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Real-world opportunities: Capstone program prepares students for life after graduation

Top photo: Mike Schmidt votes at Cayce United Methodist Church in Lexington County during South Carolina’s GOP presidential primary. (Associated Press photo/Carolina News and Reporter)

University of South Carolina students in the capstone journalism program in the School of Journalism spent the day of the South Carolina Republican primary, Feb. 24, traveling to counties across the Midlands to interview residents about who they were voting for. 

It began as a very uncomfortable experience for many of the students, with many having never interviewed strangers before, especially about their political opinions. But what started as an uncertain, or even frightening experience, quickly became an experience the students could learn from and take with them as they enter the professional setting. 

Amanda Petty
Amanda Petty

“At first, I was scared to cover the story," explained journalism major Amanda Petty, who interviewed residents in the Wildewood Park, Blythewood Park, Longcreek, and Bridge Creek voting precincts in the Midlands area. “But after it was over I can easily say it was my favorite experience of the semester. "

Students worked in shifts throughout the day polling potential voters throughout the state on who they were planning to vote for and why in the upcoming election. They also asked voters about their political affiliation, how they felt about each candidate, what brought them to the polls, and if they would support whichever nominee won the nomination. Students took turns writing, interviewing and reporting to gain experience in each area. Typically, there were four to five students working on each element at a time to keep the process flowing smoothly. After all the polling and interviewing, the students compiled their information to publish a story. 


“I felt like a real journalist because I had to step out of my comfort zone,” Petty said. This experience also taught me a lot about real people, and how oftentimes they are very willing to share their opinions with you.” 

Wileen and Emmy sitting at computers

Instructor Eileen Waddell (front) helping student Emmy Ribero (back) make edits and revisions to a story.

The experience is typical of what a student experiences in the capstone program, which emphasizes broadcast and digital journalism. Instructor Eileen Waddell  explained that the digital side of the journalism capstone program is meant to equip students with the tools they need to thrive in a professional setting. 

“We are in a real newsroom from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m, competing with commercial entities to publish stories,” said Waddell. “This course is a full-time internship, and it counts on a resumé.” 

When taking the capstone program, students do not have any other classes and are instead in the newsroom all day, earning 12 hours of credit and picking up valuable real-world experiences. Junior Emmy Ribero believes that this immersive experience is very impactful for the students. 

“In this newsroom, we are doing exactly what we would be doing in the real world, which to me is very helpful,” said Ribero. “After I graduate, I want to become a reporter. I now feel like I have gained all the tools I need to head down that path.” 

Changes in the way that people consume news have caused instruction to be different than it once was. With digital media becoming more prominent, instructors have had to adapt to ensure students are fully prepared by the time they graduate. 

“The internet has changed everything. It’s essentially made everyone a journalist, because anyone can now publish anything,” said Waddell. “We try to do everything we can do online, because that’s how everything is done nowadays.” 

Waddell said it is important for instructors also to make sure that they have a diverse skill set. 

“We try to tell the students that they must be a package deal,” said Waddell. “These days, people in the journalism industry have to be able to shoot videos, edit graphics, write stories and many other things. Our job is to provide them with all the tools necessary so they feel confident in their skills.” 

Stephen Enright
Stephen Enright

This can be a challenge for students, which many of them know and embrace. Senior Stephen Enright said it’s important for students to know that it’s not going to be easy but will be extremely beneficial in the long term. 

“This course is challenging, but that’s what makes it so helpful,” he said. “You have to step out of your comfort zone and do things like blind calls which can be tough.” 

Enright also said the capstone program has provided him with valuable real-world experiences that have helped prepare him for the professional setting. 

“I have gained almost all of my experience from this program. My confidence in my writing, as well as my communication skills has tremendously improved,” said Enright.  

In addition to ensuring students graduate with all the technological and writing skills they need, the capstone program is meant to teach students about how to present themselves. 

“Students have to be able to market themselves. They need to know how to think like a marketer,” said Waddell. “So, our goal is to not only develop their skills, but to also make sure they are market ready.” 

With the ever-changing digital landscape, the students know it is more important than ever to be ready to enter the professional scene as early as possible. Petty embraces this challenge, stating that it is necessary to take advantage of the opportunities being provided to her, even when it can be difficult. 

“It’s not going to be easy. You have to work harder than ever before,” said Petty. “But if you take advantage of the opportunities and resources you are provided, this program will prepare you for every aspect of the real-world.” 

Carter Godfrey

Carter Godfrey

Carter Godfrey wrote this article in Instructor Bertram Rantin's Honors Writing for Mass Communications class.

Godfrey is a freshman in the Honors College with a major in broadcast journalism and a minor in sport and entertainment management. He plans to pursue a sports concentration during his studies with the hopes of becoming a sports broadcaster or journalist.

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