By Shawn Brouwer
Washington, D.C. (Feb. 13, 2006) — When Divya Abhat accepted a professional project at the National Geographic Traveler magazine in Washington, she hoped for assignments that would enable her to combine her journalism skills with environmental reporting. Her assignment to create an online newsletter about sustainable environmental tourism puts her on the cutting-edge of modern journalism.
“The project is so big and intense. It is much more like a job. Eventually I would like to go back to India and set up a newsletter or magazine that deals with health or environmental issues there,” said Abhat, a native of Bombay.
Beyond the project, Abhat, a Missouri Journalism master’s student, is meeting influential Washington journalists, visiting newsrooms and other professional sites, networking with alumni and taking advantage of the museums, historical points of interest and other treasures in the nation’s capital.
Abhat is one of a record 22 students enrolled in the Washington Program, now in its nearly 40th year. This semester, 11 of the students are international students, and following a recent trend, women hold a 14-8 advantage over men in enrollment. Graduate students number 19. The Washington Program is under the supervision of Wesley Pippert, a former White House and international correspondent, and Geneva Overholser, the Curtis B. Hurley chair for Public Affairs Reporting.
Pippert said that the Washington Program strives to assure that participating students will get a work experience that stretches them professionally.
“Many if not most of the students have projects in Washington that are on a level with what career journalists in the nation’s capital are doing,” he said.
For example, Andrew Eder is reporting for the Spokane (Wash.) Spokesman-Review as the paper’s only Washington correspondent. Theresa Wieberg is at ABC-TV as the recipient of the Kaplan Fellowship, established in memory of the late ABC producer David Kaplan who was killed in Bosnia. Other students are working at the Embassy of Norway, the European Union, USA Today, Capital Life magazine, The Washington Times and the Center for Public Integrity, among others.
Pippert said that during his 17-year tenure with the program, students have had projects with more than 100 newspapers, television networks, advertising and public relations agencies and think tanks. Many of these media outlets and other professional sites seek to have a Missouri Journalism student every semester.
“We try to link students with professional projects that will enhance their career objectives,” Pippert said.
The students work four days a week, with Fridays reserved for a speakers’ series with outstanding journalists and other leading Washington figures. Among the regular seminar leaders are Kurt Wimmer, BJ ’82, a partner in the blue-chip Covington & Burling law firm, Charles Lewis, Hearst Washington Bureau chief, and Helen Thomas, dean of White House correspondents.
“I take a lot away from the speakers,” said Abhat. “These people are in the profession daily at top media outlets and know what they are doing so their insight is helpful.”
Pippert visits each project site regularly, using the time to touch base with the students and with their supervisors.
“This benefits not only the students, but also lets the publications and agencies know that the University is paying attention to its students,” Pippert noted.
The program was begun exclusively for graduate students who wanted a career in newspaper reporting. Over the years the program has expanded to include top-level undergraduates and a wide variety of other journalistic disciplines.
The experience gained through the Washington Program serves the program participants well upon graduation. One student accepted a position with the Wall Street Journal immediately after the program. Another is now the publisher of a major magazine. Others are represented as editors at major newspapers, international correspondents and advertising and public relations managers and in non-journalism fields as well.
Some of the program participants have seen their professional programs turn into full-time jobs after graduation. Chris Schirm, BJ ’03, worked at Ogilvy Public Relations in its public affairs department after he completed his project. He recently left the agency to serve as a Peace Corps volunteer in Turkmenistan. Schirm said his semester in Washington prepared him for what he would face once he entered his career.
“If you are looking for something to boost your resume and give you real life experience in reporting or public relations, there is no better program out there.”
Pippert added that Washington is the place for budding journalists to be.
“This is the news capital of the country and maybe the world,” he said.
Shawn Brouwer, a junior from Visalia, Calif., is majoring in media convergence. He has interned with a Gannett newspaper in his hometown, is currently an intern with Machine Shop Marketing and will be a summer intern with USAToday.com in Washington D.C. Brouwer serves as a Journalism Ambassador, volunteers with Big Brothers/Big Sisters and was philanthropy chair for his social fraternity. Following graduation, Brouwer plans a career in sports public relations or media law.
Updated: April 8, 2020