For a group of School of Communication and Media students, faculty and staff, a March 2018 Spring Break trip to Puerto Rico was far from a sun-soaked island vacation. Instead, the students worked 10 to 14 hours a day, intently focused on documenting the island’s recovery from Hurricane Maria, which had ravaged the island six months earlier. At the time, the students hardly imagined that their project, TV special Montclair News Lab: Hurricane Recovery Mission to Puerto Rico, would be nationally recognized with a Television Academy Foundation 39th College Television Awards nomination for best in the News category.
Emulating the Television Academy Emmy® Awards, the College Television Awards are given for student-produced projects in eight categories: drama, comedy, animation, nonfiction, promotional, news, sports and variety. This year’s nominees were selected from more than 600 submissions from 174 colleges and universities. Student nominees for Montclair News Lab: Hurricane Recovery Mission to Puerto Rico – one of three News category contenders – include Mariano Arocho, Natalie De La Rosa, Laura Galarza, Babee Garcia, Madison Glassman, Genesis Obando and Madijuene Traore.
“This nomination affirms the high caliber of work done by our talented students and the amazing guidance our faculty and staff provide in helping students reach their highest potential,” says School of Communication and Media Director Keith Strudler. “It also enhances our growing national reputation as a place at the cutting edge of the communication and media fields.”
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When the seven students and School of Communication and Media professors Thomas Franklin, Steve McCarthy and David Sanders, and staff members Marie Sparks and Krystal Acosta arrived in Puerto Rico, they immediately realized that the island’s recovery from Maria was far from complete.
“We wanted to provide an opportunity for our students to have a journalistic experience in a place where a big, prolonged news event was occurring,” Franklin recalls. “Their work was outstanding. They did real reporting on an important issue at a timely point at the six-month anniversary of the storm.”
While Franklin says that the nomination reflects well on everybody involved in the project, he believes it is particularly important that the students see themselves as doing award-winning work. “Our hope is that our students produce work that is every bit as good as work being produced anywhere else in the country.”
Communication and Media Arts major Mariano Arocho was a producer, director and writer on the project. “This project was the most important thing I’ve done in my college career and, quite frankly, in my professional career,” he says. “Not only was the project personal for me as I’m Puerto Rican, but it was an honor to be given a chance to tell the stories of those who struggled during and after Maria.”
Arocho, who reports that he is planning to attend the awards ceremony in March in Los Angeles, takes pride not only in his own efforts but also those of the entire team. “The nomination goes to show that hard work will continue to get recognition,” he says.
“This project is what happens when you combine committed and experienced faculty and staff, students with drive and passion, and a school that allows great work to flourish on multiple platforms,” says School of Communication and Media Clinical Specialist Mark Effron, who oversaw student production efforts in the Montclair News Lab. “From the journalism in the field to the production in the studio and control room, Hurricane Recovery Mission to Puerto Rico is a tangible example of how collaboration and innovation at the School is the key to great production.”