and industry professionals in the region. Their contact information is listed below.

Amanda Bright:

Kyser Lough:

Ralitsa Vassileva:

Grady InternViews: Julia Walkup

Briefly describe your internship and your responsibilities:

I assist writers and producers for the Ana Cabrera show by finding and pulling visual elements to air while Ana is anchoring, and I write scripts for Ana!

How will this role guide your future career path?

This experience will make me a more well-rounded journalist. At UGA, I haven’t really focused my energy on television or video news, and I’ve never worked in anything like national news before. I’m learning a bunch of new skills and perspectives, so I hope that in the future, I’ll be more familiar with all different kinds of journalism and be able to comfortably perform all different aspects of what goes into making an article, segment or multimedia piece.

What about this position has surprised you?

I was surprised by how much I was trusted and thrown into the position right off the bat. In such a fast-paced environment, my team was willing to help me learn, but they didn’t have time to babysit me. Therefore, I took the approach that one person called the “apologetic bull in a china shop” approach. That means, I did a lot of things how I thought I should do them and took risks, and if I screwed up, I apologized and learned for the future. It’s better to put yourself out there, take risks and learn by doing than it is to hide behind your unfamiliarity with the role.

Julia says their favorite part of the internship was connecting with the other CNN interns. (Photo:submitted)
What’s the most challenging part of this position?

The most challenging part of this position for me is having to adapt to television news. I’ve spent all of my training at UGA and The Red & Black focusing on print journalism and still photography, so adjusting to the fast-paced and conversational style of television news has been especially challenging. I have plenty of opportunities to learn, though!

What advice would you give to students who are looking to pursue similar opportunities?

Be yourself! After talking with recruiters, they told me the best thing to do in interviews and applications is to be yourself. Also, fully take advantage of all the hands-on opportunities that UGA offers for student journalists. This means getting involved with The Red & Black, Newsource, or anything else that can get you physical proof of your talent. Coming out of college with an impressive portfolio or reel will set you apart from the beginning.

What has been your favorite part about your internship?

My favorite part of my internship so far is definitely connecting with the other CNN interns. We’ve become great friends, and we’re able to learn from each other, bounce ideas off each other and discuss the current state of the news media. I’ve learned so much from them, and it’s really nice to be able to have these friendships while I’m living in an unfamiliar city for a few months. It’s also really cool to be in the control room while the show is airing and to call video behind the scenes.

40 under 40 honoree profile: Emily Curl

Congratulations to Emily Curl (ABJ ’14) on being named to this year’s class of 40 under 40 honorees by the UGA Alumni Association. Curl is the national and digital social host for iHeartRadio. She started her career working at Refinery29 as a production assistant, working her way up to an associate producer, and eventually a producer on the branded content team, working with brands including Ulta and the NFL. She worked as the red carpet correspondent for the show “Carpet Diem”. Curl became a full-time host for iHeart Radio in January of 2020. We are pleased to highlight Curl in her own words.

Curl smiles while interviewing singer Normani Kordei Hamilton
Curl interviewing singer and dancer Normani Kordei Hamilton. (Photo:submitted)
Looking back at your time at Grady, is there anything you wish you had done (classes you had taken, skills you would have liked to have learned, clubs to be involved with) that would help you with what you are doing today?

Yes! Grady had such incredible opportunities to advance your skills outside of the classroom. Looking back on my experience, I wish I would have taken more advantage of the Grady Lab, the workroom that allowed you to practice your skills within the Adobe Creative Suite. For example, I still use Adobe Premiere and Photoshop in my job today, and I wish I would have perfected those skills while still in school. On the other hand, there are a few organizations I was involved in that still tremendously help me today and that’s working with UGA Orientation (where I was an orientation leader the summer of 2012), and working as a tour guide at the UGA Visitor’s Center all four years of UGA – those gave me some invaluable skills and were also some of my favorite memories of UGA! I can’t recommend it enough for other Grady College majors.

Emily poses in a silver dress, with cameras flashing on the red carpet at the 2022 Met Gala
Curl poses at the 2022 Met Gala. (Photo:submitted)
What experience during your time at Grady College had the biggest influence on where you are today?

One of the most challenging and most rewarding experiences I had at Grady College was being a part of Grady Newsource. We spent the semester running a live newscast, writing scripts, shooting our own footage, pitching ideas and problem solving in the control room. Not only did it give me real life journalism experience, it also gave me lifelong friendships. My peers have gone on to do incredible things – we’re talking sports sideline reporters, ABC correspondents, news anchors in huge markets like Miami – and it’s so nice to have those people who truly understand the industry that you can call at any time. Even though we all went different paths in media, we all started in the same Grady newsroom and it’s inspiring to get to see where we are all now. Make it a priority to stay connected with fellow Grady grads – in the wild world of entertainment, seeing a familiar face makes all the difference.

Curl pictured with parents in front of UGA's honor college during her graduation
While at UGA, Curl worked as a tour guide for four years and was an orientation leader during the summer of 2012. (Photo:submitted)
What would you tell your 20-year-old self?

Chill. (Ha!) But honestly, the #1 piece of advice I tell students is that you are not running out of time. In fact, it’s the opposite. It takes a while to truly find your voice, to hone your skills and create things you’re really proud of. I spent over five years in production before I even got my first shot at being an on-camera talent. Those five years gave me the foundation to build off of — I understood production, I was a better co-worker and teammate, and being a better producer made for being a better host. Stay curious, ask questions, and take the time to absorb the knowledge of those who have done it before you. Don’t get discouraged just because someone on Instagram got there faster than you. Your time is coming. Make it worth it.

What accomplishment or moment in your career are you most proud of?

This past May, I attended the 2022 Met Gala and covered the buzziest moments from fashion’s biggest night. I’ve loved fashion for as long as I can remember, so to have that combined with my love of entertainment? (and let’s be real, Jack Harlow too) was unmatched. It was pure magic meeting with the biggest names in the industry and walking up the iconic Metropolitan Museum of Art staircase in New York City. Getting to cover that event was a dream come true and I hope I’ll be back again this year!

four individuals pose in a lighted up hallway, emily curl pictured with rock band members from Maneskin
Curl with members of the rock band “Måneskin”. (Photo:submitted)
How do you get inspired?

With anything you do, there is always, always, always room for improvement. I remember watching an interview with Ed Sheeran, and someone asked him if growing up he was naturally this talented. Immediately he let out a laugh and a “no” and went on to say he practiced every single day. I like to do the same. I also get really inspired watching other people who are in my line of work doing their thing. Today Show’s Hoda Kotb is so effortlessly comforting and inclusive, Apple TV’s Zane Lowe’s listening and interviewing skills are unmatched, and I think Nikki Glaser is one of the funniest hosts of all time (if you’re not watching FBoy Island –you should!). I love working in an industry that constantly challenges me to get better and improve my skills, and I can’t wait to be on their level one day.

Curl holds up an iHeart radio card next to singer Sam Hunt in front of a spinning wheel for part of a game show event
Curl pictured with country music singer Sam Hunt at an event in Las Vegas. (Photo:submitted)
Favorite Podcast? Seek Treatment with Cat & Pat
One job-related tool you can’t live without: VSCO (not only can you edit photos, you can also create cool montage video/photo moments. It’s great to use when marketing yourself on social!)
Favorite restaurant in Athens: Trapeze (I always ask for an extra side of the raspberry ketchup).
Favorite place you’ve traveled: I just returned from Mykonos, Greece! It was absolutely unreal.
Item on your bucket list: Interview Taylor Swift (fingers crossed!)



Students are encouraged to connect with Emily Curl on social media:

Instagram: @emcurl

TikTok: @emdcurl

Twitter: @EmilyCurl

Six Grady College graduates are represented in this year’s UGA Alumni Association 40 under 40 class. GA graphic advertising Grady's 40 Under 40 alumni panel. rady College alumni honored in 2022 include:

  • Emily Curl (ABJ ’14)
  • Lauren Culbertson Greico (ABJ ’09)
  • Christie Johnson (ABJ ’07)
  • Chad Mumm (ABJ ’08)
  • Kevin Schatell (ABJ ’16)
  • Michael Waldron (ABJ ’10)

We will welcome five of the honorees back to Grady College on Friday, Sept. 9 for a “Message to My Younger Self” panel. Please join us in the Peyton Anderson Forum (room 238) at 10 a.m. A light breakfast will be offered.