USM journalism students are seizing the day, and the story

 The University of Southern Mississippi
COURTESY MARY ALICE WEEKS The University of Southern Mississippi

They did not want to take a selfie -- it was too early in the day.

After all, I did crash Christopher Campbell's reporting class at 10 a.m. Wednesday -- for any college student, that's early.

Campbell, a professor in the University of Southern Mississippi's mass communication and journalism department on the Hattiesburg campus, invited me to speak to students in his reporting class. He wanted me to tell them about what I do at the Sun Herald and give them tips on landing a job after they graduate.

The juniors and seniors, though, did not need much advice. The young journalists already were working on end-of-semester long reads about the state's complicated education system.

And some of the students work for USM's newspaper, the Student Printz, or have been published in other periodicals.

Brandon native Cam Bonnelli is the Printz's 2016-17 executive editor. She took the road less traveled to pursue a degree in photojournalism.

"Journalism never really came to me," she said. "I didn't know what I wanted to do."

She attended Mississippi School for the Arts and fell in love with photography, but she said she was pressured at first to major in a subject that would lead to a lucrative career. She took a couple of years off to find herself.

"I came to Southern and decided I wanted to be a photojournalist," she said.

She also writes for the paper.

DeeJay Rolison is from a small town named Decatur. He was first published in 10th grade, as a columnist in the town's newspaper.

He came to Southern Miss for journalism camp in 2011 and "fell in love with the atmosphere."

In Campbell's class, Rolison is writing about support for LGBT students in Mississippi's education system.

"I want to integrate HB 1523 and how that's affecting people and look into support for transgender, gay and lesbian students," he said.

He also wants to see if any high schools in the area (or state) have gay-straight alliance clubs.

Alexa Johnston of Brandon said she always wanted to be a journalist or a writer but she began college as a nursing major.

"I kind of got pressured into a career that would have a definite job," she said. "I decided to leave that because I wasn't passionate about (nursing)."

For her project, she is looking into poverty in the education system. She's lined up an interview with a Mississippi teacher who paid for books for her classroom because the school would not pay for them.

"When I was in school, we did not have books you could take home, but I didn't know that you were supposed to," Johnston said. "I did not know that wasn't normal."

Luke Smith of Mendenhall is looking into segregation in the state's schools, and Andre'El Brown of Summit is analyzing dropout rates.

Roderick Gilmore of St. Francisville, La., is looking at funding shortfalls across the state, as well as passed and failed initiatives.

Campbell's class said they often use Facebook and Twitter to find or contact sources and are eager to begin interviewing people for their story topics.

As a Southern Miss grad, I found it refreshing to speak with a group of students invested in journalism and invested in the future of media.