Megan Zahneis, a 2018-19 Geoffrion Family Fellow and Journalism/Interactive Media Studies major at Miami University, was recently awarded The Chronicle of Higher Education’s 2018 David W. Miller Award for Young Journalists. Zahneis has a passion for the written word. Writing, she says, “is a challenge, but an exhilarating one, which is why I love journalism. I think stories are the way we make sense of ourselves and the world around us.”
The Miller Award recognizes Zahneis’ accomplishments during her internship with the Chronicle last summer, especially her work on three articles, “No ‘Frasorority’ for Him,” “How a Decades-Old Experiment Sparked a War Over the Future of Psychology,” and “The Big Lie.” In our interview with Zahneis, her passion for wanting to tell people’s stories became clear, and she offered excellent advice for students interested in similar extra-curricular opportunities.
Q: What motivated your interest in journalism?
From a young age, I was fascinated by the power books held. I was (and am) a voracious reader and loved that the stories I read were able to impart the experiences of people and worlds so drastically different from my own. A love for writing — and for words more generally — evolved from my love for reading. At first, I primarily wrote about my own experiences — the things I knew — but as I grew, I discovered how much I enjoyed telling others’ stories, giving a public voice to their thoughts and experiences. I felt, and still feel, a keen sense of responsibility in doing so; when someone trusts me enough to share part of who they are with me, I do all I can to honor that trust.
Q: You are a double major in journalism and interactive media studies and Editor-in-Chief of The Miami Student newspaper. How has Miami helped prepare you for future career endeavors?
In so many ways! I’ve had the chance to learn from faculty members who have actually done the work I hope to do someday, so the real-world preparation has been amazing. That real-world experience has also translated to the work I do with The Miami Student Magazine and with The Miami Student. I get to be part of putting together real publications, with real readers, real challenges, and real rewards. It’s been the perfect incubator.
Q: What advice would you give to current journalism students or others who are considering a major in journalism?
I think my reason for getting into journalism — wanting to tell stories — is clichéd, in that that’s why most people love journalism. But sometimes, when you’re working on a project that seems bland, unimportant, or dense, it’s easy to forget that at its core, journalism is just a way of telling stories. Remembering that has helped keep me calibrated when I’m writing. That’s the advice I’d give to current or future journalism students: represent facts and realities, but use them to tell stories. That’s what makes journalism challenging and fun all at once.
Q: What does being awarded the Geoffrion Fellowship and Miller Award for Young Journalists mean to you, and how was your experience throughout the duration of reaching these accomplishments?
Both were completely unexpected honors. In fact, I only heard about the Geoffrion Fellowship the day before applications were due, so I hurriedly put together an application and, for a few weeks, completely forgot about it. It wasn’t until I was notified I’d been chosen that I realized fully what an amazing opportunity it was. I’ve learned so much from being in the company of the five other fellows and the Altman faculty.
The Miller Award, and the experience that led to it, is probably the proudest accomplishment of my journalism career. Over the past three years, I’ve reported a good deal on faculty issues at The Miami Student, and in that capacity I came to appreciate the complexity and importance of higher-education journalism. Of course, The Chronicle of Higher Education was not only a resource in that reporting, but an aspirational measure for me, so I never expected to be selected as one of their 2018 summer interns. Once I got to Washington D.C., the experience was even better than I could have imagined. As an intern, I was treated like a full member of the newsroom and given the chance to work on some very compelling stories. A team of the best reporters and editors I’ve met helped me through that process, and I’m lucky enough to stay in touch with many of them. The fact that those people would see fit to honor me with the Miller Award means the world, and to me it’s an affirmation that journalism is what I love and want to do.
Q: Can you provide some of the highlights of the Geoffrion Fellowship so far? What are you most looking forward to this year?
I’ve really enjoyed the seminar course the other fellows and I are currently enrolled in — it’s challenged me to think about contemporary issues in totally new ways and allowed me to discuss those issues with scholars in fields from across the humanities. I’ve taken mostly journalism courses the past three years, so it’s been great to broaden my intellectual horizons. I’m also looking forward to developing my individual research project next semester and to attending the remaining Altman featured lectures.
Q: Do you have advice to peers who might be interested in seeking similar opportunities for advanced research and professional experience?
Always apply for the long shots! I’m not sure where I would be today if I hadn’t taken those risks. I think an important part of seeking those advanced opportunities is staying informed — not only of what’s happening on and around campus, but in the wider world. That’s how I learned of the Chronicle internship and Geoffrion Fellowship.
Q: If you could sum up your experience at Miami in just a few words, what would they be?
Intellectual and personal growth.
The application deadline for the 2019-2020 Geoffrion Fellows is March 3 2019, For more information on applying to be a 2019-20 Fellow visit HERE.