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College of Media students, faculty win national awards

journalism students conducting an interview

West Virginia University Reed College of Media students and faculty were recognized in two national competitions this month.

EcoCAR Mobility Challenge awards

During a virtual ceremony for the national EcoCar Mobility Challenge awards, Haleigh Fields (BSJ, 2018; M.S. IMC, 2020) swept both communications categories, winning the award for Best Social Media Report and the Spirit of Communications award.  

For the past two years, Fields has acted as the communications manager for the WVU EcoCar Team. WVU is one of 12 universities selected across North America for the Challenge, an engineering competition managed by Argonne National Laboratory and sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, General Motors and Mathworks.

“Haleigh just doesn’t settle for good enough,” said Teaching Associate Professor Cathy Mezera, Fields’ EcoCar academic advisor. “She realizes that learning is a life-long opportunity. She embraces opportunities to grow. She embraces the opportunity for feedback to consistently improve. She is both a leader and role model, as well as a contributing team member.”

As communications manager, Fields was responsible for all internal and external communications for WVU EcoCAR, including running the social media channels, writing press releases, organizing and conducting outreach, and representing the team in media interviews.

“The best part of finding out I had won the Spirit of Communications award was hearing the excitement of my team members who were cheering me on when we watched the awards together through a Zoom call,” said Fields. “I had an amazing support system working with the EcoCAR team, and without their recommendations and nominations, I never would have received the award in the first place. I am incredibly thankful for my time on the team.” 

Other competing schools included Ohio State, Virginia Tech, University of Alabama, University of Tennessee, University of Washington, Mississippi State and Georgia Tech, among others. The EcoCAR Mobility Challenge continues for two more years. To follow the team, go to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Women Beyond Bars recognized by AEJMC

College of Media faculty and students involved in Women Beyond Bars, a journalism and advocacy project, won third place in the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication’s Best of the Web/Best of Digital competition for the project’s website. The annual competition recognizes excellence in web and app design and is judged by industry professionals.

In 2018, the College of Media partnered with the University of Oklahoma’s Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication to address the record-breaking women’s incarceration rates in the two states. The programs received a $170,000 grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation to engage students across disciplines in a two-year effort to document the problem of women’s incarceration, offer evidence-based solutions and create awareness that could lead to changes in policy and practice.

At WVU, Women Beyond Bars was led by Geah Pressgrove, associate professor and advertising and public relations program chair, and Mary Kay McFarland, teaching associate professor. Advertising and public relations students engaged politicians and policy makers, scholars, activists and community leaders to develop messaging and campaigns aimed at raising public awareness and advocating for change. 

Journalism students have interviewed and documented the lives of formerly incarcerated women from all over the state of West Virginia and their families. The students worked with McFarland to produce multimedia stories about the state's incarceration infrastructure, the women's experiences in prisons and jails, their struggles to rejoin their communities after incarceration, and diversionary programs designed to decrease the incarcerated population that were shared via the website at https://www.womenbeyondbars.com/.

 The benefit of a project like this one is the opportunity it gives students to produce real journalism and experience the difficulties of reporting on sensitive subjects where access to information is often a challenge,” said McFarland. For most students working on this project, the experience expanded their worldviews and put them in a position to help the larger community hear about the lives of a marginalized segment of its members."