By AnneMarie Hunter
Unexpected turns and opportunities defined Cheryl Aarnio’s journey at Washington State University. As doors opened to career possibilities she had not previously considered, Cheryl also discovered new strengths and interests along the way.
In December 2021, this exceptional Coug graduated from the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication with a bachelor of arts in multimedia journalism and a supplemental degree in French for the Professions. During her exceptional WSU journey, she was awarded numerous scholarships, including the University Achievement Award, the Avery Quinn Plaster Memorial Scholarship, and the Kathi Goertzen Leadership Award. She was also a Boeing Scholar and a Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute’s 2021 Student Innovation Competition finalist. An Honors College student, she also achieved a Certificate of Global Competencies.
With the support of these donor-funded opportunities, Cheryl honed her vision and forged a fresh direction for her future.
When did you discover your passion for journalism and, in particular, editing?
I started with The Daily Evergreen as a freshman and realized how much I enjoy interviewing people because I like learning from them. But, writing the articles was a lot more difficult for me and I found I really liked editing, not writing. So, I’m setting my sights on becoming an editor, not a reporter. I was a copy editor on the Evergreen for two semesters and enjoyed fact-checking and making sure the writing made sense. Even more, I like editing the wording and structure of the piece.
Last spring, I was the research editor at the Evergreen. This experience influenced my goals for the future, specifically my interest in technical and scientific writing. The experience taught me how important it is to simplify research for a general audience.
How did the scholarships and support you received impact your educational journey?
The scholarships and funding from WSU gave me more financial freedom to focus on my studies. I also had more time to spend on The Daily Evergreen and make sure I did that job well.
How did your experience as a Boeing Scholar shape your future goals?
I had the opportunity to work with a team to solve a problem Boeing had with a technological process. I didn’t understand all of the technical details about Boeing’s process, but I wrote a report about what our student team thought the issue was and what could be done to potentially fix the problem. It was difficult to write in language that was accurate, as well as easy to understand. So, I relied on the mechanical engineering and chemistry students on our team to help make sure the report was accurate.
My experiences as a research editor and with Boeing Scholars prompted me to look for an editing internship which I found at Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories (SEL) last summer.
What has been your experience working with a mentor?
I joined Boeing Scholars to get some experience in technical communication, but it was still daunting to write a report about concepts I didn’t fully understand. Dr. Lynne Cooper, my Boeing Scholars professor had confidence in me and inspired me to step out of my comfort zone and apply my communication skills to write the report. She also worked with me on my presentation skills and taught me how to facilitate conversations with our Boeing mentors.
You were a finalist for the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute’s 2021 Student Innovation Competition―tell us about that.
The finalists on my team submitted a project idea for the competition about ways newsrooms can better engage with their communities. We worked with Northwest Public Broadcasting (NWPB)* to create a text bot that sent NWPB content links to listeners twice a week. People could sign up for articles about the arts or the environment and we’d send links to them based on format or content.
I’d never thought about how news organizations try to engage with their communities, and I learned things I wouldn’t have in my normal journalism classes.
What are some ways media outlets can effectively engage 21st-century audiences?
I think social media is one of the most valuable tools. It allows for real-time news updates, so people know what’s happening—as it’s happening. Also, citizen journalism, where people submit news and stories that are then curated by media channels, provides more content from multiple sources that audiences might not have otherwise.
Citizen journalism can have issues with information fact-checking though, so it’s not perfect. Social media, in general, has its pitfalls and can cause misinformation to spread. Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s a way to get rid of that.
Can you give an example of how your work in media has impacted your life and perspectives?
Last spring, I wrote an article about an undocumented student. She told me that, as a kid, she and her brother would play in the car when they were going somewhere. If they saw police, they’d stop playing because they didn’t want to give the officer any reason to pull them over.
Hearing stories like that, things I never had to consider in my own life, opened my eyes to how other people live. I didn’t realize the kinds of struggles and barriers immigrants deal with. I knew being undocumented can make it difficult to get into college but not how it can affect everyday life.
What are your plans for the future?
SEL offered me a job last fall and I started a full-time position there in January. I have edited a technical paper there and expect to edit more technical papers, which I’m really excited about. But, I’m not sure if I want to edit technical papers as a career. There are so many types of editing I’m interested in, like magazines or books, so I’m not sure what I want to do for the long term, but I’m looking forward to seeing what the future holds.
*The public radio service of Washington State University