When Francesca Chambers was a journalism student at KU, the J-School encouraged her passion for covering politics by facilitating trips to political venues such as the Democratic National Convention and the Republican Presidential Nominating Convention.
Now Chambers (j’10), who covers the White House for McClatchy News and is a member of the White House Correspondents’ Association, hopes a new scholarship partnership between the WHCA and William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications opens more of those opportunities for Jayhawk Journalists.
“Whether scholarship winners pursue careers in Washington or covering their state capitals, we need tenacious journalists holding elected officials accountable at every level of government,” Chambers said.
Senior Emma Bascom was in the University Daily Kansan newsroom when she learned that she was KU’s first WHCA’s scholarship recipient. She said it was exhilarating it was to be surrounded by her fellow journalism students when she learned of her achievement.
“Just having all of that support around me at once by my colleagues and people who I really respect was fantastic,” said Bascom, who was associate editor of the Kansan last semester. “It was like just a once-in-a-lifetime moment for me.”
The new scholarship partnership was established through coordination between the WHCA and Ann Brill, dean of the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications. The WHCA shared criteria for partnerships with Brill, who developed a proposal that was later recommended by the WHCA Scholarship Committee and approved by the WHCA Board of Directors, along with a scholarship amount of $5,000.
KU is the 10th university around the United States where the WHCA sponsors scholarships for aspiring young journalists. It joins American University, Arizona State University, Columbia University, Howard University, Northwestern University, Ohio University, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Maryland and the University of Missouri.
These scholarships benefit not only the students who receive them, but the news industry at large, WHCA Executive Director Steve Thomma said.
“We help ensure that a new generation of talented journalists is coming to question the government and inform their communities and the nation,” Thomma said.
The WHCA board is composed of 10 members, including Chambers, who will act as Bascom’s mentor for the duration of her scholarship experience. Chambers credits the J-School for nurturing her passion for covering politics.
“That early brush with presidential politics fueled my desire to move to Washington, D.C., and cover the White House and national political campaigns,” Chambers said.
Chambers stressed the vitality of political journalists’ work, and she hopes scholarship recipients take advantage of the chance to make connections with working professionals.
“I didn't have the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C., until I was graduating,” Chambers said. “I hope scholarship winners will make the most of their opportunity, meeting journalists at the White House Correspondents' Dinner and scholarship winners luncheon who can help them find work after graduation.”
The annual WHCA dinner, which celebrates the work of journalists, was canceled this year due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, but scholarship recipients will still be able to connect with professionals in the field through the mentorship component of the scholarship.
Currently, Bascom is considering continuing her work with investigative journalism, but a summer internship with a publishing startup has provided another potential path. Bascom stressed that regardless of what the future holds, the encouragement of her journalism professors has helped her reach where she is now.
“I’d also just like to give a big shout out to the professors who have helped me get to where I am because there’s absolutely no way that I could have gotten this opportunity without their guidance and encouragement,” Bascom said.
Although the WHCA scholarships are an honor for students, they also are an opportunity that Thomma hopes current and future recipients will make use of to the fullest.
“Work hard,” Thomma said. “Report a lot. Write or produce a lot of stories. And if the scholarship frees you from some financial burden, perhaps a part-time job, that’s even more time to work on becoming a journalist.”