Watch Night 2017

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Tis the season when people and organizations seek funding to support their causes.

I know. We sent out our annual newsletter earlier this month. On the cusp of 2018, Watch Night 2017 in Liberia, I am writing to share the stories of success of the young women whose college educations we have supported in 2017 and will continue to fund in 2018. And yes, ask you for your support.

As a photojournalist, I spent Watch Night 2014 in Liberia while covering the humanitarian response to the Ebola epidemic. Among the stories we documented, my colleague, Brian Castner, and I covered the news of the impending reopening of schools. I photographed hundreds of high school students and their parents as they queued to register for classes. Our story, Progess in Liberia: Schools Shuttered by Ebola Set to Reopen, published on Jan. 18, 2015.

During our coverage, Brian met and interviewed Sister Barbara Brilliant, the dean of the Mother Patern College of Health Sciences. Brilliant and her team helped facilitate many of the Ebola Treatment Units throughout Liberia.

“These private little places, all over the country, they did the hero work by simply staying open,” she said. “They triaged, directed people away from the ETUs that didn’t need to be there. People were scared, they had no equipment, but they stayed open anyway.”

When I left Liberia, I asked Brian to help me connect with Sister Barbara. We now sponsor a young woman, Davidetta Forkpah, who is studying social work at the Mother Patern College. Davidetta is doing well in school and she’ll begin her second semester of sophomore year in 2018.

If you’d like to learn more, you may read and download our newsletter here: 2017_newsletter

I write to let those of you who reads this post, who read our newsletter, who read of the efforts of the Liberian people in the face of Ebola epidemic, that each one of you matters. Each one of you can make a difference.

On the cusp of the new year in 2014, Liberia was reeling from the onslaught of the Ebola epidemic. Days ago, Liberians elected a new president to succeed President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, in the country’s first democratic transition of power in more than 70 years.

Our work with our nonprofit has reinforced my strong belief that each one of us can make a difference. One person, one idea, one act of kindness can spark change.

As I learned in Liberia, Watch Night can be a time for reflection, remembrance, gratitude. And giving.

If you’d like to support our work, you may use PayPal to donate funds.

Thank you for your interest, support and love these past 10 years. Here’s to a blessed, healthy, prosperous 2018.

 

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How you play a golf course reveals how you live your life

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Outside the Box, a weekly column by Cheryl Hatch, copyright 2014

A member of the Allegheny men’s golf team invited me to watch the team play during the recent Guy Kuhn Invitational at the Country Club of Meadville. I accepted and walked a number of holes on Sunday afternoon and a couple more on Monday.

I watched a visiting player hurl his club after a missed putt on what must have been a bad hole for him. I heard another visiting player swear loudly after a shot he didn’t like. That would not fly in the Hatch family, I thought. At any sign of disrespect for others or the game, my father would discipline us.

I grew up in a golfing family and I’ve walked innumerable golf courses. My father has played golf for as long as I can remember. My brother played in high school and college and still carries a single-digit handicap.

I never played the game when I was younger. Never liked it much, actually. I rowed crew in college. Family vacations were often planned around the availability of golf courses and tennis courts. I wanted to scuba dive.

My mom is a natural, competitive athlete. She played volleyball, basketball and tennis most of her life, until her back had other plans. She picked up golf later in life.

Last month, my mom called, thrilled to share the news of her hole-in-one on the Tournament Player Course. Number Three. A water hole.

Giddy, Mom described her shot. She suspected immediately that she’d made a hole-in-one. Dad was playing ahead of her. He said he watched her shot but didn’t see the ball on the green. He said he figured it went in the water.

Of course you did, Dad.

I tried golf a few years ago. My instructor told me I had a natural ability so I decided to take lessons. I found a woman golf pro, whose approach to the game was the right fit for my style. She gave me a few tips on my swing and then told me to see the target and send the ball to the target. And I did. On my first drive, I hit the ball well.

How far is that? About 225 yards, she said.

Giddy, I called my dad that evening. Dad, I hit my driver 225 yards.Cheryl, you cannot hit the ball 225 yards.

Well, how far do you think I can hit it? About 150, maybe 180 yards, my dad said.

Huh. My instructor might have been mistaken, though I liked the idea that I could send the ball 225 yards.

The next time I visited my folks, I went with my father to the driving range at the country club. He sat right behind me as I teed up the ball. Tense, nervous and anxious to impress my father, I hit the first few balls poorly.Then I sent one flying. I looked back at my father. How far was that, Dad?

About 225 yards. I don’t believe it, he said. Then he dashed to clubhouse to find the golf pro.

As I played more golf, I discovered that I could learn a lot about a person’s character in a round of golf, sometimes after a few holes. It turns out, in my view, how you play a golf course reflects how you live your life.

People will offer unsolicited advice: there’s a bunker over that rise; there’s water on the left; the rough is brutal on this hole. They focus on the potential problems.

I don’t want to focus on the hazards or obstacles. I aim for the flag, the green, the goal. I know that where I send my mind, my ball will follow.

My father and brother often coach me on the reasonable shot or appropriate approach. Play it safe. Play it smart.

Once, my father told me I couldn’t reach the green on a water hole. The safe shot was to lay up short of the green. In other words, don’t go for it.

I insisted I could hit the green. My first shot went in the water.

Now you know the shot to play, Dad said. My second shot went in the water. I was headed for a “Tin Cup” moment; and, I still believed I could reach the green.

On my third attempt, I hit the ball so hard it flew over the water and the flag and landed behind the green.

I happily accepted the inflated score on that hole because I proved to myself what I knew to be true—that I could reach that green.

Golf has taught me to trust myself and have confidence in how I play. And how I live.

I play by feel, by intuition, and I don’t play it safe.

Some players focus on problems. I look at the target and go for it. Some players dwell on the negative. They swear and throw things when the going gets tough.

I usually choose to focus on the positive. On some rounds of golf, I simply remind myself how lucky I am to be alive, to have the sun on my face, to be healthy enough to swing a golf club and share the game with friends.

The day after the Gators finished fourth in the Guy Kuhn Invitational, the assistant golf coach emailed me, thanking me for showing up to support the team. The coach thanked me, too. The student who invited me sent a thoughtful, handwritten thank-you note.

You can learn a lot from how people play and their follow through.

Allegheny College’s golf team is a class act.

Cheryl Hatch is a writer, photojournalist and visiting assistant professor of journalism in the public interest at Allegheny College.

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http://www.meadvilletribune.com/opinion/article_c638f20c-44e6-11e4-945b-7b2d00a84efe.html

College is the place to dare–not worry about every grade

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Outside the Box

By Cheryl Hatch/Copyright 2014

Writer’s note: I am a journalist in academia, a woman who has traveled among many cultures. I live outside the box and I like it — and I want to share my perspective with you every Thursday.

I hate grading.

At the end of each semester, I am required to submit grades for the students in our journalism classes. As a professor, I hate grades. As a student, I cherished them, worshipped them.

OK. Hate is not the right word though I do love the succinct lilt and assonance in the sentence. Worship is the right word.

And there’s my problem with grades. We’ve created a system that creates students that revere grades. Some students believe those grades measure their accomplishments and determine their value, their worth.

They don’t. You are not your grade.

Don’t get me wrong. I never met an A I didn’t like. I am, and always have been, a straight-A student. Heck, I even like saying it. I’m proud of it.

And, my constant pursuit of perfection cost me dearly at times in my life. I was well into my double-degree program and cruising for an ugly crash before a professor pointed out that it would be impossible to earn 100 percent on 100 percent of my work.

A 90 is still an A, he said. A-minus, I countered. I was uncomfortable with the concept. Do less than my best? That was impossible.

In high school, I had friends whose parents would buy them a car when they got A’s on their report cards. I knew one student whose dad bought him a car for a single A. I worked as a grill cook and waitress to earn the money to buy my first car and pay for insurance and gas.

A’s were expected in our house, not rewarded.

Once I came home with a C on a quiz. Not an exam, a quiz. Dad was not happy. What’s the problem? That’s average, Dad. Not average for you, he said.

Point taken. Not average for you etched in my psyche.

I understand the system. Back then, I needed those A’s for scholarships, to prove I was worth an investment.

Years later, I created a scholarship named in honor of my parents at my undergraduate alma mater. The scholarship is awarded to someone with high hopes, not a high grade-point average. Someone who wants to explore the world. Who believes in public service. Someone with big dreams and the big, tender heart needed to go the distance in pursuit of them.

As an A student, I know the grade does not always reflect the student’s effort or learning. I often earned A’s without breaking a sweat, until I encountered a computer science programming class.

I failed the first exam. I was confounded. I studied like I’d never studied before. Humbled but determined, I tackled the preparation for the next exam. I studied. Did the exercises. Met with a tutor. I got a 35. Yes, out of 100. That definitely did not compute. I remember thinking I could have thrown a dart at the empty circles on the answer sheet and produced a better score.

I like and excel at languages — French, Arabic, Russian — not Pascal. I did my best in that class and my grades said I failed. I failed to earn an A. I earned a C.

When I sit down to calculate a student’s final grade, there are tangibles I can assess. Meeting a deadline. Using The Associated Press style correctly. Hitting the word count. Getting a variety of quotes. Effective transitions.

I also consider intangible, vitally important accomplishments. Did the student do the work? Did he learn from his mistakes and improve? Did she push herself? Did he go outside his comfort zone? Did she risk failing?

When I was an adolescent, my dad gave me a quote by Theodore Roosevelt from a speech he gave April 23, 1910, at the Sorbonne in Paris, France.

I give it to students in our classes now. I add “woman” and “she” when I read it aloud.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

These words are also etched in my psyche. I love the idea of daring greatly. Since I was young, I have never wanted to be someone who has known neither victory nor defeat. (Yes, defeat is a drag.)

I want students to know that they are not their grades. In pursuit of that A and the illusion of perfection, they might be tempted to play it safe. By avoiding failure — or worse — being ashamed of it, they risk missing the deep and valuable lessons they might learn from stumbling.

I do not like to fail. And I am not afraid of failing.

These many years later, I can still taste that C in my first and only computer science class. I do not like that C and I prize that C. I learned a lot in that class. I don’t like computer science. It would have led to a great career — not for me.

College is the place to dare greatly. Figure out who you are and what you want. What you like and don’t like. Find your voice and your path.

Can I live with that C? Yes. That’s the point. I can live with the grade.

It was not the end of the world. It was the beginning of a whole new world and a great adventure.

http://www.meadvilletribune.com/opinion/x1667052278/College-is-the-place-to-dare-not-worry-about-every-grade

Cheryl Hatch is a writer, photojournalist and visiting assistant professor of journalism in the public interest at Allegheny College.

Recent uprising gives Egypt hope for the future

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Outside the Box

a weekly column by Cheryl Hatch

copyright 2014

As a young girl, I dreamed of visiting the land of the Pyramids.

Mighty Isis was my favorite comic book heroine. On my teenage bedroom walls, posters that featured ancient Egyptian tomb paintings with Nefretari and Isis flanked my Led Zeppelin poster. I was fascinated with the art, religion, history and mythology of ancient Egypt.

In graduate school in France, I studied Egyptology with experts in the field.

After graduation, I earned an internship at an English language monthly magazine in Cairo. My childhood dreams were coming true.

I stepped off the plane in Egypt and quickly realized I knew nothing about the modern country and its culture.

On my first night in the hotel that would be my temporary home, a colleague came to welcome me. Three men burst into the room and escorted my guest to the lobby. I was a single woman and I was not allowed to have men in my room, the interlopers told me. They publicly chastised me and called me a prostitute.

Ahlan wa sahlan fi Misr. Welcome in Egypt.

I learned the men were members of the mukhabarat, the secret police. I would have many encounters with them during my three years in Egypt.

As a foreigner and journalist, I was under surveillance. My phone was tapped; my movements were monitored. I became adept at identifying the plain-clothed mukhabarat, who often followed me.

On one assignment, I accompanied a reporter from Reuters, the British news agency, to cover a press conference announced by a Muslim sheikh in a town outside of Cairo. The sheikh was rumored to be both abroad and under house arrest in Egypt. It was a good story.

We were stopped on the road outside the oasis town. The police asked for our documents and refused to answer our questions. My colleague handed over her British passport; I kept mine. Once they had her passport, they told her that she could not legally proceed.

I got out of the car and starting walking.

Where are you going? I’m walking to the press conference.

By this time, the police forced my colleague into a vehicle. I had a choice: leave her, or go with her and abandon the press conference.

I went with her; I still did not relinquish my passport. The men took us to a small building in the middle of the desert in the middle of nowhere and stuck us in a room with two metal chairs and a beat-up desk.

Am I under arrest? No.

Then I’m free to leave. No.

I want to call the American embassy. No.

I was not under arrest. I was being held against my will. I had no rights.

Ahlan wa sahlan fi Misr.

Hours later, they released us. They had successfully blocked us—and other reporters we later learned—from attending the press conference.

They told us to go back to Cairo. We didn’t. We were bound to determine if the sheikh was indeed in the country and under house arrest. We spent the night in town. A secret policeman followed our every move on his tiny motorcycle. He wore a fake leather jacket and a long, white scarf that trailed behind him. He sat in a corner of the restaurant where we ate dinner, hiding in plain sight.

The next day we went to the mosque we’d heard the sheikh attended.

As we waited, the mukhabarat gathered at a distance on all sides of the dirt road. As soon as the sheikh crossed toward the mosque, the secret police pounced. They dragged me in one direction and my colleague in another, lifting us off the ground. I resented being manhandled and resisted. Resistance is futile, as the “Star Trek” saying goes.

They roughed us up and sent us on our way again. We left. We had the story.

Twenty years later, I was in Alaska when the events began in Tahrir Square two years ago. As a journalist, I longed to return to Egypt, to witness and document the historic uprising as the people who packed the square for weeks demanded an end to the rule of Hosni Mubarak, who’d been president since 1981.

In this case, resistance was not futile. Through social media and solidarity, the crowds held against the authorities. The vice president announced that Mubarak resigned on Feb. 11, 2011.

Last semester, a young woman came to my office and asked to join our news writing class. Her name is Reem Abou Elenain and she is a Fulbright foreign language teaching assistant from Alexandria, Egypt.

The class is full, I told her. She expressed her enthusiasm for learning about journalism and news writing. I could put you on a waiting list in case a spot opens, I offered.

She wouldn’t take no for an answer.

I told her she had the qualities of a journalist: passion and persistence. I added her to the class roster. She brought fresh perspectives of American news coverage of events in the Middle East. She now writes columns and works as an editor at The Campus, the student newspaper.

Reem was in Egypt when the revolution began on Jan. 25, 2011.

Before the revolution, Reem said people were terrified and without hope. They felt watched.

“I didn’t feel that Egypt was my country,” Reem said. “Other people owned it through corruption and monopoly.”

“When the revolution happened, it was the happiest moment in my life,” Reem said. “I was screaming from my heart and it was never too loud. We united as a people. It was beautiful. As women, our voices were loud and heard.”

“We removed the most powerful and corrupt person,” Reem said, referring to Mubarak

Now Reem believes there’s a future for her and her country.

“Now it’s mine. I love it. There is hope.”

This Thursday, Feb. 13, Reem is bringing the Academy Award-nominated documentary, “The Square,” to Allegheny College. I couldn’t be in Tahrir Square in February 2011; I will be in Quigley Auditorium at 7 p.m.

Ahlan wa sahlan.

Cheryl Hatch is a writer, photojournalist and visiting assistant professor of journalism in the public interest at Allegheny College.

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Nationwide sexual assaults a call to action

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Outside the Box

a weekly column by Cheryl Hatch

copyright 2014

MEADVILLE — When I arrived in Meadville, I was thirsty for nature and finding a sense of place in my new town. My landlord suggested Ernst Trail.

On a sunny summer afternoon in August 2012, I took off on my bike to discover what the trail had to offer. As I rode along with the creek sliding beside me, I felt a subtle then sharper prick of anxiety. I’m alone. Water on one side, no exit on the other. I have no idea how long the trail goes or what terrain lies ahead.

It wasn’t a traditional flashback; more like a visit from a ghost of trails past.

As a college student in France years ago, I was training for the Paris Marathon. In those days, you wouldn’t see many people running for fun. My friends warned me not to go alone. It’s dangerous, they’d say.

It’s ridiculous, I thought. I’ve been running alone for years in all kinds of weather, on sunny days and moonlit nights, on forest trails and country roads.

One day, I switched my routine, opted for an afternoon run rather than a morning one and chose a path I didn’t know. A high wall bordered one side and a river rolled along the other.

As I stretched, a man asked me if I were going jogging. Odd. The French don’t normally spontaneously address strangers. I ignored him. He annoyed me, gave me the creeps. When I looked up again, he was gone. I surveyed the trail. Weird. No sign of him.

I dismissed the tiny voice that told me to pick another place to run. Another voice rationalized that I was being paranoid, that I’d let all my friends’ fears get inside my head.

Well into my run, I noticed the man standing in the middle to the trail, arms stretched wide to block my path. This guy is really annoying, I thought. I knocked his arms down as I ran past him.

He ran after me. What a jerk, I thought. When he grabbed me from behind, putting his hands around my neck, I still considered him a nuisance not a threat. I broke his hold and decided to break into a sprint.

He followed. As he chased me, he shouted all the things he planned to do to me in the most vulgar French terms. I scanned the trail ahead. I didn’t see an exit and I realized I couldn’t outrun him.

I stopped, turned to face him and stood my ground. C’est quoi ton problème, I asked.

He answered by lunging at me and wrapping his hands around my neck a second time. It finally occurred to me that he wasn’t kidding. He meant me harm.

I grabbed him and started to fight back. He released his grip and looked me dead in the eyes. On se verra, he said in a soft voice. We will see each other again. He turned and walked away. I ran and called for help.

The police were no help whatsoever. As I filed my report at the station, the officers gathered around the desk, leaned in, insisted I repeat all the foul things the man had said to me. They insisted that I was mistaken. Silly American woman. A French man wouldn’t do such a thing. They implied he was a foreigner. They implied they knew what young American women were really like.

They took me out in their police car hours after the assault to help me look for the man. They made sure I understood I’d wasted their time.

I wish I could say that was the only time I’ve been assaulted; it’s not. I wish I could say that the police were kinder, more understanding. They weren’t. I wish I could say they believed me and wanted to help me. They didn’t.

Each week when I write this column, I wrestle with how much of my personal life and experiences I want to share. I wobble and waver as I walk the fine, tight line between revealing enough to make a story authentic and relatable and protecting my privacy — and myself. This week, I decided to share this story when I read that President Barack Obama had launched an initiative to combat sexual assault on college campuses.

A story by the Associated Press noted that “Obama signed a presidential memorandum creating a task force to protect students from sexual assault, with a new White House report declaring that no one in America is more at risk of being raped or assaulted than college women.”

Last semester, the student newspaper, The Campus, published a story that Allegheny College had formally reported three sexual assaults in three months.

Cited in the AP story, the White House report, “Rape and Sexual Assault: A Renewed Call to Action,” stated that “one in five women have been sexually assaulted at college but that only 12 percent of student victims report it. The report was compiled by the White House Council on Women and Girls.”

As a woman, college professor and journalist, I want these statistics to be heard as a call to action, just as the president heard them.

As a young woman and college student years ago, I got a friend to walk the trail with me the day after the assault. In the struggle, the man had stripped the chain with my grandmother’s gold cross from my neck. I wanted to recover it.

What do you think he wanted? As we walked the trail. I asked my friend for his thoughts on the attacker’s intentions.

I think that guy wanted to kill you, he said.

That stranger didn’t take my life though he did take something precious from me. I don’t go for moonlit runs anymore. And occasionally, when I’m alone I’ll get spooked by a visit from a ghost of trails past.

I didn’t find my grandmother’s cross on the trail and it would be many more years before I learned to trust the tiny voice that warns me when things are off — the gut feeling, some call it. I monitor my surroundings and I pay attention to that voice.

Soldiers call it situational awareness.

We’ve got a situation on college campuses.

Note: Consider the actions at one campus: Project Unspoken was created as a summer intern project at Emory University’s Office of Health Promotion’s Respect Program. Watch this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eCCaKuWQLp8.

Cheryl Hatch is a writer, photojournalist and visiting assistant professor of journalism in the public interest at Allegheny College.

Fundamentals of journalism also apply to creating a good life

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Outside the Box

a weekly column by Cheryl Hatch

copyright 2014

In my first semester at Allegheny, I explained the fundamental tenets and practices of journalism. I stressed that fairness and accuracy in reporting, writing and photography are essential. Hitting the deadline is imperative. I told students that a misspelled name, a factual error or a late story or photograph would result in a zero.

I was clear that I’d been clear, yet students didn’t turn in their first assignments on time.

One student told me after class that his high school teacher had let him turn in his work late. He assured me that he’d been always been able to charm her into getting an extension. I told him that we weren’t in high school and I certainly wasn’t that teacher.

I was also told a number of times how other professors routinely give students extra time to complete their work. Again, that explanation has no bearing on our class. Journalism is deadline-driven.

I looked for ways to better communicate the importance of the rules I’d outlined.

I created a document that I now hand out the first week of class. We discuss the document and find examples of the principles. I ask the students to sign it to signify that they’ve read, understood and agree to the principles.

An Understanding: four crucial principles/actions to succeed in this class (and in life)

pay attention to details

A journalist notices details. Observation is a key skill. Accuracy is imperative. If you spell a name incorrectly or get a fact wrong, you will earn a zero for that assignment.

I ask the students if they’ve ever had their name misspelled in a newspaper article. Most have. I ask them how it made them feel. I tell them to remember that feeling.

follow instructions

Read assignments and directions completely and follow them. If you don’t, you will lose points.

This practice seems simple. And some directions are simple: put your name on your paper; double-space your copy.  In class, you lose points if you fail to follow instructions. In life, there are situations where you could miss an opportunity—to witness your friend’s wedding, to meet your mother at the airport. In some circumstances, if you fail to follow instructions, you risk your life.

show up

Physically, emotionally, mentally. Be present. Be on time. If you are late, your assignment is late; and, you will earn a zero for that assignment.

It’s human nature to get distracted, to sit in class and think about the last class or the next class. Or lunch. Or a fight with parents. Or the grade on an exam.

I remind students that if they’re going to come to class, it’s best to bring their energy and focus to the class, to put their minds and hearts in play. I tell the story of a couple I saw in a restaurant. The man talked on his cell phone throughout their entire meal. From first course through dessert, the woman ate in silence, alone, with the man right across from her. He was there but he didn’t show up.

hit your deadlines

If you have an appointment with a source for an interview, be on time. You garner and earn respect by being professional. If you have a story due, turn it in on time. If you don’t hit your deadline, you will earn a zero for that assignment.

If you miss your deadline in the news biz, you won’t have your work published. You won’t have a job for long, either.

I love the competiveness of a hitting a deadline. Sometimes I’m competing with myself. Sometimes I’m competing against fellow journalists. The first one to file gets the double-truck in Paris Match or the front-page photo in The New York Times.

At this very moment, I’m struggling to hit my 10 p.m. Tuesday deadline. I made choices that put me in this tight spot. I attended the opening of the Marcellus Shale Documentary Project in the gallery on campus from 8 to 9 p.m. I wanted to support my colleagues in the art department—and set an example for the students I’d encouraged to attend the opening.

In fact, I started this column to set an example for the student journalists in our classes and on the staff of The Campus, the college newspaper. It’s one thing to put words on paper and share them at the start of each semester. It’s another thing to put them into practice.

I believe it’s important to walk the talk.

At the end of the document, I invite the students to enjoy the class, the challenges and the collaboration with their fellow students.

I remind them to have some fun. And hit their deadlines.

Cheryl Hatch is a writer, photojournalist and visiting assistant professor of journalism in the public interest at Allegheny College.

 

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Stories, ideas and funds needed building local ‘field of dreams’

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Outside the Box,  a weekly column in The Meadville Tribune

In the movie “Field of Dreams,” a voice whispers like a breeze through the corn stalks as Kevin Costner walks through the field on his Iowa family farm.

“If you build it, he will come,” it says.

Costner decides the voice wants him to plow under his crop and build a baseball field. His wife agrees to his project.

I love this movie and I will show it to journalism students in both our classes next Wednesday evening. It’s full of great lessons for life—and journalism.

I was still in a hospital bed in Kuwait in the spring of 2012 when I received a Facebook message from Richard Sayer, who is a photojournalist at The Meadville Tribune. Until this semester, he taught photography in Allegheny’s art department. I had no idea who he was—and he had a heck of an idea.

He wrote me and said he’d heard I was coming to Allegheny. He wanted me to help him create a photojournalism conference, the first of its kind at the college. Since you’re a photojournalist, he said.

What’s not to love about a total stranger and fellow photojournalist finding me on Facebook and inviting me to collaborate with him on a project? I wrote him and told him I hadn’t yet accepted the job—and I loved his initiative and idea.

“Documents of War: the ethics and challenges of visual storytelling” was a resounding success. We received funds and support from departments across campus, including the Center for Political Participation and the Robert H. Jackson Center.

Our keynote speaker was Richard’s college friend, Craig F. Walker, a fabulous photojournalist and human being with a couple Pulitzer Prizes to his credit. Ken Kobré showed his film “A Deadline Every Second” and Pamela Yates and Paco de Onis showed “Granito: How to Nail a Dictator.” I shared the stage with my former student, JR Ancheta, and we presented our work and stories from Afghanistan.

Richard and I resolved to make the conference an annual event. It would help raise awareness on campus and in the community about the power of visual storytelling and of journalism’s vital role in our democracy. It also showcases Allegheny’s new journalism in the public interest minor.

Win. Win. Win. My kind of scenario.

We started brainstorming. Since last year’s conference was international in scope, let’s do a 180. Let’s go local. I’m teaching a multimedia class this semester. Let’s make it a multimedia project and the students will do the research, find stories, host the visitors and participate in the storytelling. On Saturday night, we’ll show the projects the students and our guests have created. Journalists on the student newspaper, The Campus, will create a special edition featuring the weekend’s stories and photographs.

I did my graduate work at Ohio University’s School of Visual Communication, the preeminent program for visual journalists. Yes, I am a believer and a proud alumna. At VisCom, students once participated in an annual project called “Dawn to Dusk,” in which they documented life in a community from sunrise to sunset.

I called Stan Alost, a friend and VisCom professor.

Richard and I felt strongly we wanted students to learn from each other and OU students have plenty of energy, talent and experience to share.

Stan, I’ve got this field-of-dreams idea. I’m putting the cart way before the horse. We don’t have the hardware. We don’t have the software. We don’t have the funding. I have no idea how to do this. I do have this vision of what’s possible. This glorious image in my mind’s eye makes me giddy at the thought of what’s possible.

I’m in, Stan said. Spoken like a true journalist. We’ll figure it out. We’ll make it happen. It’ll be great.

“The Story Next Door: Community Journalism in Action” is a work in progress. We have the dates: March 7-9, 2014. We have a space: the Vukovich Center for Communication Arts, where the lobby will become a working multimedia lab and people can stop by and witness the students and professionals at work. We have a new team since the CPP is focused on the bicentennial events this year and next. Terry Bensel, Lesley Fairman, Steve Prince and Jamie Williams joined our merry band of builders.

And we have a stellar line-up of speakers. Michael Williamson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer from The Washington Post, will speak. Nicole Frugé, a fabulous photojournalist and assistant director of photography at the San Francisco Chronicle, will be an editor and mentor. Preston Gannaway is an independent documentary photographer who won her Pulitzer Prize for feature photography working on a small paper in New Hampshire. She’ll present work from three of her long-term projects.

On Tuesday, Richard Murphy sent me an email with the subject line “Arctic Gator.” An alumnus, Murphy is the former director of photography at the Anchorage Daily News and a Pulitzer Prize-winner.  He confirmed that he will join us as the opening night speaker.

In our JOURN 300 class on Tuesday, we discussed the conference and the students’ roles and responsibilities. We don’t have everything we need yet. We do have a talented group of young people and professional photographers who understand the power of image and initiative. We have a great group of people committed to making our dream a reality.

If you have story ideas about people on campus or in Meadville, let us know. If you know local businesses or people who are part of the history and fabric of Meadville, let us know. If you have fundraising ideas, most definitely let us know. And if you have funding to offer, we would truly appreciate the support.

We are building it. We welcome your help.

And be sure to come.

Cheryl Hatch is a writer, photojournalist and visiting assistant professor of journalism in the public interest at Allegheny College. 

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