Academic and career ambitions intertwine for student writer and editor KENNESAW, Ga. (March 4, 2015…
Georgia (Mar 4, 2015) —
Academic and career ambitions intertwine for student writer and editor
KENNESAW, Ga. (March 4, 2015)– It’s difficult to tell where Ellen Eldridge the student and Ellen Eldridge the professional begin and end. The activities of her two lives — as a senior majoring in communication and as a working journalist — blend together perfectly, phasing in and out like scenes in a movie.
Eldridge would be the first to concede that there is a fair amount of drama that goes along with the many labels she wears: nontraditional student; mother of two pre-school aged children; editor of the student-published Talon magazine; past president and current board member for the Kennesaw State student chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ); part-time staff member for Sandy Springs-based Reporter Newspapers; and freelance journalist.
Take her first semester at Kennesaw State. Eldridge was pregnant with her second child when she enrolled in summer 2012. She gave birth during the Thanksgiving break and returned to complete course work and take finals the following week.
Most recently, the 36-year-old Eldridge was designated president-elect of the Georgia professional chapter of the SPJ, a distinguished honor considering she is not expected to earn her B.A. in communication until May.
Even before she came to Kennesaw State, Eldridge had worked as a public affairs specialist while serving in the U.S. Army Reserves; earned a bachelors’ degree in psychology from the University of Phoenix (she took most of her classes at the University of Maryland); and founded, owned and edited Target Audience, a magazine designed to promote independent artists and arts teachers.
Things just sort of fell into place, Eldridge says, once she made a commitment to pursue her passion for writing. She reasoned that getting a masters’ in writing was a logical next step since she had a bachelors’ degree, minored in journalism and worked as a writer in public affairs. She began taking classes online.
“Part of the reason I wanted to pursue writing was that I had this magazine,” said Eldridge, who launched Target Audience in 2007 while she was working at a music store. “I’ve always loved writing; always wanted to tell true stories of people that other people can connect to.”
At the magazine, Eldridge worked with a staff of up to 10 writers and photographers to cover concerts, artists and performances throughout metro Atlanta — everything “from Madonna to Music Midtown.” The magazine also promoted independent fine artists and teachers “so they didn’t have to be starving artists.”
When a former editor of Kennesaw State’s Sentinel student newspaper applied for an internship with Target Audience, her skills and accomplishments stood out, Eldridge recalled. The applicant was then enrolled in the University’s Master of Professional Writing program.
“I was so impressed with her credentials and the work she was doing, it inspired me to come to Kennesaw State so I could network with people like her,” said Eldridge. “It instantly made me realize the importance of being on campus and interacting with other students. I also thought I could gain more experience and earn the credential I needed with another a B.A. in journalism.”
Eldridge’s experience and maturity quickly set her apart as she enrolled in communication classes and began seeking her place in student media. Even though her pregnancy dictated that she take only two classes, her star rose quickly. She frequently contributed to the student newspaper and magazine, and KSU’s student media board elected her editor of Talon in April 2014.
As she had hoped, her involvement in classes, student media, and the communication department has led to multiple opportunities, Eldridge said. For example, an internship with the Marietta Daily Journal, the chance to become a leader in a professional organization and even freelance work have all come through such connections. As a freelancer, she will cover the national student sales competition held annually at Kennesaw State in April for Missouri-based Sales Mastery Magazine.
“As soon as I heard about the Society of Professional Journalists from Dr. [Carolyn] Carlson in my news writing class, I knew I had to be a part of that,” she said. “I knew that [college] is not just the piece of paper you walk away with. It’s the networking; it’s the experience; it’s getting involved and making those connections.”
Carlson, a Kennesaw State communication professor and former president of the national chapter of SPJ, was organizing a student chapter at KSU and appointed Eldridge to lead it.
“Ellen was outstanding student,” Carlson said. “It was clear that she had a real future in the news media and would be a great role model for other students with journalism ambitions, so I asked her to take a leadership role. “
As president, Eldridge applied for and received a grant in fall 2013 to train student SPJ members in various social media platforms to help them become certified. She also traveled to New Orleans with her then 10-month-old infant son and two other KSU students to participate in a SPJ Region 3 (Southern) workshop in which she practiced her reporting skills by interviewing zombies.
“If you asked a silly question, a zombie would smear you with fake blood,” Eldridge said, laughing. “It was such fun and a great learning experience for journalism students and anyone who’s ever been nervous interviewing someone.”
Another SPJ experience Eldridge recalled fondly is her participation in a national program called “Will Write for Food.” She spent the 2014 Labor Day weekend living in a Florida homeless shelter, interviewing residents and telling their stories in a publication called The Homeless Voice. Proceeds from the sale of the publication support residents and the shelter.
Those are the type of experiences Eldridge hopes to create and build upon as she transitions from leadership of the student to the professional organization. As president-elect, she will step into the role of leading the Georgia chapter in two years. That gives her time to “understudy” the current chapter president, Sharon Dunten, and help build the recently organized state chapter. Meanwhile she continues to work with the student chapter to plan programs for communication students and professionals. The chapter is hosting a workshop March 28 on working as a freelance journalist.
Communication professor Carlson said Eldridge is “one of the best presidents the chapter has ever had” as a result of the programs she came up with or helped arrange and the increase in membership, which “rose to its highest level yet.”
Eldridge recently accepted a part-time staff writer position with Reporter Newspapers and works up to 30 hours a week until she graduates. She stepped down as leader of the student SPJ chapter this year and also sold Target Audience magazine to a friend in 2014.
“Had to let some things go,” she said.
In the meantime, Eldridge is working towards two important goals: to reach back as leader of the professional organization to help communication students have an easier transition from academic to professional life; and to supplement her income with more freelance so she can stay home with her children. She’s also counting down until May when she hopes to graduate with high honors, with her children and family from far-flung places looking on.
“I try to stay humble, but I’m very proud of myself and all that I have accomplished,” said Eldridge, a 2014 winner of the Adult Learner Award and a two-time Who’s Who at Kennesaw State honoree. “I can just see myself with chords for SPJ, student media and honors hanging around my neck.”
Then, she acknowledges, she’ll probably have to rush off to file another news or feature story on deadline.
— Sabbaye McGriff
Photo by Robert Anthony Stalcup
A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 41,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia and the second-largest university in the state. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the region and from 126 countries across the globe. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.