Alumni journalists connect with Schreyer Scholars eyeing the field

Jeff Rice
October 08, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Steve Bien-Aimé can still recall writing a story as a Penn State student and excitedly putting it in front of his professor, John Curley.

Curley, the longtime USA Today editor who would go on to direct the Center of Sports Journalism at Penn State, didn’t mince words.

“He told me it was thorough, but unreadable,” Bien-Aimé said.

Bien-Aimé, now an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Northern Kentucky, was one of several Penn State graduates and Schreyer Honors College Scholar alumni who encouraged current Penn State students to seek out mentors who offer constructive criticism during a virtual panel session held by the Honors College on Sept. 30.

“You need to find people who are honest with you, who are invested in your success but who are willing to give you the honest feedback that you need to grow,” Bien-Aimé said.

Bien-Aimé and the event’s other alumni panelists — The (Delaware) News Journal investigative reporter Brittany Horn, Scholastic editorial director Kim Tranell, and Sports Illustrated football writer Jenny Vrentas — shared their experiences in various parts of the industry and answered questions from Schreyer Scholars about obtaining internships, specialized writing, and what drew them into journalism initially. It was part of a series the Honors College facilitates called “Connect Chats,” which invites current Scholars to engage with alumni panels from a variety of professions.

“It was cool to listen to their journeys and learning how they got to where they are,” said Ellen McIntyre, a first-year Scholar who plans to major in journalism.

All four panelists credited their time spent on the staff of the Daily Collegian with providing strong career foundations and urged students to find similar ways to get as much early experience as possible.

“Get your fundamentals down first,” said Bien-Aimé, who earned bachelor’s and graduate degrees from Penn State. “The tools will always change, but if you know the principles or the why behind how you use the tool, that’s going to help you.”

The panelists also discussed the technological changes and shifts in business models they have seen in the industry during the last several years.

“When I started it was more about page views, and how many people are seeing our stories,” said Horn, a 2014 graduate of the College of Communications. “Now we’re talking about how many people are paying to read our stories, how long they’re reading our stories, and it’s turned the focus from ‘How fast can we get something online?’ to ‘How long until we can produce a really good, quality piece that is going to move the bar and prove to readers not only why they need to read it, but why they should come back to us?’”

Horn advised students to write and learn about subjects and people they didn’t know, and to listen to podcasts to pick up tips on how to ask difficult questions. Tranell, a 2004 graduate of the College of Communications, advised them to gain experience in a variety of types of media and to not worry about what their first job is.

“I don’t think anyone is better at adapting to new career paths or new environments or new specializations than journalists,” Tranell said. “We are consumers of knowledge, we ask a million questions, we immerse ourselves in topics. Journalism puts you on a path to do so many different things you might not even realize.”

The alumni panelists also encouraged Scholars to consider the impact they might have on their communities as journalists.

“If you’re looking for a career where you feel like you have a responsibility and can contribute something to your community, journalism is a great path to that,” Vrentas said.

About the Schreyer Honors College

The Schreyer Honors College promotes academic excellence with integrity, the building of a global perspective, and creation of opportunities for leadership and civic engagement. Schreyer Honors Scholars total nearly 2,000 students at University Park and 20 Commonwealth Campuses and represent 38 states and 27 countries. More than 15,000 Scholars have graduated with honors from Penn State since 1980.

Last Updated October 09, 2020