Iraqi Blogger, Day Trader, Golf Pro and AIDS Activist Are Among the 57 Students in the First Class Of the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism

An Iraqi blogger, a doorman, a day-trader, social worker, golf pro and AIDS activist are among the 57 students — a diverse group of high academic achievers — who make up the inaugural class of the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, Dean Stephen Shepard announced today.

With the paint barely dry and workers still placing finishing touches in the library, the three-semester master’s degree program is underway, and students are already pounding out news stories in the 80-seat wireless newsroom.

“We have brought together a first-rate faculty and an incredible group of students in a state-of-the-art facility,” said Dean Shepard, former editor in chief of BusinessWeek. “After two years of planning and recruiting, we’re thrilled to finally be underway.”

CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein said, “Journalism is a major industry in New York City, and students without the economic means to go elsewhere deserve to have a high-quality, affordable, way to prepare for careers. That’s why we decided to start this new school. Dean Shepard’s charge is to create a graduate program that ranks among the best in the nation.”

The inaugural class has an average undergraduate GPA of 3.4 and is among the most diverse of any graduate school of journalism in the country. CUNY’s program was launched with the express purpose of maintaining high standards and diversifying the pool of journalists in the nation’s newsrooms. Forty-seven percent come from underrepresented groups, including racial and ethnic minorities and immigrants, reflecting the broad diversity of New York City.

The last student to register, Zeyad A., arrived earlier this month from Amman, Jordan, where he had been waiting three months for an American visa. An Iraqi dentist, Zeyad chronicled daily life under siege in Baghdad over the past two years in his blog, “Healing Iraq.” The 27-year-old will study interactive media with Prof. Jeff Jarvis, whose own blog inspired Zeyad’s efforts. Zeyad’s reports from Iraq have been featured by The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Guardian, among other major news outlets.

About 25% of the first class are recent college graduates; the rest come from a variety of backgrounds and livelihoods. Half have had some journalism experience, either at a campus newspaper or an internship at a print or broadcast outlet; a few left jobs in journalism to sharpen their skills and learn more about interactive media. Several hope to start new careers.

Three out of four students live in New York State, mostly in New York City. The median age is 26 and 55% of the students are women. About 29 per cent are graduates of a CUNY college, but the others are graduates of a wide variety of colleges, including, Brown, Columbia, Vassar, Georgetown, UCLA, Berkeley, Chicago, NYU, Reed, and Wisconsin. Many of the students made CUNY their only choice, but others selected CUNY over other top programs. In addition to Zeyad, the class includes foreign students from Japan and Poland. Almost all students have qualified for some level of financial aid.

David Chiu, 32, of Brooklyn, said he was pleased by his decision to enroll. “The professors I’ve had are experienced and the students are bright and full of energy.” Chiu, who worked as a freelance contributor for such publications as The New York Times and Rolling Stone, added: “I’m totally learning a lot here.”

Jose Moreno, 23, of Yonkers, said he was struck by the School’s state-of-the art facility. “It’s really big and spacious,” he said. “Everything seems technologically advanced.”

The school offers a three-semester program leading to a Masters of Arts degree. This program includes the nuts and bolts of reporting, writing and editing; research methodology, and legal and ethical issues in journalism. All students concentrate in one of four subject areas, to give them deep knowledge in an area of specialty. While students select whether to focus on print, broadcast or interactive media, they all will be exposed to multiple media formats, to prepare for a workplace of converged media formats.

Other distinguishing features of the program include a summer internship at a media organization (unpaid internships are subsidized by the School), a NYC Community News Service that will distribute student stories to news outlets across the NYC region, and a partnership with CUNY TV, a 24/7 cable television outlet that reaches 2 million viewers, which will air the best student stories and offer student internships.

All faculty at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism are practicing journalists with years of experience on national publications and broadcast outlets; three are Pulitzer Prize winners. The first-year faculty includes seven full-time professors, six adjunct professors and five consortial faculty members attached to another CUNY campus.

The centerpiece of the facility, designed by Thomson Architects and constructed by John Gallin and Sons, is the wireless newsroom and the adjacent digital television and radio broadcast center that includes five editing suites and a 14-seat edit classroom. Classrooms can reach out anywhere in the world via wireless connectivity, teleconference, online interactivity and live streaming. Instructional space and furniture are flexible, to allow students to work in small teams, as an entire class, or individually.

The City University of New York is the nation’s largest urban public university: eleven senior colleges, six community colleges, the CUNY Honors College, the CUNY Graduate School and University Center, the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, the CUNY Law School and the Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education. The University serves more than 226,000 degree-credit students and 230,000 adult, continuing and professional education students. College Now, the University’s academic enrichment program for 32,500 high school students is offered at CUNY campuses and more than 200 high schools throughout the five boroughs of the City of New York. The University has launched an on-line baccalaureate degree through the School of Professional Studies and a new Teacher Academy offering free tuition for highly motivated mathematics and science majors who seek teaching careers in the city’s public schools.