As a college student at The College of William & Mary, Anne Sharp was determined to become a journalist.
“I knew that William & Mary didn’t have a journalism program, but what I wanted was a good liberal arts education with street experience in writing,” Sharp said. “I wanted to write for the college paper and get on at a city or town paper.”
Sharp wrote for the campus newspaper and secured an internship with The Richmond-Times Dispatch where she learned her most valuable writing lessons, and where she would be inspired to bring a similar hands-on experience in nonfiction storytelling to another generation of William & Mary students.
More than 25 years later, when Sharp and her husband Barry, also a William & Mary alumnus, decided to give back to their alma mater, Anne Sharp wanted to support opportunities for students to gain experience in nonfiction writing and engage with journalists and other professionals.
“My own experience at college were that the writers were generally poets, and they worked with a small number of creative writing students,” Sharp said. “I was hoping to see writers come to William & Mary and move among the masses and be seen and present on campus.”
At the same time, the Pulitzer Center was looking to expand its partnership with William & Mary, building on its successful relationship of the College's Washington Program and the interns and fellows who had spent their semester working with the Center. Several William & Mary graduates also worked at the Pulitzer Center. Sharp's desire to support a space for nonfiction storytelling and the Pulitzer Center's interest in its deepening educational engagement with the College came together through a mutual connection at Roy R. Charles Center on campus. The outcome: The fall 2011 launch of the Sharp Writer-in-Residence Program in collaboration with the Pulitzer Center.
The Pulitzer Center brought together for the first year's seminar Stephanie Hanes, a freelance journalist who has written on the environment, statelessness and public health, Jina Moore, a journalist who has specialized in human rights and post-conflict resolution, and David Rochkind, a photojournalist who has documented the global tuberculosis epidemic and migration on the US-Mexico border. Students receive three credits for the seminar, which straddles the fall and spring semesters.
“When I got a chance to see how young this group of journalists was, and how well-traveled and well-spoken they are, I knew they were a great fit with the William & Mary community,” said Sharp. “They were not just accomplished themselves – they were able to connect with the students in a way that I recognized as being phenomenal.”
Under the guidance of their journalist mentors, the students developed compelling stories based on their academic interests and learned how to explain these issues to a broader audience. Ultimately, their articles were published by the Pulitzer Center.
“I saw this seminar as an opportunity to learn a different type of writing – writing for citizens,” wrote seminar participant Ani-Rae Lovell when asked by the Pulitzer Center why she decided to participate in the inaugural seminar. “Throughout college, my writing has improved by engaging in different types of writing, and this seminar presented another chance to do that.”
Lovell is now a senior majoring in government and law and language. While still a junior, she wrote her article about school voucher litigation in state courts. She is currently writing an honors thesis that was inspired by her work in the seminar.
Mitch Caudill, who was a sophomore studying anthropology and biology when he joined the seminar, decided to take the class to improve his writing skills and learn more about communicating with the public.
“It's one of the few courses that allow students direct interaction with non-academic professionals,” Caudill wrote in his email. “Since only a small percentage of students will go onto academia, it’s great to be able to talk to people who apply their passions and skills in a career setting.”
Following the success of the first year's seminar, the 2012-13 Sharp program kicked off September 23 with a day of workshops covering the fundamentals of journalism - including 'on-the-street' interviews - and a brainstorming session on turning research topics into stories. Over the next weeks, the cohort of nine students will develop their story ideas under the guidance of Hanes and Moore, who have returned to lead the seminar. Students and mentor journalists will reconvene on campus in October and January, with final stories due in February 2013. While on campus, the journalists also have the opportunity to meet with other students, classes and faculty at William & Mary.
The College of William & Mary is a member of the Pulitzer Center’s Campus Consortium network. The Sharp Writer-in-Residence Program is the latest initiative in a several-year partnership between The College of William & Mary and the Pulitzer Center.