About Marquita Brown

Marquita Brown is a writer, freelance journalist and student. She is originally from Mississippi and an alumna of the University of Mississippi. She is now living and working in North Carolina, an Ole Miss Rebel preparing to reemerge into the workforce as an Elon Phoenix.

Eyeing the future

Nine months behind us. One more to go.

It almost doesn’t seem as if much time has lapsed since that first week of iMedia boot camp, when the class of 2017 gathered in the classroom of our home base, the second floor of Powell. It was during that first week when Professor William Moner asked the class to write responses to four questions on index cards and suggested that what we wrote could later serve as a point of reflection. Some of us heeded that advice.

Beth Pandone keeps her card on the bulletin board above the desk in her bedroom.

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“I like to write down my goals and go through with them,” she said. “This card seemed like an interesting way to keep track of my goals and how I felt in the beginning of the program.”

Although she describes her responses as “vague and basic,” the goals she described then still align with her current plans.

“I still want to create content that is exciting and creative as well as help others,” Beth said. “I think the program allowed me to build the skills needed to do this, and my capstone, which focuses on education and the environment, shows that my goals and focus have stayed the same through this all.”

Now, Beth’s interests have evolved beyond broadcasting to include digital strategy and UX research and design.

Sam Solomon carries her index card around in her backpack. Sam wrote in now-faint pencil strokes that she wants to design and she loves to be creative. She wants to use design for a greater purpose, to improve eh world. As for iMedia, she wrote in August, she wasn’t sure how it would fit into her plans, but “it is a stepping stone.”

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When the program began, Sam wanted to get better at coding. “I can say that I have done just that,” she said. “(I) still have a ways to go, but I definitely know more than I did nine months ago.”

I am now way more interested in interactive design in  general. Prior to iMedia it was hard to imagine what I could do with a masters degree in interactive media but now my eyes have been opened and my head is full of so much knowledge about interactive design.” You can see more of Sam’s design work here.

As for me, I don’t know where put my index card. Good thing I know myself and that I’m prone to lose things. I’m sure that’s why, after writing my responses, I snapped a picture of my index card with my phone. I had forgotten about the picture until I was scrolling through my library recently and puzzled for a second over recognizing my crooked script. The next surprise was how, before dozens of times when I succumbed to fits of doubt about life after iMedia, I seemed to know what I wanted.

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Our class was the second one asked to complete the index card activity, which is meant to help students to start thinking about their progression toward completing a capstone project and post-grad life.

Students often come into the program with more ambitious projects in mind, Moner said. “The reality at the end of the program doesn’t always match, but the intent is still there.”

Looking back at the index cards helps foster a sense that students really accomplished what they wanted initially wanted to. “It might not have been the exact outcome, but … you were going in the right direction,” Moner said.

When I applied to iMedia, I was all but certain I wanted to find some way to launch my own hyperlocal journalism startup. I knew I needed to learn to code, and I felt confident I would master it even though I had already had a series of freakouts while attempting to learn Javascript. I didn’t know there would be so, so many more to come. Even then, I knew I wanted my work to have a broader impact, which is also something I love about journalism. My plans and interests shifted a bit quickly after starting classes last fall. I became interested in content strategy and – another surprise to me – branding. My post-iMedia plans now align my interest in writing and journalism with my newfound interactive skills. I’m excited about what’s next.

Sometimes you have to look back to move forward. Hindsight sharpens the recognition that how far you’ve come makes it easier to complete the journey ahead. Sure, that’s a little cliché, but it’s an idea I’m trying to focus on now that I know the finish line is rapidly nearing on the horizon, but all I see ahead of me is a hill of work I have yet to complete.

“It’s never as bad as you think it is,” Moner said. “And by that I mean, when you’re sort of in the crucible that’s all you can think about, right? But from our perspective, what we see as faculty is a tremendous amount of growth, both in the skills that you have and in the perspective that you bring to new projects and challenges.”

It’s tough to focus on what’s next when you’re still mired in coursework, the job hunt, and piecing together what’s next. Still, in-between hours of studying and working, we have formed lifelong bonds with at least a few of our peers. Maybe more than we can articulate to anyone else who has never experienced this program, we learned to problem-solve and persevere.

Things have worked out for me better than I imagined. I hope that’s true for the rest of iMedia ‘17 or that it will be in the near future.

May the darkest times be when we shine brightest. May we look back on these times with more fond memories than adverse ones. May we find ourselves in the middle of a reality more rewarding than what we ever dreamed each time we reflect on the point when it all started to become possible.

iMedia fly-in: The trip not taken

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

— Robert Frost

The road winded through the mountains, past colorful, tin-roofed houses crammed together along the sides. As the bus moved through the Linda Vista, the translator shared some of the community’s history.

The green field where children play soccer was once a landfill. Children used to say their parents were “divers” – a reference to salvaging items from the trash, not exploring the oceans in scuba gear. In many cases, the translator explained, the owners of the houses we passed by were squatters; they didn’t own the land beneath their humble homes.

This was the first introduction to a community where Fundación PIEDAD, one of the fly-in clients, operates a school, Escuela Linda Vista. It is not a place I would have seen had I traveled to Costa Rica on my own instead of for a fly-in as a member of Team Pura Vida ’17.

Looking back, much of what I enjoyed in Costa Rica were experiences I normally avoid when traveling.

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I usually insist on eating out when I travel, although I try to favor locally owned restaurants over restaurant chains. I usually turn down offers to stay at someone’s home and eat a home-cooked meal. My view on this changed in Costa Rica.

The fly-in team ate two meals cooked by a local woman and her mother and served at their home. I enjoyed and appreciated the meals, but it wasn’t until I was back in North Carolina that the importance of that experience sank in. I can’t take full credit for the revelation. While talking with Amanda Jones (program manager for Team Inspire and Ice) about our respective fly-in experiences, she mentioned what it honor it was for my team to get to share a meal with someone in their home. I just take credit for recognizing the truth in what she said.

Had I traveled on my own, I would have chosen a different hotel, maybe one owned by a chain in different part of the city. But the first morning, I immediately took pictures of the mountain view from the window of my hotel room to share with friends and family. One of my favorite memories from the hotel is when I spent way too much time using broken Spanish and inadequate hand gestures trying to ask a woman who, I think, manages the business, if I could pet her dog. After she brought over two more people, and after several failures with Google translate, we reached a point of understanding. Petting the dog — a friendly Shar-Pei with a loud, gruff bark — made my day.

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When I travel, I avoided walking for any substantial distance in unfamiliar places. The scenery around me is typically a blur from a car window instead of something I strolled (or huffed and puffed) through.

If left to my own trip-planning devices, I would have missed out on what felt like an authentic experience.

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In his poem The Road Not Taken, Robert Frost describes how someone feeling nostalgic and sentimental exaggerates about the importance of a mundane decision they once made. Maybe I’m already doing that now as I reflect on the fly-in to Costa Rica, which is already almost a month away in my rear view. Either way, I do know this: I enjoyed the trip overall. I felt I got a fairly authentic sense of the country in a short amount of time. Yes, it’s silly to feel a little sentimental about wiping away layers of volcanic ash from my phone and laptop screens, but not to remember the awe I felt while watching a seemingly endless landscape of mountain slopes and caverns pass by on one bus trip. I still smile at my grainy iPhone photos and remember marveling at the pink-mottled sky above the mountains at sunrise and at dusk.

The fly-in is yet another example of how iMedia has pushed me outside of my comfort zone. At numerous times, I have had to embrace change and the unknown.

Doing so has made all the difference.

Lessons in the struggle

I really thought iMedia would be easy. (I’ll wait a moment for the explosion of laughter to subside.)

Seriously, though, I entered the program thinking it would be a breeze compared to the work I’ve done before. I spent years working as a journalist at newspapers in Virginia, Mississippi, and most recently, North Carolina. There were days when I worked almost literally from sunrise to sunset or even later, not leaving the office until after midnight. I’ve turned around three or more news stories in one day. Some assignments involved not only writing, but also live tweeting and shooting short videos. What else could be more exhausting than that, right?

We all know the answer.

My automatic response to questions about my weekend plans is, “Homework.” I don’t think about what’s showing on TV during the week; chances are I won’t be home to watch it anyway. I’m routinely up early each morning to finish reading or other assignments. I routinely fall asleep while reading or working on my laptop. My life was completely different almost three months ago, but that’s a good thing. Yes, I’m usually exhausted and somewhat overwhelmed, but I generally feel good about what I’m learning and doing. The pain and frustration, generally, are worth it.

I joined iMedia hoping to broaden my career options. I also entered with what I thought was a clear plan of what I wanted to do next. A few days of boot camp made me realize that like Jon Snow, I knew nothing. But that’s a good thing as well. Here’s why: I’m already doing things that were completely foreign to me before I started this program. I’ve actually coded websites. I’m much more comfortable with Photoshop and Illustrator — programs I hadn’t really used before.

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We’ve also had a number of guest speakers, which is one of my favorite things about the program so far. Less than three months in, we’ve heard from a number of iMedia alumni. Other guest speakers include Scott Kelly of the Elon business school and Lee Rainie of the Pew Research Center (who is also author of a book we read in one class). We attended a session with internet pioneer Vint Cerf. I also attended a broader university event with legendary Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward.

Insight from those guests, as well as everything I’ve learned in class so far, led me to toss aside my post-graduation plans. I don’t know what I’ll do then or what I will be capable of doing. While that occasionally sends me into a panic, it also leaves me a little excited about the possibilities.