By Emma Patton, ’17
Junior Alyssa Sperrazza has long been known for her work ethic around the OBU campus. Now, the interdisciplinary major with an emphasis on news and information, cross-cultural studies and political science is channeling her ambition into an internship at the World Journalism Institute (WJI) in North Carolina, running from May 14-27.
“It's two weeks of intense work, consisting of sometimes 14 hour days,” Sperrazza said. “It's definitely not a vacation. We'll be working on writing, editing, interviewing, finding sources, reporting, video production, radio work and much more.”
While Sperrazza’s time at the WJI was short, the application process was not.
“It was a long process, submitting portfolio work, writing pieces specifically for them, and just proving that I'd be ready and willing to put the work in that they require and expect from all the students attending,” she said.
Sperrazza’s academic experience on Bison Hill was a crucial part of her preparation for the WJI internship.
“The classes I've taken allowed me to build a portfolio that I don't think I could have built anywhere else,” she said. “A huge perk of studying journalism at OBU is that I didn't have to wait until my junior year to start taking on bigger tasks. At some larger universities, you don't get to be an editor until you're a junior, and you don't get to anchor on the news show until you're an upperclassmen. I don't know if I would have been able to come into WJI remotely comfortable if I didn’t have all the opportunities that OBU has given me.”
In addition to her class work, Sperrazza has assumed countless positions for The Bison, including copy editor, chief photographer and news editor. She is also the director of communications for OBU’s Mortar Board – the National College Senior Honors Society – and is a member and former producer of the student broadcast program Shawnee News 30.
The goal of the WJI internship is to equip young journalists to be better reporters while maintaining their faith, Sperrazza said. She hopes to return not only a better writer, but also a stronger follower of Christ.
“It's easy to get caught up in a story or let your work consume you,” she said. “It's easy to become addicted to meeting powerful, important people, [and] forget why you're there. The purpose of journalists is to check the powerful and be a voice for the voiceless. Maintaining your grounding in your faith and remembering that all you do, you do as an image bearer of Christ... that's a good way to keep you grounded.”
Interns at the WJI get the chance to work with veteran reporters and expert war correspondents, many of whom have been in the business for more than a decade. Sperrazza’s experience is no exception.
“My main instruction and critique will be coming from Edward Lee Pitts. He has covered Washington, D.C., for the past 10 years and was embedded in Iraq in 2004,” she said. “I will also be instructed by the associate editor of The Indianapolis Star, Russ Pulliam.”
Holly Easttom, assistant professor of journalism and publication supervisor, has critiqued Sperrazza’s work for years. Easttom said she looks forward to seeing what the future will hold for a hard-working reporter like Sperrazza.
“Alyssa is such a multifaceted student,” she said. “I've watched her grow as a student and journalist as she consistently seeks new experiences for her craft. I am so delighted by the young professional she's become, and I can’t wait to see where this journey leads next.”
Sperrazza plans to fulfill Easttom’s hopes for her. For Sperrazza, the WJI internship is just the beginning of a bright journalism career.
“Studying politics and cross-cultural studies, I really want to cover politics and do international correspondence,” she said. “I figure now is as good a time as ever to go to places that I may not be able to go in the future.”
Sperrazza would like to write for a print publication after graduating in December. Though difficult at times, she believes advocating for the voiceless through journalism is worth every late night and every crumpled draft.“Journalism is not easy,” she said. “In fact, it can be really, really hard. But it can also be the most rewarding work.”