You could say that Ball State University student Meghan Sawitzke hit the journalism jackpot when she became one of only 19 people nationwide selected this year to be in the New York Times Corps—a talent-pipeline mentorship program for college students who aspire to become journalists.
But it was her skill—not the luck of a lottery draw—that landed her a spot in this elite, multi-year program.
Each student in this program is paired with a New York Times journalist who mentors and offers career-building guidance and insight throughout the student’s undergraduate years. The Times Corps experience also includes occasional speakers and training sessions. Ms. Sawitzke, a sophomore in Ball State’s College of Communication, Information, and Media and an award-winning reporter with The Ball State Daily News, and the rest of this year’s cohort join the 16 students selected for the program’s inaugural cohort last year.
Getting picked for this special opportunity almost left Ms. Sawitzke, a skilled wordsmith, speechless.
“I don’t know if I could put into words how thankful I am that they are taking this chance on me, helping me grow, improve, and be the journalist that I feel I am meant to be,” she said. “I truly love being able to tell other peoples’ stories, and give people a voice and a platform to share their experiences. I’m very passionate about writing and journalism, and I’ve known from the start that this is what I want to do.”
Courage in her Writing
The motivation and drive Ms. Sawitzke expressed could be good indicators of her future success in this industry, said her mentor, New York Times journalist Ben Mullin.
“You obviously can’t break news or identify an emerging trend or figure out what’s important to society if you’re not willing to, first of all, admit what you don’t know; and second of all, talk to people who might have that knowledge and who maybe aren’t already being listened to,” Mr. Mullin added. “So it sounds like she’s already doing the blocking and tackling of journalism.”
Among the voices Ms. Sawitzke let speak through her writing were those of family and friends of Alyssa Pinardo, an 18-year-old Ohio woman whose boyfriend fatally shot her in May 2022—days before her high school graduation. A jury convicted Ms. Pinardo’s boyfriend, Logan Robertson, 19, of murder about a year later.
Ms. Sawitzke, a friend of Ms. Pinardo’s, penned a newspaper column about the fatal shooting to shine a light on the issues of gun violence and domestic violence. Her column, “Guns Drawn in Spite of Tragedy: Society Falls into Complacency Until it Happens Again,” was published in The Ball State Daily News and is available online.
By writing this column, Ms. Sawitzke displayed one of life’s unteachable virtues: courage. Mr. Mullin agrees.
“It’s a really brave thing to write about something so personal,” he explained. “And I think one of the most important characteristics a journalist can have is courage because everything else in this business comes from that. Courage to put yourself out there, to apply for a job, to make a dozen phone calls every day, to pitch an article. So, I think the bravery that she showed in writing about this personal experience will serve her really well during her career.”
For her work on this column, Ms. Sawitzke earned a third-place individual award in the Associated Collegiate Press’ Story of the Year competition. The win was announced Oct. 30, 2023.
Her Leap of Faith
Even with the courage to help others, it can be challenging to be bold and take chances in our own lives. Encouragement from trusted individuals whose opinions we value can help bridge the chasm between risk-taking and what awaits on the other side of a leap of faith.
Ms. Sawitzke said she was a bit unsure about applying for The Times Corps. But Lisa Renze-Rhodes director of Ball State’s Unified Media Lab and adviser of The Ball State Daily News, encouraged her to go for it.
“Meghan came into the Unified Media Lab as a freshman ready to work, and she has maintained that interest and commitment,” Ms. Renze-Rhodes said. “She brings a great attitude and energy to her work, is immensely coachable, and isn’t afraid of a challenge. She’s a great addition to the New York Times Corps team, and I’m so excited for her to have this opportunity.”
Ms. Sawitzke expressed her gratitude to Ms. Renze-Rhodes for encouraging her to apply, adding that she appreciates what Ball State offers her as she pursues her journalism dream. It was a bit of a leap of faith to attend a university that is a few hours’ drive from her northern Ohio hometown, and it paid off, she said.
“The opportunity that I’ve been given and the people I’ve met at Ball State—I don’t know that I would have gotten this anywhere else,” Ms. Sawitzke added. “I absolutely love Ball State, this community, and the people here.”
Life includes plenty of opportunities that require leaps of faith, like going to college in another state or applying for an elite career-development program as a student. Alongside the reward of success are risks such as rejection or failure.
But Ms. Sawitzke knows that one of the benefits of taking leaps of faith is not just the potential of reaping the reward that awaits on the other side; it’s the jump—and summoning the courage to do it.
“Taking a leap of faith is worth it, even if it doesn’t work out in the end, because you took the chance and went after what you wanted,” she said.