Read all about it: Journalism fellowships awarded to Rice seniors

No journalism program is no problem for these Owls

Of the 604 students who applied this year for a prestigious Scripps Howard Fellowship, a paid position for aspiring journalists, eight finalists were invited to a dinner in Washington, D.C. And of those eight students, Hanszen College senior Nick McMillan was the only one who’d never taken a single journalism class in his life.

Nick McMillan, Elizabeth Myong and Eric Stone (Photos by Katharine Shilcutt)

Nick McMillan, Elizabeth Myong and Eric Stone (Photos by Katharine Shilcutt)

“How can I compete with all these people?” McMillan recalled thinking of the group, which included six graduate students finishing their master’s degrees in the field. “But when I got the fellowship I realized, OK, you can make it by just showing your passion for public service and for storytelling and for the truth.”

In spite of the fact that Rice doesn’t offer a journalism degree, McMillan is one of three seniors graduating this year with bright prospects ahead in journalism. Wiess College senior Eric Stone is currently producing segments at Houston’s NPR affiliate, KUHF, as an intern. And McMillan’s fellow Hanszenite Elizabeth Myong won a coveted CNBC Newsroom Fellowship, a paid position that will take her to New York for six months after graduation.

All three have worked for the Thresher, Rice’s award-winning student-run newspaper. McMillan, a videographer who’ll be working with Newsy through his fellowship, is now helping the Thresher launch a video department during his final year. Myong, who knew from a young age that she wanted to pursue a job in journalism, started writing for the paper in her freshman year.

Stone, who’s taken perhaps the most non-traditional approach of the three Thresher writers, recently penned a widely read op-ed headlined “Dropping out of Rice was the best decision I’ve ever made.” The article chronicled his decision to leave the university at the end of his sophomore year before returning three years later to pursue journalism — a track that, like Myong, he was aware the university didn’t offer.

Despite this, he said, he knew Rice was the right place to complete his degree in political science, which will enable him to pursue a career as a local government reporter for public radio.

“For us to have a functioning democracy, we have to have an informed people,” Stone said.

“Throughout my life, I’ve always had a really deep commitment to public service and I see journalism as a public service — that guided my journey to it,” Stone said. “Journalism is about informing the people.”

Myong, who wants to cover national politics in print journalism, agreed. She said she realized early in her Rice career that her academic focus was only part of the path.

“Journalism isn’t about sitting in a classroom, it’s about engaging with people and being able to have a connection,” said Myong, who’s double-majoring in English and political science. “And I think, regardless of not having a journalism program, there are great professors here and great people who push you to pursue your passions.”

Friends since they became O-Week “siblings” in 2015, Myong and McMillan received plenty of support from other students, their families and their professors, but they’ve also pushed each other every step of the way.

“We’ve gone through the strugs together,” Myong laughed.

When McMillan told Myong during their senior year he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his statistics degree after graduation, Myong told him two things: First, he needed to pursue journalism. And second: “We’re going to sit down and apply for fellowships every weekend.”

Myong recognized that McMillan’s stats background along with his proficiency in videography would set him apart from other aspiring journalists, and she was right.

“All credit to Liz in terms of finding the Scripps Howard Fellowship,” McMillan said.

“Honestly, it would kill me to see someone like Nick work in an office,” Myong said in response. “He has all the skills and capabilities to be an amazing journalist.”

Stone is producing segments for KUHF as an intern; Myong is headed to New York with a CNBC Fellowship; and McMillan is the recipient of a Scripps-Howard Fellowship.

Stone is producing segments for KUHF as an intern; Myong is headed to New York with a CNBC Fellowship; and McMillan is the recipient of a Scripps-Howard Fellowship.

McMillan has been making videos since he was a child, camera constantly in hand. At Rice, he quickly developed a reputation as the go-to guy for shooting cultural events such as Africaye or Lunar New Year. Meanwhile, he also developed his own interest in documentary and news videography.

“The fact that Rice is such a small community allowed me to tell stories that people would share and that would resonate with them,” McMillan said. “And that gave me the courage and the feedback that people could relate to those stories and wanted to see them.”

He also found that his interest in statistics could be folded into his growing passion for journalism.

“When I came to Rice I found that statistics was another way to tell a story in a numerical way,” McMillan said. “I think that’s very important now in today’s age and with politics, how to determine what is a fact and what isn’t.”

Myong is headed for her CNBC fellowship with dozens of clips under her belt. She started early, writing op-eds for her hometown newspaper, The Dallas Morning News, as a high school student. This experience sparked a love of journalism that she pursued with the dogged passion of a good reporter. She pitched local city magazine Houstonia and, after blogging for it for nearly a year, parlayed that experience into writing gigs for the Houston Chronicle and other papers. Two summers ago, she interned with Dallas NPR affiliate KERA, covering events such as the Dallas police shooting.

“I had to push for a lot of it,” Myong said of the assignments she got. Through these experiences and promoting her work on social media sites such as Twitter, she’s formed relationships with other journalists, both established and up-and-coming — and she’s observed that she, McMillan and Stone aren’t alone in their non-traditional paths into the field.

“I’ve noticed this new trend in journalism where people get degrees in something they’re passionate about or want to fully understand and then use that to do journalism,” Myong said. “And I think that’s wonderful.”

Stone agreed.

“David Kestenbaum is one of my favorite reporters,” Stone said, referring to the longtime NPR reporter. “He has a Ph.D. in physics and reports on economics.”

The same could be said for any number of Rice alumni who have gone on to successful careers in journalism: Texas Monthly legends Bill Broyles and Paul Burka, who both graduated with history degrees; Think Progress reporter Casey Michel, who double-majored in English and sports management; investigative journalist Lamar White, who double-majored in English and religious studies; science writer Zack Kopplin, who also earned a history degree; Houston Chronicle editor Lisa Gray, who majored in English; award-winning Chronicle food critic Alison Cook, who studied art history; and Pulitzer Prize finalist Evan Mintz, another history major.

“You can study anything and be a journalist,” Stone said.

About Katharine Shilcutt

Katharine Shilcutt is a media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.