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Teaching The Future Radiophiles

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Photo by Mónica Ortiz Uribe

A student intern conducts an interview at a coffee shop in El Paso.

EL PASO, Texas -- I choose my interns like I sometimes choose my stories -- I revel in a challenge. This school semester my student is a shy 21-year-old who speaks English as a second language. She's a soft-spoken, timid creature -- and yet she wants to be a journalist.

When I pushed her to do her first practice interview at my neighborhood coffee shop, she went pale.

But it was she who sought me out for an internship, she who wanted to gain experience beyond the university walls. That tells me there's a spark somewhere inside her. It's my job to find it and set it on fire. If I'm successful, one day she'll mature into a confident, curious and assertive professional, no matter what field she ends up choosing.

I don't seek out student interns to fetch me coffee (although I will make them log plenty of tape). I seek them out because I myself am the product of many fantastic mentors. My teachers have helped shape me and have always been right behind me on my journey to reach my professional goals. And although I still have plenty to learn, it's time to give back.

As most reporters will tell you, you don't learn everything in J-school. When I got my first job as a cops reporter in small town Texas, I didn't know the difference between the police department and the sheriff's department. I had little practice in the tricky art of interviewing and not much of a stomach for the gory details of traffic accidents or murder scenes.

This is why I make sure my students get a very truthful and hands-on experience when they work with me. I push them to ask the mayor a question I know he won't like. I push them to call someone back if they forgot to get a key piece of information. I let them make mistakes and learn from them.

Those of us who do what we love for a living are lucky, but also brave. It takes courage to pursue your greatest ambitions. I also know you'll never figure out what you love to do until you actually do it, another reason why internships are so important. So wish my student luck, and hopefully you'll be reading her byline or listening to her on the radio in the not-so-distant future.