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School of Communication and Media Arts Partners with WSHU to Give Graduate Students a Shot on NPR

Two graduate assistants already have had on-air presence

Sacred Heart University’s relationship with WSHU radio is making waves. Last semester, the University’s School of Communication and Media Arts (SCMA) began working with the onsite National Public Radio (NPR) news and classical music station, WSHU. Two graduate students are part of the partnership and have been filing reports on air.

Joe Alicastro, coordinator of news and broadcasting in SHU’s Master’s in Communication (MACOMM) program, spearheaded the effort. “I’m an avid fan of WSHU and that’s the absolute truth. Every morning, I start by listening to WSHU with an espresso, The Norwalk Hour and The New York Times,” he says. “I had long thought that a partnership between the School of Communication and Media Arts and WSHU would be natural. We began by talking to WSHU News Director Dan Katz and General Manager George Lombardi.”

“A major goal of WSHU’s news department is to bring the next generation of reporters into public radio while boosting our local news coverage. Natalie and Christian have already reported on several issues of regional significance and we’re so happy to have them on our team,” said Katz.

Representatives of WSHU and the SCMA met and, subsequently, two graduate assistants were hired, one funded by the SCMA and one by WSHU. This move has provided invaluable experience for the graduate students and fresh, robust, multimedia content for WSHU on air and for their expanding website.

“The timing worked out perfectly, because two of my strongest students, who were with me for three years as undergraduates—Christian (Carter ’17) and Natalie (Cioffari ’17)—were applying to continue on the graduate level,” Alicastro explains. He calls both “natural candidates for this position,” highlighting Carter’s role as senior producer of the Pulse, SHU’s TV news magazine program, and Cioffari’s time as editor of The Spectrum, SHU’s student newspaper. The two will spend 20 hours a week as graduate assistants for WSHU and take one course during each eight week module for the duration of the two-year program.

Last month, Carter and Cioffari participated in an intensive, three-day workshop on campus with former Washington NPR producer Cindy Carpien, now a trainer, and they already have had multiple news reports broadcast on the station’s popular show, All Things Considered. The graduate assistants’ first on-air reports began the week after their training, including a lead story on the Connecticut blog from Carter about a Stonington budget protest and a piece from Cioffari on a rare, tick-borne illness in the state.

“I’m grateful to have already gained on-air presence, online publication and a professional mentorship that is helping me to be a more seasoned news reporter,” Carter says. “Working with Cindy Carpien has been a great experience. We dove right into everything on day one. I never would’ve expected to have been interviewing personnel on my first day, but at that moment, I knew that this experience would definitely pay off.”

“From the day I started, I was writing stories and recording for radio,” Cioffiari adds. “I feel like I am treated with the same respect and maturity as a full-time senior journalist.”

For the young reporters, questions are encouraged and colleagues are readily available to help with stories and pitch ideas. Alicastro stresses the value of the hands-on, professional experience that this graduate program provides. “It’s so important, as SCMA continues to grow, that we create these opportunities for our students,” he says. “This is a wonderful step forward for SCMA. My hope is that this will not only be an opportunity for students, but also a magnet for students.”

With partnerships like the CT Sports nightly program, produced by SCMA graduate students on the Vantage Network, and the ESPN-style, live, four-camera streaming program of SHU football (for which Alicastro is executive producer), the broadcast and journalism concentration has grown to 25 students. “Each year it’s getting better and more expansive,” says the professor, who has been teaching at Sacred Heart since 2009.

Students like Carter and Cioffari are surrounded by “deeply engaged” professors and mentors who are industry professionals, such as Alicastro and Carpien. “This is truly an experience that will play as the perfect catalyst into the next chapter of my career,” says Carter, who hopes one day to report the news nationally and internationally. Cioffari declares journalism is her “passion” and says she knows this program will help her become a well-rounded journalist. She hopes to inspire others to get more involved in their communities through her work and dreams of becoming an executive producer of a show or news station.

“With their talent and this training, they will be able to go anywhere in the world and be professional reporters,” Alicastro says.

SCMA and WSHU Partnership 2

Natalie Cioffari interviews Congressman Jim Himes at a recent SHU event. At right is WSHU News Director Dan Katz.