Tierra Smith doesn’t live an ordinary college student life. The energetic junior from Houston has determination, dedication and discipline and it doesn’t stop. Her average days include classes, time in the campus newsroom, time with the university’s public relations office and time with the Student Government Association.
This self-described busybody has recently learned that she’ll be quite busy this spring and summer, landing multiple journalism opportunities in a few months that some students don’t get in an entire college career.
Smith is heading to Greensboro, N.C., for a National Association of Black Journalists multimedia short course in March, The New York Times Student Journalism Institute at Dillard University in New Orleans in May then the Sports Journalism Institute in Columbia, Mo., in late May. After that, she heads west to Salt Lake City where she’ll work for the Salt Lake Tribune as a sports reporter intern for most of the summer. Just before school in August she will attend the NABJ convention in Boston, as a reporter covering the event.
“I feel so blessed, it couldn’t be anything but the grace and favor over my life to be able to receive so many great opportunities this spring and summer,” said Smith, 21, a native of Milwaukee. “The craziest thing is that the opportunities really don’t conflict with each other, which was my main concern when I was applying for the internships. It is all coming together and the timing is perfect.”
NABJ is the largest association of journalists of color in the nation, and the group has helped develop young journalists with a variety of programs. Smith has been a student member for two years, but just being a member isn’t enough. She recently became president of the new Grambling State University chapter of NABJ and has worked hard to develop her knowledge and skills.
“Smith … received the opportunity because I reviewed packages of stories that demonstrated what I was looking for in a passionate sports journalist, and some of the stories that were read were very compelling,” said Gregory Lee Jr., executive sports editor at the South Florida Sun Sentinel and a self-described “NABJ Baby” who grew up with similar opportunities.
Smith has been on a roll this semester. Earlier this month (Feb.), she was one of two reporters recognized with the best spot news story first place award for reporting about GSU head football coach Doug Williams leaving the university in the recent Black College Communication Association national HBCU college newspaper contest. She also won a mass communication department scholarship based on her academic performance and an essay, “The Challenges of Social Networking Facing Today’s Journalists.”
It’s opportunities like these that keep Smith focused. This wasn’t the first year she applied for the SJI program.
“Since the moment I was not accepted last year into the internship program at the Sports Journalism Institute I was determined to be selected the following year,” said Smith, a senior editor at The Gramblinite.
The New York Times was impressed with the work Smith had done, according to Don Hecker, director of The New York Times institute and manager for newsroom training and education at The Times. “Smith showed commitment and she had experience,” he said. “I can’t emphasize the importance of getting internships with news organizations. Smith has worked at the (Gannett) Monroe Content Production Center and a Houston Fox 26 TV station. Every student interested in a career in newsgathering should start getting summer internships as soon as they can, even if it is at a smaller organization.”
During the program at Dillard, Smith will work with Hecker and journalists from The Times, one of the most prestigious news organizations in the world. She will meet and be edited by award-winning journalists and some of the newspaper’s top editors.
According to Smith, who is scheduled to graduate in May 2015, all of this recent success can be attributed to the university’s newspaper The Gramblinite, and two people her mother, Tanya McNeal, and Will Sutton.”I’ve always had drive and passion for journalism, but Sutton helped me polish my skills to be competitive against some of the best journalists in the world,” Smith said about the university’s director of public relations and communications and a former NABJ president and a longtime senior newspaper editor. “He showed me the influence and importance of being a member of NABJ, and he helped me publish my work in multiple platforms, print and online.”
Smith said GSU has done a lot to prepare her, but she attributes her success to God above and her mother at home. “My mother is very important in my life,” said Smith, who plans to pursue a graduate degree at Columbia University in New York City or Northwestern University in Chicago. When Smith doesn’t talk with her mother “I usually make the wrong decision.” “She is very supportive,” Smith said of her mom. “When I was describing my next couple of months of journalism … work, I knew she would say I was doing too much, but she didn’t, and that meant so much to me.”
Smith is determined to represent her mother, GSU and herself well: “I am going to brand myself as one of the best rising journalists in the nation.”