Potential news anchors, reporters and photographers from all over the Rio Grande Valley spent Sept. 24 snapping shots and covering breaking news at The University of Texas-Pan American's Fifth Annual Communication Seminar.
The conference, hosted by The Pan American newspaper and the Department of Communication, is aimed toward high school students who are involved with their yearbook or school newspaper and display an interest in the field of communication. About 70 students participated in the seminar.
Roxann Garcia, co-editor-in-chief of The Pan American, said the main objective of the seminar is to engage the students and stir up excitement for possible careers in communication.
"Our goal is that we really wanted to have a few students walk away with a newfound passion for journalism," Garcia said.
This year the seminar had a different twist to challenge students. Organizers put together a mock press conference. The scenario: a rally where an illegal immigrant student was voicing concerns and a protester in the audience was heckling her. The students' task was to report on the breaking news story.
"Last year was a lit bit more structured. It was a bit wilder this year. The students were shocked at first. They didn't know what to expect, and I found that a lot of the students were more excited this year," Garcia said.
Many students who are pursuing a job in journalism praised the seminar and its new approach. Cindy Jaimez from South Texas BETA High School said it was a refreshing change.
"When the student burst into the conference, I was momentarily confused and it took me a second to get a hold of things. But at the end, I think it was neat that they exposed us to that scenario since you never know what you're going to get in the world of journalism," Jaimez said.
The innovative idea came straight from UTPA students said Dr. Gregory Selber, associate professor of communication and adviser to The Pan American.
"My staffers came up with the idea because in the past giving canned, fake stories to the contest entrants seemed a little dull to them. Plus we have some fun, crazy kids this year and they just wanted to do something different," Selber said. "The upshot was that the high school kids got a chance to cover a real live event, and their feedback to us was that it was very enriching."
The teenagers were judged and critiqued on their high school publications and had the opportunity to compete with other schools.
Newspapers were judged on layout and design, news and feature writing, and overall excellence. Yearbook entries battled for prizes in photography, design, layout and overall excellence. Students were also able to vie for on-site awards in photography, news and feature writing.
"This is a great way of recruiting students to the paper and to the University. A lot of times these students come to the conference and they have an idea of going to a college or university elsewhere. They take for granted that UTPA is here," Garcia said. "When we have these conferences they are surprised by what Pan Am has to offer."
Selber said the seminar is undeniably a powerful recruitment tool.
"We are always competing with upstate schools to keep our best at home and counteract the traditional brain drain," he said. "Seeing what we have and what we do convinces some of them to stay here, it happens that way every year, we go to great lengths to show them that Student Publications at UTPA is as good as any organization in the state, from quality, awards won, to jobs gained for our grads."
He says the experience is definitely worth the long hours and intensive labor it takes to put the seminar together.
"It illustrates that the University as a whole cares about the Valley and its population. We go to great expense to do these conferences but it's worth it because it reflects well on the University. Parents see that we are going out of our way to help, and they appreciate that," Selber said.
Garcia said the conference is modeled after other seminars they have participated in, such as the ones hosted by the Texas Intercollegiate Press Association (TIPA).
Coordinators recruited several UTPA alumni to stop by the workshops and speak to the students about their career field, experiences and key skills to get ahead. Guest speakers included Naxiely Lopez, a staff writer for The Monitor; Denisse Salinas, a television reporter for Telemundo, and Eladio Jaimez, a sports writer for the Valley Morning Star.
"It was motivational for them to see that we get jobs. A lot of students get discouraged, and this is great for them to see that we can get ahead," Garcia said. "When I was in high school I would have loved to do something like this, because had I gotten involved in something like this then, then I think I would have been much further along in my career."
Jaimez says the seminar will give her a jump start in journalism.
"It's good that the University holds these communication seminars since usually we're only in our high school newspaper and we're only learning through there. But when we go to these events, you see journalism in the college level and real world and we pick up on the advice and information they give us there," she said.