A group of proud and tired students gathered in a Stephens College computer lab on Monday with President Dianne Lynch to celebrate, eat some cake, and get back to work on the next issue of Stephens Life.

Over the weekend, editor-in-chief Aurola Wedman Alfaro ’20, creative director Leigh Ann Barnett ’21, writer Meca Brown-Sanders ’19 and copy editor Hannah Kueck ’21 traveled to Washington, D.C., to attend the Fall National College Media Convention.

In addition to collecting six awards — including the prestigious Pacemaker, first place Best of Show for feature magazine, second place Best of Show for advertising design, and individual awards for story, page design and photography — the students attended lectures and panels, spoke with journalists and publishers, and met keynote speakers, including The Washington Post editor Marty Baron.

As the first-place winner for Best of Show — an award recognizing a publication’s overall excellence — the Stephens Life staff received a lot of attention from professionals and educators attending the conference.

Barnett related the experience of meeting two art directors at The Washington Post, one who often hires illustrators and another who prefers to organize photo shoots. As someone who hopes to launch a career in creative direction after graduation, Barnett was excited to learn that “a job can mean so many different things under one title,” she said.

“We showed The Washington Post people an issue of Stephens Life,” Barnett said. “They loved our paper! They wanted to know where we got it.”

Brown-Sanders, whose Spring 2019 story, “Being a Fat Girl,” received fourth place for magazine page/spread, said it was great to meet famous writers and editors from media outlets such as ABC and The New York Times.

“When I was in high school, I wanted to go to another college for journalism, but then I chose to become a creative writing major at Stephens College," she said. The trip to D.C. and her experience at the convention confirmed that she was at the right school. “And it helped me find a new flame for journalism,” she said. 

During the trip, Brown-Sanders visited the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, the White House, The Washington Post headquarters, and the National Portrait Gallery, where she especially enjoyed seeing the Obamas’ portraits.

Handling the suspense

“I found out I hate awards ceremonies,” said Kueck, who received second place for Story of the Year for her column about life with scoliosis in the Fall 2018 issue.

“I was so nervous, I was shaking,” she said. “I kept telling myself I wouldn’t place.” When her name was finally called, Wedman Alfaro shook her shoulder and shouted, “You won!” Kueck “immediately started crying,” she said. “I couldn’t believe this was actually happening. I’m still shocked.”

Her award-winning story was inspired by her own struggle with scoliosis, including two surgeries.

“I wanted to write to make people feel better and more powerful,” Kueck said. “People think we can’t function, but we can still live and have a great life.” She initially had trouble finding sources for the story because, she said, people who suffer from the condition often feel hesitant to talk about it. A fellow Stephens Life staffer connected her with a student studying theatre arts at Stephens, and Kueck wrote about her resiliency and strength as a dancer and actor.

In the next year, Kueck is looking forward to growing as a writer. She currently is interning with COMO Magazine, and working on a story for the next issue of Stephens Life. A fashion communication major focusing on graphic design, she hopes to find a career that combines her design skills with her passion for writing. 

Looking to the future

For Barnett, this year’s National College Media Convention cemented her confidence and expanded her horizons. 

Barnett said Stephens Life was the reason she came to Stephens, along with the strength of the fashion communication program. Describing the challenges of creating an issue, Barnett said, “I tend to second-guess myself. Being in a leadership role with the magazine has pushed me to believe in myself and have full faith in the people around me. We have incredible women on staff, so it’s easy to do that.

“Attending the convention helped me realize that publishing is a small world, but there’s a lot in it. I’m ready to explore more and see what else is out there. I was encouraged by the awards we received. They made me realize I could be a creative director for a professional magazine or publication. The recognition set it in stone for me: you can do this.” 

Barnett said the Fall 2019 issue will go to print in about three weeks. Writers are currently turning in second drafts, and the staff got an early start on visual elements this year, already working on design and conducting photo shoots.

Stephens Life matters because it gives our writers, but also the larger population of Stephens College, a voice,” Barnett said. “In these times of hurt and chaos in our country and in the world, this magazine says, ‘we matter, we have a voice’ — and we do it in a way that looks fantastic.”   

Teaching for the real world

Lisa Lenoir, former fashion editor for the Chicago Sun Times and a faculty adviser for Stephens Life, explained that all students who serve on the magazine staff register for a practicum course.

“The point of the class is to provide our students with a level of professional experience, so they can take the skills they’ve learned and apply it to something tangible that they can show to future employers,” Lenoir said.  

She said she loves publishing a diversity of voices, as a result of working in newsrooms that were committed to that. She also teaches students that “it’s okay to tackle some tough issues.”

“I make sure students check their sources and give a full perspective,” she said. “I challenge the students on their stories and require them to do due diligence on reporting and editing. In this way, they become invested in what they are doing. 

“My colleagues and I each try to infuse our professional experience into the classroom.” She tells her students to imagine each assignment is for a top-tier publication. “Take Vogue Britain as your benchmark,” she would tell them. “You are trying to reach the top level of your field.”

“I’m just so pleased that we set a high standard for the students, and with their talent, they met and surpassed it,” Lenoir said. “As an educator and someone who’s been in the profession, I always believed these students had potential, and now it’s in the public sphere. What we’re doing at Stephens College is on par with all the best institutions out there.”

Read about the winning entries.


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Tags : Student Success, College & Campus, School of Design, English/Creative Writing, Fashion

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