J-School student inspired by her New York Times mentor

New York Times mentor inspires J-School student
Sophomore Journalism student Jada Vasser is using her skillsets firsthand through a mentorship offered by the New York Times Corps, a talent pipeline for U.S.-based students from underrepresented groups. Vasser is a member of the inaugural cohort along with 20 other undergraduate journalism students from across the country to receive career guidance from New York Times journalists.

Vasser’s mentor is Troy Closson, a New York Times reporter on the Metro desk covering education in New York City.

Vasser, who is a Senior Copy Editor for the State News and Treasurer of the National Association of Black Student Journalists (NABJ) credits her experiences for providing her with the necessary skills to make the most of her mentorship. 

“I can bring more developed questions when I have one-on-one meetings with my mentor, and it’s helped me lead with more descriptive conversations versus ‘oh, how do you do this.’ It’s more so, ‘do you have any skills I can learn to develop more since I am already doing things right now?”

Vasser applied as a rising sophomore ahead of the 2022-2023 school year. She credits State News advisor Kim Margolis for encouraging her to apply. Students participate in the program until their respective graduation. After a student completes two years in the program, the Times will invite them to the newsroom, expenses paid, and meet with the Times journalists.

Jada meets with Closson monthly. Since they began corresponding at the beginning of the school year, Vasser has gained valuable insight from the reporter.

“When I first started working at the State News, I felt like couldn’t report. I felt like I had to strictly stick to editing — and as much as I love editing, I felt like there were a lot of stories that needed to be heard, but nobody would write them,” said Vasser. “It took me talking to him [to understand] that I can do both. I can still have my love for editing, but I can also write simultaneously because they kind of do go hand in hand. You don’t have to choose.”

One of Vasser’s most significant takeaways from her correspondence with Closson is to never feel like her ideas are bad ideas. When pitching story ideas that fall flat, Closson emphasizes that they may simply need more work. His message is clear to Vasser, and she has already taken his advice and used it in East Lansing. 

“Now with the stuff I’ve written, it’s like — I’m not going to toss it. I’m just going to work on it for maybe a month or two, then represent it,” Vasser said. 

DEI in Newsroom
Vasser is encouraged to be working with a successful Black journalist like Closson, but wishes there was more diversity amongst the nation’s top news organizations. 

"I find it really cool to talk to someone of color who actively works at the New York Times," she said. "When I see these organizations, there's not a lot of people that look like me."

Of the program's mission, NYT Corps Director Theodore Kim said, “Access to quality career guidance is one of the biggest challenges facing students seeking to be journalists. This program is an effort to address that.”

Vasser says that being paired with Closson helps her to love journalism more because she is able to see someone that isn't much older than her doing the same thing, full-time.

Closson inspires Vasser that her dreams can turn into reality. She hopes to do her part in inspiring others to follow suit.

"I kind of picture myself where he is, and it helps me feel more comfortable knowing that it is okay to still be me. I can still do this profession and I can hopefully, like he’s doing, pave the way at some of these big news organizations where other college students of color can apply and join there, too."

By Matt Dwyer

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