Alumna’s passion for storytelling leads to prestigious fellowship

A typical morning for 10-year-old Taylor Jennings-Brown included packing her school things, grabbing some breakfast and discussing the social and political issues covered by that morning's NPR podcast with her father. A decade and some change later, the 2021 mass communications and Honors College graduate has landed a coveted Kroc Fellowship with the company that she quite literally grew up with.  

Jennings-Brown transferred into the School of Journalism and Mass Communications as a sophomore, not knowing what to expect.

“I didn't go into it thinking like, ‘Oh, I'm going to be a journalist.’ It was more, ‘This seems interesting — let me try it,’ ” she says.  

As a writer for Garnet & Black magazine, the first story she pitched won third in the nation for best collegiate media sports feature of 2020. That experience gave her the confidence to commit to journalism. She went on to serve as the magazine’s managing editor her senior year, but it was Laura Smith’s Podcasting in the Public Interest, a special topics course developed for the Honors College, where she found her passion for audio storytelling.  

“It's like you're transported to a place, or you become the story,” Jennings-Brown says. “It's a different experience than just reading. Good writing is supposed to do the same thing. But I feel like audio does it in a way that no other form of media can.”  

She enjoyed Smith’s class so much that she converted her Honors College senior thesis project into a five-part podcast series that focused on disparities between white and Black high school students in Richland County, South Carolina. While taking the podcasting class, Jennings-Brown applied to the NPR Kroc Fellowship the fall of her senior year.

Smith says audio is a natural choice for Jennings-Brown.

“She’s a lifelong listener,” Smith says. “She brings not just her own personal diversity to the table, which is important, but a love of telling diverse stories as well.” 

Kroc Fellows rotate through four NPR shows over the course of a year. Jennings-Brown’s first rotation, NPR’s Weekend Edition, began in the fall. She’ll go on to a national desk, a digital rotation and then a member station. She remembers listening to some of the shows as a child.  

“I’m just thankful to my dad for exposing me to NPR and being so excited about it,” she says. “I wasn’t one of those kids who had a dream job growing up, but when I think about it, those seeds were being planted around me to tell great stories, and I didn’t even know it." 

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