Institute teaches high school students the importance of diversity in jorunalism

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The Oklahoma Institute for Diversity in Journalism brings a wide variety of high school students together to explore careers through support from the Inasmuch Foundation and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

The Oklahoma Institute for Diversity in Journalism brings a wide variety of high school students together to explore careers through support from the Inasmuch Foundation and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

An annual workshop that exposes high school students to careers in journalism and life on a college campus was a pivotal point for 2020 University of Oklahoma graduate Janki Patel.

“The camp changed my entire life,” said Patel, a first-generation college student who attended the Oklahoma Institute for Diversity in Journalism in 2015. “I just fell in love with journalism. I knew I had to be in this career.”

After graduating from Westmoore High School, Patel followed her heart and entered OU’s Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication. Each summer she returned to OIDJ as a student leader.

Workshop participants get to explore each of OU’s journalism majors and put into practice what they learn. Patel decided to major in public relations because “I always wanted to fix problems and help people.”

A planned post-graduation summer internship with the International Radio and Television Society in New York City turned into a virtual experience from Oklahoma City due to the coronavirus pandemic, Patel said.

The virus also upended OU’s 2020 journalism institute, which celebrated its 15th anniversary last year. What usually is a weeklong camp on the Norman campus was transformed into a four-hour Zoom event in mid-July.

“We didn’t want to skip a year,” said Yvette Walker, assistant dean of student affairs for Gaylord College and director of OIDJ. “We presented the greatest hits of what we normally do with built-in exercises.”

The annual camp is free to students thanks to contributions and grants. The Inasmuch Foundation and Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation have supported the institute with more than $418,000 in gifts to the OU Foundation since 2005, including a recent gift of $50,000. Dow Jones News Fund Inc. also is an underwriter.  

Students typically spend a week living in OU’s residence halls and visiting print and broadcast media outlets. They attend workshops on topics like interviewing, news gathering, story structure and videography. Walker and Melanie Wilderman, OIDJ assistant director, are joined by other professors and professional journalists who teach students and coach them on their projects.

OIDJ’s mission is to provide opportunities for students who might lack access to journalism training or who face other barriers to pursuing careers in journalism.

“They need to see they fit in and they can do this,” Walker said. “To us, diversity means everyone. We want a good mix.”

Patel, whose parents immigrated from India, said the students in her group were American Indian, African American and white. They came from private schools, public schools and various economic situations.

“The mindset everyone brought in was important. It helped me define what diversity is,” she said.

Daisy Creager is an Oklahoma City reporter and multimedia journalist who earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism from OU in 2017. Growing up in San Antonio, she had plenty of Hispanic friends but knew little about Native American culture before attending the OIDJ in 2013.

At the camp, she learned how word choices impact a reporter’s work and the importance of getting to know the local community and interviewing a variety of sources.

“Before OIDJ I had never had a deep conversation about journalism,” Creager said. “For the first time I was sitting down with people my age and professionals and having a conversation about our role in society and why we write this way.”