Journalism Innovation Lab Fellows complete work-based projects

Listening to audiences, engaging younger users and creating brand cohesion — these were goals UGA journalism majors accomplished during the launch of our innovation teams and fellowship programs.

These Journalism Innovation Teams and Fellows, based out of the Journalism Innovation Lab of the Cox Institute, create industry partnerships to bring emerging ideas and practices into Georgia news organizations by allowing select students to work at a precise and strategic level on innovation in today’s newsrooms.

Georgia Association of Broadcasters Innovation Fellow

Funded by the GAB, our innovation fellow worked with Habersham Broadcasting. This locally owned and operated set of two radio stations — My Country 99.3 and 107.7 the Breeze — serves a large audience in northeast Georgia, and its leadership wanted to begin to reach a younger demographic through its digital products. UGA journalism major Ashley Balsavias worked with Habersham to grow and engage younger listeners through the My Country 99.3 Instagram page, creating strategies for that platform, cross-promoting to the station’s app, and creating a best practices guide for future use.

Georgia Association of Broadcasters Innovation Team

A team of journalism majors — Victoria Gospodinov, Lily Baldwin and Haley Roberson — worked with Salem Media Group of Atlanta for our GAB-funded innovation team. Operating on the goals of increasing engagement and growing audience demographics, the team did audience research, created a robust brand style guide to improve digital product coherence, and crafted a forward-thinking content strategy for influencers, concepts and campaigns to continue diverse growth in both listeners and digital platforms.

UX Research Innovation Team with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The success of the Unapologetically ATL email newsletter, a product of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, was the focus of study for a UX research innovation team made up of journalism seniors Maddy Franklin, Ally Gray, Nimra Ahmad and Yana Obiekwe. Through analytics, quantitative surveys and qualitative interviews with audience members, the team found what specific elements were contributing to the newletter’s strong performance, so that these could be employed with other digital products. Also, a few future recommendations for growth were presented to capitalize on what audiences prefer in the niche news product.

The Journalism Innovation Lab will build another GAB Innovation Team and pair another GAB Innovation Fellow with a Georgia broadcaster in the fall 2022 semester, as well as participate in the Reynolds Journalism Institute Student Innovation Competition. Contact Dr. Amanda Bright or see Handshake for details on how to apply starting in late summer.


The Lead podcast names its new host for Fall 2022

The Cox Institute named Jacqueline GaNun, a rising fourth-year journalism major, as the host of The Lead podcast for the 2022-2023 academic year.

GaNun served last fall as the editor-in-chief of The Red & Black, an independent student newspaper covering the University of Georgia and local Athens community. Last spring, GaNun was also chosen through a highly selective application process for membership in UGA’s chapter of Omicron Delta Kappa, a national leadership honor society.

The Cox Institute expects GaNun will tap into both her student media and campus leadership experiences in her role as host of a podcast about leadership in the news industry.

“I think conversations about leadership rather than lectures about leadership are always a better way to go. As is with most things, people don’t really like being lectured at in most cases,” GaNun said. “But I think that a two-way conversation through audio makes it really accessible for people and they can kind of relate on a way more personal level.”

GaNun recently completed a study abroad at Oxford University as part of UGA’s program there. Before returning to Athens in the fall, GaNun will intern for NPR’s business desk in Washington, D.C., and will gain valuable experience in audio and digital storytelling before taking over The Lead’s microphone.

The Lead podcast explores the intersection of journalism and leadership by interviewing news media leaders. Previous seasons have featured veteran and emerging professionals, including Pulitzer Prize and Peabody Award winners, best-selling authors and other prominent journalists across all platforms.

“The Lead . . . has a really great goal. I think that the media industry and journalism can feel very daunting if you’re trying to enter it, especially if you don’t have maybe parents who are journalists or family friends who are journalists — I don’t really know anybody who’s a professional journalist. So I think making that more accessible to people is a really, really great goal,” GaNun said.

GaNun said journalism students should care about hearing from media professionals, and is looking forward to finding and interviewing guests who will connect with The Lead’s journalism student audience.

“I think that professionals are so helpful for telling you their story and how it worked out for them. And that can also be helpful if they tell you their roadmap to where they got to today,” said GaNun. “I think it can be very helpful for people trying to figure out their way in life and in the industry.”

Before serving as editor-in-chief of The Red & Black, GaNun worked in student recruitment for the newspaper and served as a reporter, city news editor and news editor. She also interned for The Current, a non-profit news organization in Savannah, Georgia. In addition to her journalism major, GaNun is pursing a degree in international affairs and a minor in French. She is also in the university’s Honors College.

“We’re looking forward to Jacqueline bringing her keen intellect to The Lead podcast. Her perspective from student media and as an overall campus leader will be invaluable to the work we do on the podcast,” said Dr. Keith Herndon, executive director of the Cox Institute. “We’re also eager for her to bring the new skills she’ll acquire on her NPR internship this summer into the host’s role.”

GaNun’s fall start marks 13 seasons of the podcast (each semester is a season). She succeeds Kyra Posey, who was the show’s host during its past two seasons. Daniel Funke launched The Lead in fall 2016 and hosted seasons one and two. Seasons three and four were co-hosted by Nate Bramel and Noelle Lashley. Charlotte Norsworthy then hosted the podcast for four seasons, before turning the microphone over to Caroline Odom.

#ProfilesOfTenacity: William Newlin

Why did you choose Grady and your course of study?

I began my college career as an International Affairs major in SPIA. History, English, political science and economics had always been my favorite subjects, and IA seemed to bring it all together. But as an avid news consumer with a penchant for writing, I realized there was more I wanted to do. Grady allowed me to join a field with colleagues who have goals beyond themselves. I knew it would give me the leeway to find my passion and the opportunity to write with purpose.

What does the word “tenacity” mean to you?

To me, tenacity is a willingness to leave your comfort zone to get what you need, whether in your personal life or professional pursuits. In journalism, it’s not backing down in the face of authority. It’s being dogged, nosy and courageous. In life, it’s sticking to your values and reaching for your goals no matter the obstacles. 

What are you passionate about?

I’m passionate about improving public debate through good journalism. I think the best reporting keeps important issues centered in our collective consciousness and directs attention to topics that might otherwise fall through the cracks. We need to have more fact-based debate in all aspects of American life, and I’m excited to contribute to that throughout my career.

What or who has had the biggest impact on your life during your time at UGA?

The Red & Black. After joining in fall 2019, I immediately found a group of people who both supported me and created the environment of healthy competition that shaped me as a reporter. Over two years of reporting and editing from contributor all the way to managing editor, I honed my writing, fact-finding and storytelling skills. It was the real-world experience I needed to feel confident in my abilities as a professional journalist and leader.

What has been your proudest moment in the past year?

In March, I presented original research at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication’s Midwinter Conference. The idea originated in a research theory class the previous fall, and I developed my topic and method alongside Dr. Karin Assmann. Focused on the rhetoric of Fox News’ Sean Hannity, I found the data needed for the project, learned to use a new analysis software and wrote a lengthy paper that was accepted by the AEJMC. Despite taking the non-thesis route in my graduate program, I’m excited to leave with a tangible piece of scholarship. My goal is to submit the finished article for publication in a political communication journal.  

What is the best piece of advice you’ve received from an instructor, mentor or family member?

Find something interesting in every assignment. Even if you’re covering what seems like the driest beat in the world, there are always people, trends and storylines to keep you and your audience engaged. 

Who is your professional hero?

A few people come to mind. As exemplars of my first journalistic passion – sports writing (specifically baseball) – Tony Kornheiser and Jeff Passan are at the top. Their reporting chops and undeniable style continue to inform my approach to writing. I also greatly admire CNN’s Clarissa Ward and NBC’s Richard Engel. They’re in the most important places at the most important times, and I hope to emulate their unflinching courage to whatever extent I can. And if I had to throw in a historical hero, it would have to be Edward R. Murrow. Aside from the obvious reasons, who doesn’t want a catchphrase?

What are you planning to do after obtaining your degree?

I plan to hit the ground running as a reporter. With experience in sports, news and features, I’m excited to get started and adapt to new challenges.

What would people be surprised to know about you?

It might surprise people that I make music – sort of. I play the drums, can strum a guitar, and I’m oddly decent at composing piano music, which I’ve translated into a few songs. Some are on SoundCloud, and some are just for me. 

Where is your favorite place on campus and why?

The Founders Memorial Garden on North Campus is and always will be my favorite spot. It was my between-classes refuge freshman year and continues to be a peaceful place when I need some quiet time in nature. 

Journalism Innovation Lab Team finishes in top six in nationwide competition

The first-ever Journalism Innovation Lab Team from the Cox Institute of Innovation, Management and Leadership finished in the top six teams in the nation, out of more than 50, in the 2022 Reynolds Journalism Institution Student Innovation Competition.

Team members Sophia Haynes, Cassidy Hettesheimer and Gabby Vitali, all journalism majors, created and tested a product called j-notes, which improves news literacy and relationships between audiences and journalists by lifting the veil on how reporters make decisions and cover stories. This web-based design allows for short-form, embedded videos from the journalists themselves that walk the audience through how a story was covered and why — to increase trust in the news.

“The journalists can explain why they decided to write something a certain way, how they found a piece of information, or show a video from the field,” the team said in their presentation. “The goal of j-notes is to build connections with journalists, increase transparency, and help audience members feel confident in knowing what to look for in trustworthy journalism.”

Screenshot of the news literacy tool j-notes in action.
j-notes consists of short-form, embedded videos that allow the journalist to speak directly with the audience.

The team started in fall 2021 with the creation of this research-based concept. Then, they developed a wireframe and made a brief presentation for RJI judges, who moved their team to the second round, where they built the product and tested it with audience members through in-depth, qualitative interviews. Then, the team created a final presentation for a panel of judges.

WATCH: View the final presentation for the UGA Journalism Innovation Lab Team:

On March 21, the UGA team was one of the top six finalists for an awards ceremony, which also included teams from the University of Oregon, University of Missouri, Ohio University, University of Florida and Purdue University-Fort Wayne. University of Florida took the top prize, which was $10,000.

Even though the UGA team didn’t place in the top spot, Vitali said she gained experience she wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else.

“It was amazing to work with others with the same goal in mind and to bounce our ideas off each other in a productive way,” Vitali said.

According to Cassidy Hettesheimer, the process wasn’t without its challenges, but was ultimately rewarding.

“The process of brainstorming, creating and gathering feedback pushed us to be creative, collaborative and decisive,” Hettesheimer said. “I learned a ton participating in the RJI Student Innovation competition that will hopefully help shape how my teammates and I look at journalism in the future.”

Sophia Haynes said she had an eye to the future of journalism as well, as she did research and the wire-framing process in creating J-Notes, which she believes has a real application in news organizations.

“Hopefully, this idea doesn’t just stop here,” Haynes said. “I love the concept of short-form videos to engage readers in stories and to answer potential questions that may arise while reading.”

Dr. Amanda Bright, director of the Journalism Innovation Lab, said she could not be more proud of the team and what it accomplished in this first-ever endeavor.

“Our three team members were thoughtful, reflective and so professional throughout the process — from the conception of the idea through to the final presentation,” Bright said. “They truly created a product that would be a benefit to any newsroom to create stronger ties and trust between journalists and audiences.”

Bright said the Journalism Innovation Lab plans to create another team and enter the RJI competition again next year.

Cox Institute announces new University Certificate in News Literacy starting Fall 2022

The Cox Institute for Journalism Innovation, Management and Leadership at the University of Georgia will launch a new academic Certificate in News Literacy during the Fall 2022 semester.

The certificate, which will be open to all majors at the University, will require 12 credit hours to complete. The required courses will explain the functions of the news media, journalistic responsibility and ethics as they prepare students with insights and tools for identifying misinformation and falsehoods increasingly found in our media marketplace.

“Our democratic society needs as many people as possible — citizens as much as journalists, educators, and other professionals — to wade into the digital world equipped with training that will prepare them to recognize the difference between truth and falsehoods,” said Charles N. Davis, dean of the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. “This certificate is an important step we are taking to teach university students how to discern credible information through critical examination of the news we all consume.”

The Cox Institute, which has developed plans for the certificate over the past year, is unveiling it as part of National News Literacy Week presented by the News Literacy Project and The E.W. Scripps Company. Dr. Keith Herndon, executive director of the Cox Institute, explained National News Literacy Week is an annual event that focuses attention on why news literacy is vital to a functioning democracy.

“We couldn’t think of a better time than National News Literacy Week to unveil this exciting new certificate and to emphasize the important role we expect it to play in news literacy education,” Herndon said. “We are eager to meet with advisers and faculty across the university in the coming weeks and months to explain what this certificate will mean for our students.”

The Cox Institute intends to use resources and expertise from the News Literacy Project as part of the program’s curriculum.

“Mis- and disinformation are designed to appeal to our innate cognitive biases and vulnerabilities, and young people are often uniquely susceptible to misjudging the credibility of the information and sources they encounter in their daily lives,” said Peter Adams, the New Literacy Project’s senior vice president, education. “This program is an important step in acknowledging the obligation we have to prepare and empower the next generation as they build lifelong information habits and important civic dispositions.”

Students across the university will be able to enroll in the Certificate in News Literacy through the Athena system beginning in the Fall 2022 semester. Once enrolled, students must complete four classes including an introduction course, two intermediate courses and a capstone course. For more information on the specific course requirements and additional background information about the certificate, please visit the Certificate of News Literacy webpage.

Herndon will serve as the certificate’s director and Charlotte Norsworthy, an instructor in the Cox Institute, will serve as the program coordinator. For inquiries, please email her at

Cox Institute names its 2021 SABEW Fellows

Ten journalism students were selected during the Fall semester as Cox-SABEW Fellows, a financial journalism training program offered through the University of Georgia’s Cox Institute for Journalism Innovation, Management and Leadership in partnership with the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing (SABEW).

The Cox-SABEW Fellows for 2021 are: Michael Banks, Ansleigh Edwards, Thomas Ehlers, Jessica Green, Kate Hester, Carah Jones, Jamie Miller, Emily Petraglia, Spencer Pipkin and Haley Roberson.

The Cox-SABEW Fellowships were created to recognize students who have engaged in financial journalism and business education through class assignments, student media and professional internships, or for those looking to launch their financial journalism journey, said Dr. Keith Herndon, executive director of the Cox Institute.

Herndon, a former business journalist, said the objectives of the program are to explain financial journalism and introduce students to career opportunities in the field.

“Through this program I have learned not only some of the basics of business . . ., but also how to write about business in a way that is easy to understand and shows how it touches our everyday lives,” said Kate Hester, who completed her bachelor’s degree in journalism and is now in her first year of a master’s program.

The 2021 Fellows are participating in the College Connect program, a personal finance writing workshop, which will pay them for producing and publishing personal finance stories for the SABEW website. SABEW operates the College Connect program through a sponsorship from the National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE).

Additionally, the Fellows have engaged in virtual discussion sessions with previous students in the program who are now professional financial journalists. The Fellows also attended SABEW’s virtual conference held this year October 12-14.

Hester said the networking events gave her and the other fellows opportunities “to talk with business journalists and learn more about the field.”

This year’s group marks the ninth year of the Cox-SABEW Fellowships. The program started in 2013 and has recognized 53 participants including this year’s fellows.

“SABEW continues to be one of our premier training partners and we are so appreciative of its support along with the financial backing from NEFE,” said Herndon. “The news industry faces many headwinds, but success by any measure requires training our next generation. This important industry-academic partnership is vital to that mission.”

Cox Institute adds new directors, initiatives to benefit students and industry

A new organizational and leadership structure will expand the training mission of the James M. Cox Jr. Institute for Journalism Innovation, Management and Leadership.

The Cox Institute, which operates as a unit of the Journalism Department at the University of Georgia’s College of Journalism and Mass Communication, will offer expanded skills development and training opportunities programs for students and professionals through the newly-restructured Journalism Innovation Lab and Journalism Writing Lab.

The Cox Institute’s Journalism Innovation Lab will assume operation of the Digital Natives program, which brings UGA journalism students with digital news expertise into Georgia newsrooms to help local journalists and news organizations accomplish specific digital goals.  This program was launched by Dr. Amanda Bright, a member of the journalism faculty, who will continue to manage this project along with other digital innovation initiatives to develop the products, practices and people of journalism’s future in a new role as Director of the Journalism Innovation Lab.

“I’m thrilled to be able to create a space where students and professionals can collaborate and innovate toward the next iteration of journalism,” Bright said. “The Journalism Innovation Lab will be committed to encouraging students to think boldly about where our industry should go next, while meeting specific needs in the field to serve our audiences and a functioning democracy.”

The Cox Institute’s Journalism Writing Lab will expand its scope by operating the Covering Poverty project, which was relaunched earlier this year by students funded through a Scripps Howard Foundation grant. This fall, the project will recruit a new group of students and alumni to work in partnership with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The Athens Banner-Herald.  Lori Johnston (ABJ ’95, MFA ’17), a lecturer in the Journalism Department who oversaw the relaunch of Covering Poverty, will become Director of the Journalism Writing Lab. She will continue to manage the Covering Poverty project along with other content initiatives.

“I am thankful to the Cox Institute for being forward-thinking and for the relationships we have established with these important media outlets, and others to come,” Johnston said. “I look forward to guiding students as they report, write and produce meaningful stories about issues, people and places. They will deepen their reporting abilities and delve into the craft of storytelling and service journalism to help newsrooms tell these stories now, and then take those newfound skills into their careers.”

In addition to the new structure and projects housed in the Journalism Innovation Lab and the Journalism Writing Lab, the Cox Institute will continue to provide students with leadership training opportunities through initiatives such as the Levin Leaders Program and skills development opportunities through a variety of fellowship programs.

“We are enhancing the core of what the Cox Institute has built over three decades to make our programs an even more integral part of the journalism education our students receive,” said Dr. Keith Herndon (ABJ ’82), whose title will change from director to executive director of the Cox Institute as part of the new leadership structure. “Adding two respected colleagues in Amanda Bright and Lori Johnston to our leadership is a win for the Cox Institute and for the students we serve.”

The Cox Institute was established in 1990 by the late Conrad Fink, a legendary journalism professor, as the Cox Institute for Newspaper Management Studies. Its current name was adopted in 2014 to reflect the news media’s digital transformation. The Institute honors the late James M. Cox Jr., who headed Cox Enterprises and Cox Broadcasting Corporation from 1957 until 1974. Its primary funding is from the Jim Cox Jr. Foundation.

UGA journalism student awarded internship funded by Scripps Howard Foundation

Editor’s Note: This feature was originally posted on the Cox Institute website.

Janelle Ward, a rising senior at the University of Georgia, will intern this summer with the Athens Banner-Herald as part of a program funded by the Scripps Howard Foundation.

The internship will be administered by the James M. Cox Jr. Institute for Journalism Innovation, Management and Leadership at the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.

“I am truly honored and humbled to have been selected for this reputable internship and am elated to spend this summer improving my craft in the Athens Banner-Herald newsroom,” Ward said. “I’m thankful to the Scripps Howard Foundation, the Banner-Herald, the Cox Institute and my professors and mentors at Grady College for making all of this possible.”

Ward, who is pursuing dual undergraduate degrees in journalism and history, is expected to graduate in May 2022. She has worked as a reporter for The Red & Black producing general news and stories on topics including business and the arts. Her role in the spring 2021 semester as the independent student newspaper’s race reporter included event coverage and historical pieces. She has also served as the newspaper’s calendar editor. Ward was also the Charlayne Hunter-Gault intern at Chess and Community where she created material for the non-profit organization’s website and newsletter.

Caitlyn Stroh-Page (ABJ ’15), editor of the Athens Banner-Herald, said the newspaper is honored to host Ward this summer as part of the Cox Institute’s Journalism Innovation Lab program.

“Her storytelling, enhanced by her skills and passion, will no doubt be a service to the community,” said Stroh-Page.

The Scripps Howard Foundation’s sponsorship of the internship continues a relationship began last year when the foundation provided seed funding for the Cox Institute to relaunch and expand the college’s Covering Poverty initiative, which is also part of the Journalism Innovation Lab.

Keith Herndon, director of the Cox Institute, said Ward’s internship is another example of how the Journalism Innovation Lab works with industry partners to provide students with experiential learning opportunities.  He said more students will work in the lab this fall under the direction of Lori Johnston, a journalism lecturer. Their work will be published in the Athens Banner-Herald and as part of the Covering Poverty project.

Stroh-Page said the newspaper is committed to providing training opportunities for student journalists through the Covering Poverty initiative.

“We hope to tackle some of the important issues facing the Athens area through a continuing partnership with the bright students and UGA faculty at the Cox Institute,” Stroh-Page said.

Cox Institute Journalism Innovation Lab relaunches online poverty reporting toolkit

Community, local and national journalists can turn to Covering Poverty for tips, tutorials, resources and inspiration to write and report on people and poverty-related matters.

The University of Georgia Journalism Innovation Lab, a student project of the James M. Cox Jr. Institute for Journalism Innovation, Management and Leadership, relaunched the updated website at a new url — — in late March.

A $7,500 grant from the Scripps Howard Foundation funded the plans to continue a Covering Poverty online initiative that began more than a decade ago.

A team of six journalism students under the direction of Lori Johnston (ABJ ’95, MFA ’17), a lecturer in the Department of Journalism, redesigned the site with a clean, modern layout and updated content, visuals and graphics.

The new stories, which feature multimedia storytelling, include guidance on word choice when reporting on inequality, tips for writing across difference and what to learn from poverty coverage during the pandemic.

Journalists need resources and tools to cover this topic, especially as the pandemic, 2020 election and social issues showed the importance of telling the stories accurately and with empathy. Visitors to the site will accumulate what they need to cover poverty now and in the future.

“Newsrooms have covered poverty, but now there’s more heightened awareness of language to describe people who are experiencing poverty and making sure that we cover it in a way that do not bring in assumptions or misconceptions,” Johnston said. “The vision is that this site is a go-to place for journalists, whether they’re working for a local newspaper or a national media outlet, when they face questions about how to cover poverty, seek examples or want to brainstorm story ideas.”

The site’s updated beat guides on health care, education, housing, and crime and mass incarceration provide questions to ask and spotlight databases, academic papers and studies, and institutions, centers and organizations that research the issues.

The team of students, who were nominated by journalism faculty and received Cox Innovation Fellowship scholarships for their participation in the program, included:

• Lillie Beck
• Kelsey Coffey
• Taylor Gerlach
• Sofia Gratas
• Shania Shelton
• Savannah Ware

Students said the lab’s empowering learning environment showed them how to create solutions-based, diverse reporting about poverty.

“I’ve learned so much about the importance of research and honest reporting. In my future career, I definitely will take the skills I’ve learned through this project to become a journalist who knows how to look between the lines and do the necessary research to tell important stories,” said Shelton, who will graduate in 2021.

Students curated award-winning reporting and data journalism projects as well as resources, such as books, podcasts and documentaries, to provide guidance and inspiration for reporters, visual journalists and editors who visit the site.

“I’ve been honored to help curate resources to help guide other journalists in making ethical decisions regarding a sensitive topic and encourage more inclusive, tactful coverage of our communities near and far,” said Gerlach, who will graduate in spring 2021.

The team discussed in conversations with Johnston and Dr. Keith Herndon, director of the Cox Institute, the importance of adding context in developing the online resource kit for journalists.

“Context allows us to see the dimensions of a story and not just what’s on the surface,” said Coffey, who graduated in fall 2020. “Working on this project has been one of my favorite experiences at the Grady College, and I’m looking forward to using some of the tools I learned in my future career.”

Since its inception in 2009, Covering Poverty has provided reporting resources to more than 500 journalists annually. The original Covering Poverty project was created with a grant awarded in 2008 by the University of Georgia Office of the Vice President for Public Service and Outreach, sponsored by the UGA Research Foundation.

John Greenman, professor of journalism, emeritus, and Diane Murray, director of alumni relations and outreach, directed the program. Upon Greenman’s retirement in 2015, Murray continued to direct the program. Carolyn Crist (ABJ 09, MA ’14) started with the project as an undergraduate honors student and later was administrator of the website.

The 2021 Levin Leaders receive their Cox Institute leadership medals

The James M. Cox Jr. Institute for Journalism Innovation, Management and Leadership has recognized its 2021 class of Levin Leaders by presenting the aspiring media leaders with their Leadership Medals.

The Levin Leaders were selected for the program from a pool of faculty nominations based on their commitment to professional development through work in student media, internships and other student activities. The 2021 Levin Leaders are Shaelyn Carroll, Willie Daniely, Alex English, Olivia Mead, Mackenzie Miles, Zachary Miles, Tylar Norman, Laura Nwogu, Caroline Odom, Samantha Perez, Kyra Posey, Jack Sadighian, Augusta Stone and Lora Yordanova.

The students received their medals during a private, socially-distanced dinner on March 15 at the Center for Continuing Education. Grady College Dean Charles Davis attended to recognize the accomplishments of these top journalism students.

“You represent the best of us,” Davis said, reflecting on the competitive selection process. “We want you to know how important you are to the college.”

The Cox Institute also announced the winners of several Journalism Department scholarships during the dinner. Augusta Stone and Lora Yordanova were awarded Conrad C. Fink Scholarships, which are presented annually in memory of the late journalism professor who founded the Cox Institute. Jack Sadighian received the Todd M. Bauer Memorial Award, which was established by the Bauer family to honor their son by helping young journalists establish themselves in their early careers. The Cox Institute also announced Savannah Sicurella, a 2020 Levin Leader, as this year’s recipient of the Barry Hollander Award, which was established by former students in memory of the late journalism professor known for his steadfast defense of open meetings and records.

The students participating in the leadership program met weekly for eight weeks with Dr. Keith Herndon, director of the Cox Institute. The sessions, held socially distanced in the large Studio 100 or over Zoom, featured student discussions about leadership principles drawn from the “Your Leadership Edge” book published by the Kansas Leadership Center.

“These students have been through a lot over the past year and have demonstrated enormous resilience,” Herndon said. “We wanted our program this year to be encouraging while also challenging them to be introspective, empathetic and adaptable as they prepare for immense change in the coming decade.”

Shaelyn Carroll said the program made her think about the importance of embracing change, especially in the media industry, and also said it gave her new perspectives on the meaning of leadership.

“This program made me think of leadership as a choice rather than an appointed position; it is something you can choose to do every single day,” said Carroll.

The 2021 cohort also indicated the training’s emphasis on personal integrity and acting empathetically resonated with them.

“This program made me think of leadership as a way to live,” said Lora Yordanova. “It’s about living everyday with integrity, courage, empathy and vision even when no one is watching.”

Samantha Perez described leadership as “an opportunity to collaborate,” while Laura Nwogu said it means “amplifying the voices of others and giving them a stage to be leaders themselves.”

Since its inception nine years ago, the Cox Institute’s leadership training program has taught 127 of Grady’s best journalism students about leadership principles. The program was renamed the Levin Leaders Initiative in 2019 to reflect the generous support provided by Adam Levin, his wife Heather McDowell, and the Philip and Janice Levin Foundation. The Levin family’s support provides for curriculum development, training materials and other expenses of running the program. Levin is a nationally recognized expert on cyber security, privacy, identity theft, fraud, and personal finance. He was chairman and founder of CyberScout and was co-founder of He authored the book, “Swiped: How to Protect Yourself in a World Full of Scammers, Phishers, and Identity Thieves.”