Personal update: I am a White House Correspondents’ Scholar!

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Hi, everyone! I am incredibly excited to announce that I have been selected as a White House Correspondents’ Scholar. I will be awarded a scholarship in addition to attending the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in the last week of April. Read more about the White House Correspondents’ Association here.

Below, I am attaching my essay for the scholars program about the relationship between democracy and the press. Thank you for your support!

I cried the first time I visited the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

I stood in awe beneath the towering building, eyes hungrily devouring the words the basis of my career revolves on: “freedom of the press.” I’ve read those words over and over — and I even have them tattooed on my forearm alongside a newspaper — but there was something about seeing the First Amendment etched into stone in the most important city in the free world that made me tear up with pride. It seems fitting: the foreground to a picturesque backdrop of the Capitol building, where the highest elected officials in the country gather to make decisions that will influence everyone in the nation.

This prompt was one that could be easy for me to delve into a long-winded rant about the beauty of democracy and its relationship with the press. But the fact is: democracy is messy. Putting citizens in charge of governing themselves is a daunting task, especially when some officials seem to have their own agendas and motivations. It’s our job as the press to not only show shining moments in American history, but to show the side of our country that falls short.

When I interned in Asia, I read “I Am Malala.” I was shocked by the story of a teenage Pakistani girl shot in the head for publishing autobiographical works detailing the brutality of the Taliban for the United Nations. But in all actuality, the rest of the Western world might not be as progressive as we think. While studying language and media in France, I found that although the democratic system found in Europe was more allowing of free expression, there were still heavy restrictions on rights we would find in the United States. French Muslim women are not allowed to wear burkas in public. It is illegal in 16 European countries to deny the Holocaust ever happens (which as terrible as it may sound that I’m advocating for that, limiting any speech or thoughts, so long as it is not directly violent and hateful, threatens all speech).

“Freedom of speech doesn’t exist in France the way it does back home for you,” my professor, a Moroccan journalist jailed for writing pieces that disrespected the monarch, told us in class.

It’s true that our country is different. “Freedom of the press” are some of the first words our Founding Fathers penned into the documents that define the fabric of our democracy. Along with that right comes incredible responsibility and a duty to inform the public freely and honestly without external motivation and fear of government retaliation.

The press is a direct reflection of health and livelihood of a working democracy. Where journalism falls short, as does democracy and vice versa. History is chock-full of authoritarian rulers who recognize the danger of the press to their questionable or unethical leadership tactics, which is why they often defame journalists in the harshest ways. Stalin once called newspaper the “enemy of the people” — a term the current U.S. president has used on many occasions. Journalists recognize the danger that language poses: I was so proud when 350 newspapers nationwide banded together to push back on Trump’s war on the media. It takes bravery to publish the truth, even when public opinion or leaders are adamantly against us.

It takes courageous reporters like Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein who are willing to face public ridicule and government pressure to uncover major corruption in the most powerful office in the country. It takes emboldened editors like Ben Bradlee to make the decision to publish the tumultuous findings of the Pentagon Papers. It takes opinion writers like Nicholas Kristof to take us on a journey to far-away places to discuss humanitarian atrocities and foreign policy.

Since the existence of power dynamics, so existed the potential for corrupt leaders to manipulate, misinform and instill fear in their constituents. While power grabs seem to be a part of human nature, fortunately, so is curiosity. I’ve dedicated my life to that curiosity and craft. I proudly announce to the world that I am a reporter: someone who is willing to face public ridicule from even some of the most powerful people in our country to serve the citizen and unveil the truth.

Now more than ever, when misinformation and “fake news” clouds social media and the mouths of politicians, our work is crucial to an informed public and a working democracy. I want to be a guiding light of truth through my work with real and genuine news. I’ve studied foreign policy and language in Asia and Europe. I’ve worked in the state’s capital covering news for The Columbus Dispatch. Now I’m eager for the opportunity to go to our nation’s pulse, where the country’s most influential political reporters gather.

Thank you for your consideration.

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Developmental Disabilities Fest celebrates tech

Smile!

Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month continued this week with a festival celebrating community members and resources available for individuals with disabilities.

The event celebrated its “biggest and best” festival in 15 years on Tuesday at the Athens Community Center, said Athens County Board of Developmental Disabilities Supt. Kevin Davis. About 45 organizations set up tables to showcase various services.

This year’s theme was technology, with organizations featuring a wide variety of technological advancements made to help individuals with developmental disabilities live independently, such as in-home security cameras.

Other organizations educated the general public about their services, such as transportation services, the Athens Public Library and various health centers.

“It’s good to raise awareness for people in the community — especially those with disabilities — about all the wonderful services these agencies have to support them,” Davis said.

The event spanned two hours and included a performance from the Athens County Community Singers — a nonprofit choral group for all people with and without disabilities which is led by director Stephanie Morris.

“I love getting to perform and showcase all the hard work these folks practice every week,” Morris said. “I love celebrating and supporting everyone in our community at this event.”

Tuesday’s festivities were part of a series hosted by ACBDD to recognize March as Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month. The theme this month is “Integrate Athens,” meant to be a reference to ACBDD’s new Office of Integrate Athens located at 9033 Lavelle Road. An open house at that office is planned for Tuesday, April 2, from 3-5 p.m.

“Athens is a leader in Southeast Ohio as a progressive, integrated and inclusive city,” Davis said. “I’m happy to be a part of that and highlight the agencies that make it all possible.”

Originally published on A1 of The Athens Messenger on March 21, 2019.

Local author shares Disney World expertise in new book

An Athens resident is hoping to bring some guidance to the “fanciful” — and often “overwhelming” — world of Disney theme parks in her new book.

Sarah Hina, a tried-and-true Walt Disney World fanatic and author of two novels, used her understanding of the literary industry with a topic she’s passionate about in her new book, “Walt Disney World Step by Step 2019: A Common-Sense Planning Guide.”

Her family has visited Disney World in Orlando annually for more than a decade, giving her a plethora of knowledge on the parks and how to plan a trip to what is known as the “happiest place on Earth.” After giving tips to family members and friends about saving money and time at Disney World, Hina decided to share her knowledge with a wider audience.

Hina’s expertise landed her a gig with Mickey Travels, a Disney vacation planning agency. As a travel agent, she is responsible for scheduling a family’s visit, ordering “FastPasses” (for quicker ride waits) and setting up dining reservations.

“The place is absolutely massive,” the 47-year-old mother of two said. “The first time we went it was so overwhelming, but if you’re familiar, you can have an amazing vacation. If you walk in there and expect to eat where you want and ride where you want, you’re going to be disappointed if you don’t plan.”

Disney World is divided into four parks: Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom and Epcot. Each offer unique attractions including rides, character visits and dining facilities. Between all the FastPass ride schedules, castle dinner reservations and more, Hina hopes to bring clarity to a planning process that can take months for some families.

“Disney has done a great job of branding their parks as the quintessential American family vacation,” she said. “Because of that, many people want to go so you’ve got to understand how it works.”

As a biology graduate from Case Western University, Hina said she never envisioned such a unique career change. Now an expert of all things Disney World, Hina described being encouraged by her publisher to write a yearly edition of the guide.

“People love being immersed in that Disney bubble and escaping reality,” she said. “I never expected to turn it into a career. I genuinely enjoy seeing other families experience the kind of happiness and togetherness we’ve experienced.”

Originally published on A1 of The Athens Messenger on Feb. 10, 2019.

Local kids ‘Shop With a Cop’

A third-grade elementary student spent an afternoon shopping for Christmas toys with State Patrolman Zack Tackett. (Photo by Abbey Marshall)

In the face of tough circumstances, Jennifer Peterson feared that her children might not have the Christmas she wished for them this year.

Delivering that sad news broke her heart, but after her husband lost his job she felt like they had no other options to afford Christmas presents.

That’s when she received a call that was her saving grace. Peterson was informed last week that her two children were selected by the Athens City School District as participants in this year’s “Shop with a Cop.”

Fifty children in the Athens City School system and about 40 law enforcement officers and firefighters from neighboring areas gathered at Walmart on Sunday afternoon for the annual event. Each child was given a $100 gift card, funded jointly by the Walmart Foundation as well as Athens Police Department.

Jennifer Peterson’s 8-year-old daughter milled through the toy aisles, eyes dancing between Barbie displays and Hatchimals tucked into their packaging. The third-grader was paired with a state highway patrolman. She weaved between shopping carts and other children, decisively pulling items from the shelf that she wanted.

“I’m done,” she told Trooper Zack Tackett after a short bit. “I don’t really want a lot of things. I want to get some stuff for my mom.”

She did just that, spending the remainder of her stipend on gifts for her mom. When they approached the cash register, though, the items went over the allotted $100. Tackett pulled out his own wallet to pay for the extra amount.

“This was my first time doing this,” Tackett said. “I just thought it’d be good to help out some kids, and it was really fun.”

Following their shopping spree, kids hopped into firetrucks and police cruisers and rode down State Street — lights blaring and sirens flashing — to the Athens Community Center. Pizza, snacks and a visit from Santa Claus awaited them.

“It’s great the kids have the opportunity to not only get toys for the holidays, but spend time individually with officers,” said retired APD Capt. Dave Williams, a reserve officer who helps organize the Shop With a Cop event. “They see that we are here to help, and they shouldn’t be frightened of us.”

The annual event is held each year in memory of Steve Kazee, a Walmart loss prevention officer who died in 2013. His family carried on his legacy of Christmas charity toward children, and they even helped raise some of the funds towards the kids’ toys.

The first year benefited 18 children and has grown significantly in the years since. The goal for 2019 is to give this opportunity to 100 local kids, said Athens Walmart Manager Keith Adams.

“We want the officers to know they are our Christmas heroes,” Peterson said. “This means so much to us.”

Children also learned the lesson that giving is a two-way street. As Peterson’s daughter approached Trooper Tackett on Sunday afternoon, the young girl handed him an ornament. It was tucked into a small stocking she and her mom had made for him.

“Thank you so much,” he replied, kneeling down to shake her hand.

Originally appeared on A1 of The Athens Messenger on Dec. 12, 2018.

I tried OU’s narcan simulator and learned how to save a life

In a span of eight minutes, I learned how to save a life — and you can too.

All it took was completing an overdose simulation in Ohio University’s GRID lab. By wearing oculus lenses which display 360-video, I felt all the emotions of anxiety and fear as simulated students searched frantically for Narcan to revive their friend.

The immersive virtual reality video was created by professionals in OU’s College of Health Sciences and Professions in tandem with faculty and students in the Scripps College of Communication.

Users put on oculus lenses and are immediately thrown into a situation that assistant professor of nursing Sherleena Buchman said is unfortunately all too familiar: a person (in this case, a student) is seen slumped over a chair with a needle in their arm.

In the simulation, two of the student’s friends enter the dorm room and begin panicking. They search the room for any sort of anecdote and calling 9-1-1. The students hesitate at first to call the police, worried about getting in trouble, but the operator ends up giving detailed instructions on how to administer a life-saving drug: narcan.

Narcan is a nasal spray used in to treat emergency cases of opioid overdose.

The video was shot on an Insta360 Pro, allowing users to move their body and physically change their point of view in the room. The audio in the headset also shifts when the viewer moves to take in various parts of the scene: the students tear their friend’s room apart and bystanders watching from behind their phone screens.

“It’s one of those things you can watch multiple times because there’s so much happening at once in all directions,” said Jacob Hagman, a faculty member in the nursing school who also played the overdosed student in the pilot. “There’s so many high intensity moments since it’s so immersive.”

The goal, Buchman said, is to give non-health professionals instruction on how to save a life. In the past few years working in an emergency room, she said she has seen a significant increase of people bringing in overdosed friends or family members.

“It’s so easy, and I want to stress how easy it is for anyone to do,” she said. “If those people knew how to do this, maybe that person would’ve had another chance at life.”

The simulation ends with a detailed, close-up video on a nurse’s hands preparing and administering the life-saving drug.

There was no cost associated with the project, said media professor Eric Williams, because the Game Research and Immersive Design (GRID) Lab had access to all the resources — the 360 degree camera and editing software — accessible from a previous grant.

Under William’s tutelage, around six students were involved over the summer as editors and producers.

The pilot project is currently being re-shot with new actors and is slated to be completed in December. Faculty plan to make 16 mobile viewing stations available in various places across the community, such as the Athens City-County Health Department.

Eventually, Buchman said they plan to upload the video to YouTube and make it accessible for people across the country to use with their own VR viewing lenses.

“Anybody can administer narcan, you don’t have to be a nurse or a medical professional,” Buchman said. “Prevention and great and we want to get there, but the end ultimately is to save a life.”

Originally published on A1 of The Athens Messenger on Nov. 23, 2018.