Reporting & Writing


The summer before my freshman year, I took the publication writing class offered at the Gloria Shields NSPA Media Workshop. I was moving from my middle school broadcast program, KBTV, to my high school’s newspaper staff, The Shield, and wanted to prepare myself for the switch in writing styles. 

During this class, I was introduced to a story that would change my perspective on journalism completely: Sarah’s Hope by Eric Adler. The three-part article that ran in the Kansas City Star in 1999 told the story of Sarah Clark, a cheerleader at Schlagle High School, and her uphill battle to survive. Over her four years of high school, Sarah fights family violence, poverty, abandonment, hunger and homelessness all to make it to graduation. 

The story is heart-wrenching and beautiful and real. 

Sarah’s Hope became so popular that the Kansas City Star ran out of copies. But more importantly, the article shared Sarah’s story to people across the city who came together to make a difference in her life. History may not remember Eric Adler, but Sarah Clark will. 

That’s what I want to do. Tell stories. And what I have worked to do throughout my time at The Shield. Scroll through my writing and reporting work to see how I did it.


Universities, school districts respond differently to threat of omicron

Omicron. It loomed over my family as we drove cross-country to my grandmother’s house for winter break, hoping to evade the new strain of virus that spread more efficiently than before. But what we could work to contain on a personal level was building back home. The group chat for The Shield was inundated with updates from the city of Austin and AISD. We needed to cover this story, so I jumped right in – researching the planned response from area districts and universities that were delaying classes. I secured interviews with professors, a pediatrician and scoured the McCallum parent Facebook group for information about covid testing sites within AISD, seeking to inform our community. I learned the value of working quickly and efficiently to provide key information to help our readers remain safe amid an evolving threat.

Recognitions: Award of Merit – news package, SIPA Best Visual Competition (2022); Part of my Superior online story portfolio, TAJE (2022)

Between the borders

The story of the war in Ukraine broke in the middle of production for our fourth issue of The Shield. We felt compelled to include coverage but struggled to localize such major international news. One day as I was scrolling through Instagram, I saw a post from a former classmate, Sasha. She and her family were in Poland helping Ukrainian refugees cross the border. I ended up setting up a time to speak with both Sasha and her mother a few days after they returned to Austin before we went to print. This news-feature allowed us to share important front-line coverage from someone familiar and relatable to our student audience. It also reminded me that thinking like a journalist is a 24/7 job. Everyone has a story, and a journalist must pay attention at all times in order to find them.

Recognitions: First place – news feature, ILPC (2023)


Virtual SXSW Allow Wider Reach, Deeper Experience

In response to COVID-19 safety measures, the 2021 South by Southwest event went virtual – one more unwelcome change to a city whose culture relies on being the live music capital of the world. However, almost a year into the pandemic, McCallum students and SXSW employees who I reached out to took a more creative outlook, adding innovation to how the event would unfold. From VR viewing opportunities to the ability to showcase more work, SXSW was able to expand the experiences of conference-goers. At a time when people were growing tired of pandemic life, this was a story that reminded me of the ability journalism has to bring light to difficult situations.

Recognitions: Part of my Superior online story portfolio, TAJE (2022)

Alamo Drafthouse finds a way

For our third issue of the 2020-21 school year, I pitched the idea of writing about the new phenomenon of renting out movie theaters for private showings during COVID-19. My family had done it a few weeks prior, and I figured I could find others who taken advantage of this popular new offering. After a few interviews with teachers and students, I struggled to find an overarching story. My sources generally agreed that it was a pleasant experience, but didn’t have much else to say. Because of this, I decided to switch gears and write it as a review of my own experience renting out a movie theatre instead. This was the first review I’d ever written, which came with a learning curve in the writing process. But ultimately, this review taught me about the value of incorporating an interesting narrative while still giving your reader the advice and takeaway they came for.

Recognitions: Tops in Texas – entertainment review, ILPC (2021); First place – entertainment/feature column, SIPA Best Writing Competition (2022); Superior – print entertainment review, TAJE (2022)


Overworked from Overtime

I remember the story pitch vividly: “We could write about how Ms. Richter also works as a cashier at Central Market because she can’t support her family on a teacher salary alone.” This story had to be told. Though Ms. Richter didn’t know me, I reached out to her and asked for an interview. As we spoke and Ms. Richter shared her deeply personal story with me, I couldn’t help but feel connected. This is because Ms. Richter put a face to the universal truth facing Austin ISD teachers: They just aren’t being paid enough to make ends meet in this city, with a cost of living that is now 10% higher than the state average. This feature served the dual function of highlighting the dedication of McCallum teachers who work two jobs, while also addressing a larger issue about the treatment of educators.

Recognitions: First place – newsprint feature story, SIPA (2023); Second place – news feature, ILPC (2023)

Remembering Yolanda Zertuche

At the beginning of my junior year, the MacJournalism Instagram account got a DM asking if we could post information about a benefit lunch being held by the family of former McCallum custodian Yolanda Zertuche, who had recently passed away. Due to a mistake in paperwork, the family was being held responsible for the looming hospital bills not covered by insurance. We agreed to post information about the event, but I also reached back out asking for permission to write a story about Yolanda, who had been such a beloved member of the McCallum community. I attended the benefit lunch and spoke to Yolanda’s sister, her sons, her in-laws, who all shared their stories with me. I stayed at the event for almost four hours, taking pictures and just talking with the family. I left with hours of interviews to transcribe and no idea how to tackle what now felt like an immense story. But I knew one thing: I had to do this story justice. Yolanda’s family had been so vulnerable with me, and I could not let them down. This story reminded me of the fact that I am not just a journalist, but a human, too. And it was the personal human connections I had made during the reporting process that made this story better.

Recognitions: Best of the Best, First runner-up – objective writing, TAJE (2023)


Following their (day) dreams

Walk into any classroom on the McCallum campus and it’s a safe bet that at least one of the students is a musician or in a band. This makes the annual Battle of the Bands competition a must-attend event for many of the school’s students — even more so because the winner and the runner-up get to perform at one of Austin’s most famous live music venues, Hole in the Wall. I interviewed the members of one of these lucky bands, Daydreamer, shortly after their performance at Hole in the Wall. Battle of the Bands had boosted their image on campus, and though we hadn’t planned to feature them in our third issue, we made adjustments to meet their growing popularity. This story serves as a reminder of how important it is to write about what interests our readers — students.

Back to the beginning

One of the most defining aspects of my time in high school was the nationwide teacher shortage. At the end of my sophomore year, more than 20 teachers had left McCallum. Undoubtedly this gave the school’s hiring team a good deal of work. It also created quite a lot of work for The Shield staff, which was committed to covering all of the new teachers that were arriving on campus. This project required contributions from everyone on staff, and mine was interviewing and profiling the school’s new yearbook adviser Frank Webster. Even though the article I wrote about Mr. Webster was not hard-hitting news, it did serve as his unofficial introduction to students and staff. And at a time when our school was already fractured by a teacher shortage, any way that The Shield could help build connections between students and educators was meaningful work.

Recognitions: First place – online personality feature, SIPA (2023)


It all matters in the Long run

I originally only took this assignment because Ms. Long had been my freshman Algebra 2 teacher, and I needed to pick up a second writing assignment. That is the honest truth. But during our interview, I learned something I should have already known, that there was more to Ms. Long’s story than I thought. I found it very inspiring how strongly she cared about the cross country team despite the challenges of coaching a sport she had no experience with. This story taught me about the value of listening intently during your interviews and asking follow-ups. Ms. Long was – at the beginning – not so keen on being interviewed and having a whole story focused on herself. But once she became more comfortable, I was able to get to the heart of the compelling story she had to tell. 

Recognitions: Superior – print sports feature, TAJE (2022)

Clear eyes, full heart

For my first story on newspaper staff, I was assigned what most first-year staffers were assigned — a new teacher feature. The editors’ idea was to give newbies a story that wouldn’t be too much of a heavy lift, but was still a high interest topic for Issue one coverage. I was assigned to cover the new assistant football coach, Bryan Webb. Unfortunately for me, I knew very little about football. And even less about coaching. But I mustered up my courage and hopped onto Zoom to speak with Coach Webb. What I quickly learned was that Webb was not the scary, screaming, hard-to-talk-to football coach that so many films had stereotyped. We actually talked for nearly an hour, with the majority of our conversation being about much more than just football. This interview was my first taste of the idea that everyone has a story to tell. You just have to ask.


A band-aid for a bullet wound

The Uvalde school shooting roughly 160 miles from Austin set the tone for the start of my junior year. McCallum students like me were greeted with a myriad of new regulations intended to improve student safety on campus. While I appreciated the school administration’s proactive approach toward safety, the messaging was lacking. Locking doors, monitoring bathroom passes and implementing a new security app could save lives in the middle of a tragedy but would in no way stop a tragedy from occurring. These policies left me wondering: “Why isn’t our school and district putting more of its efforts into addressing the root of this problem?” From this question, our issue one staff editorial was born. To strengthen my argument, I researched the history of school shootings and warning signs to suggest thoughtful other solutions policymakers on both the district and state level could implement to make our schools more safe.

Recognitions: Best of the Best – subjective writing, TAJE (2023)

Outdated Mac should be included in bond proposal

The summer before my junior year, AISD announced a list of campuses set to receive full and partial modernizations. McCallum was not one of them. Built in 1953, we’re the second oldest high school in the district, suffering from recent gas leaks, rain damage and wild animal break-ins. It was the staff’s unanimous agreement for an editorial stance encouraging community members to advocate for McCallum ahead of the school board’s final vote on the bond proposal. I wrote the story over only a few days in the summer, but it quickly gained traction from our readers. It was re-shared on Facebook and Twitter. But most importantly, when the board voted on the bond proposals, it moved to add McCallum to the list of schools receiving a full renovation. While it can’t be known exactly what convinced others to act, it is my hope that this editorial did played a part moving readers toward action. And at the end of the day, that’s what a good editorial is supposed to do — inspire change that benefits the community

Recognitions: Second place – editorial, NSPA Story of the Year (2023); Tops in Texas – editorial writing, ILPC (2023)


I don’t want to lose a teacher or classmate to Covid-19

I was appalled when the district announced the reopening of schools – a move that would allow students the choice to remain virtual, but would fail to grant district teachers the same choice. I wrote a letter to the AISD superintendent of schools to advocate for my teachers. After writing my first draft, I sent it to my writing coach, David Knight, who, upon reading it, suggested I send it to a local paper as an open letter. My contact at the Austin American-Statesman indicated that they don’t publish open letters as a policy, but was interested in having me revise it into an Op-Ed format to be featured in Sunday’s paper. It was a Friday and over the course of 24 hours, I revised my story six times. Each time, the Statesman editor would send me thoughtful comments to help me understand the process. She was also very diligent about facts. Each line needed to be verifiable and if I couldn’t verify one, it would be omitted from the story. It was tedious work, but gave me an idea of the checks professional newsrooms go through before publishing an article. Now, as editor-in-chief, I continue to implement the same style of line-by-line diligence and thoughtful commentary, not only to ensure that The Shield is publishing its best possible stories but to ensure staffers feel proud of their stories as well.

Beautiful blue eyes

I wrote this column as part of the (virtual) Gloria Shields workshop in 2021. I was given the assignment to write about “a defining moment” while visiting my terminally ill grandpa in Florida. I didn’t need to look far for inspiration, and mostly wrote the piece to cope with the grief I was experiencing. My piece was so raw and personal, that I hadn’t even considered sharing it with others. However it had been well-received by my classmates at Gloria Shields so when Mr. Winter asked to share it on our news site, I agreed. A few months later I was at a performance theater rehearsal when a friend approached me backstage. Unprompted, she said “By the way, I really enjoyed your story about your grandfather. It was really moving and so relatable. I lost my grandpa recently too, so I really appreciated what you wrote.” In that moment, I truly learned the effect my words can have on others. Writing this piece taught me to hone in on my personal voice as an author to tell my own story, rather than just the stories of others. I truly understood how powerful writing – simply writing – can be. Re-reading the piece, I of course notice sentences I don’t love, but that was the raw state it was written in. And that was how it was meant to be. And really, I believe that is at least partially why it was so moving.

Recognitions: Second place – column SIPA Best Writing Competition (2022); Second place – personal column, ILPC (2022); Honorable mention – opinion story, NSPA Clips and Clicks (fall 2021)

Final thoughts

As a long-time theatre kid, I’ve always been drawn to interesting characters. As a journalist, I have the opportunity to continue that interest in every interview I conduct, because a reporter’s single most valuable tool is listening.  I don’t go looking for a quote. I am in search of the story. And I approach every person I interview as if they have a very important story to tell. I like to think this is why people open up to me and trust me to share their stories.

At the heart of every piece I write is the person that it is about. And at the end of the day, people want to read about people — their friends, teachers, community members. Just like the theatre kid inside of me, they want to be introduced to interesting characters.

Recognitions: First place Best of the Best print newspaper story portfolio at the 2023 TAJE spring convention; First place newsprint portfolio at the 2023 SIPA best writing competition; First place Best of the Best print newspaper story portfolio at the 2022 TAJE spring convention; Superior online newspaper story portfolio at the 2022 TAJE spring convention