Why did you decide to earn a degree at Harvard Extension?

I had always dreamed of someday going to graduate school, but my career as a reporter started by chance when I was living in Israel while finishing college. Before I knew it, it had been 15 years jumping from story to story, going around the world, all while balancing this with being a working parent. But I had also hit a weird mid-career slump and things were changing in the profession and I was looking for a program where I could really quench my thirst for knowledge of new things but didn’t displace my family across the country.

To boot, I know this sounds heretical, but as a working reporter, I don’t believe in J-School. While graduate journalism programs are at the cutting edge of technology and formats, I think there’s no better training for the journalistic craft than a newsroom. I’m a firm believer that when you do pursue a graduate degree, it should expand your knowledge base and critical thinking skills, and give you the ability to evaluate stories and concepts through new frameworks.

When I stumbled onto the ALM in journalism that would allow me to venture off into the social sciences and arts while completing some required courses, receive a world-class education and not have to move? I was sold. 

How has/will your HES experience help you in your career or personal development?

All of my journalism courses were led by a talented roster of award-winning  journalists who pushed me most of the time harder than my own editors! 

I also was recruited by USA Today about seven months into the program to start as a national correspondent on the enterprise team covering housing inequities and social services—a completely new beat for me. The stakes were high. Fortunately, I was able to take courses like social medicine and urban policy typically offered at Harvard Medical School and the Kennedy School, which brought me up to speed on all of the key issues on my beat within a few months. 

Last summer, I was able to structure a data internship because I wanted to learn how to do some analysis on my own to sharpen my investigative skills. What I learned about how to order data sets, ask questions, and perform some simple calculations was essential to me delivering a groundbreaking story about Black women disproportionately affected by eviction six months later.

How did you manage to balance your studies with work and family responsibilities? 

A day at a time. Sure, doing my homework during my kid’s football practice while using my phone as a hotspot was quite the sight at the park! First and foremost, I could not have done this without the support of both my kid and my partner who were incredibly understanding and picked up any extra slack so that I could study. They cheered me on and they constantly told me how proud they were. 

I’m also blessed with a small circle that supported me throughout: one person religiously sent me dinner via UberEats every week when I had class so that I didn’t have to worry about figuring out what to eat. I had another colleague and friend who was in the same program and having her lead the way in the newsroom and classroom made all the difference in the world.

This past year, I also had a lot of support from my editors at USA Today who made my degree a priority and understood the value added to the newsroom in me pursuing this degree. My professors were very invested in my success with the academic rigor they demanded, but also had a lot of craft in helping me balance competing demands. 

Time management was really important, but so was flexibility. I started out with the goal of taking two courses per semester and one in the summer. I was able to do it, but I also promised myself that if I needed to take only one course or take a semester off, that was OK. The pace was always up for negotiation. Lots of things happened after I started at HES; the COVID-19 outbreak, my kid had to go to school online, job changes, etc. The great news is that unlike other programs out there, Harvard is really developed for people like me who have very full adult lives and need these safeguards in place to complete a degree program.

Do you have a favorite class or faculty member? 

Why? This isn’t fair! I absolutely loved all of my classes at Harvard. All of them served to expand my knowledge base and contribute to enriching my thinking, practice and ethics around journalism.

I have to say that June Erlick, my advisor, was such a dedicated educator and editor who helped sharpen my voice and was the most invested in my success. She taught a Latin American journalism course that married my journey with my interest in some of the most groundbreaking work in the region.

In terms of writing and personal fulfillment, Alicia Anstead in feature writing class and Patrick MacDonald’s storytelling and restorative justice class were the most personally transformative—I  found my writer’s voice there and the courage to use it and defend it in the newsroom.

What types of student resources and special options did you take advantage of as a student at Harvard? How did they help?

Definitely the availability and variety of classes offered. Hollis was my best friend. But the best part was actually my classmates. Everyone is such an incredibly smart and dedicated student that in each course we would create study groups, share notes and review material. Academically speaking, it’s been my most robust experience in terms of the caliber of the content and the student body.

Do you have any advice for new students?

Stick with it. Enjoy what you discover. Use what you learn to give back. A Harvard education is a privilege and with it comes responsibility. 

Describe your Extension School experience in one word.