When I started the Bush Fellowship in July 2016, I had a simple plan. I wanted to advance my journalism education at one of the best journalism schools in the country. It was the perfect time in my career to seek that education. I worked as a reporter for Minnesota Public Radio for a couple of years, and I knew I wanted to enhance my reporting so I could be an effective leader in my profession. I quit my job at MPR in June and prepared for my Fellowship journey, eager to learn and challenge myself.
I had spent the entirety of the Fellowship at Columbia Journalism School, where I was admitted into the master’s program in investigative reporting track. As someone who’s interested in exposing systemic failures and wrongdoing and journalism that shines a light on issues that go unnoticed or unreported, it was the perfect program.
The Fellowship had taken me to places I had never imagined I would go, like when I went to Kenya in December to do on-the-ground reporting for my master’s thesis. During the fall semester, while conducting a research for the thesis, I stumbled on a secretive counterterrorism program in Kenya run by the U.S. government. I was intrigued. I wanted to know what the aim of the program was, how much money the government had spent on it, and the effectiveness of the program. I started calling counterterrorism experts and submitting Freedom of Information requests on the program. At the end, I traveled to Kenya in December to talk to a top U.S. official who oversaw the program. I also met clerics and organizations that received grants from the U.S. government. The best part of the reporting was when I reconnected with one my best friends I hadn’t seen in more than a decade who cheerfully serving as unpaid guide and translator.
The Kenya reporting trip was by far the most exciting Fellowship experience. The result was an in-depth article that was published on BuzzFeed News in May, just a few days before graduation.
As soon as I graduated from the master’s program, I enrolled in the Lede Program at Columbia, a 14-week data-driven summer bootcamp where I deepened my understanding of how to use data, design and coding and ways to finding insights, patterns, trends, outliers and comparisons. I know that having a good grasp of computational journalism could help me in my storytelling, especially in processing or visualizing large information of data in a compelling way.
With Columbia behind me, I hope to someday revive an online news outlet that I created a couple of years ago that would hopefully offer news, information, and events for immigrant communities in Minnesota. I am drafting a proposal that I will show to potential donors and foundations. I think it’s imperative to have an alternative news outlet in Minnesota that caters to underserved communities in our state. There’s currently a void when it comes to daily news and information on issues impacting immigrant communities and I hope to fill this gap using my new skills, knowledge and connections.
As I reflect on this journey, I cannot believe the connections I have made over the past 15 months. I’ve been invited to speak to classes, editors, newsroom leaders, reporters, officials and prospective future Bush Fellows. It’s not uncommon to meet people who recognize me as a Bush Fellow and who are eager to learn more about the application process.
I am grateful for these opportunities and the world-class education I obtained from Columbia, all made possible by the Bush Foundation. I’m finishing my Fellowship while on a reporting trip to Wisconsin to investigate hate crimes and hate groups for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. I will return to Minnesota in early November, feeling inspired and more determined than ever before to do journalism. The Bush Fellowship has indeed changed my life.