Alumnus Michael Garcia G ’21 and magazine, news and digital journalism senior Christopher Hippensteel were awarded the National Center on Disability and Journalism’s inaugural Gary Corcoran Student Prize for Excellence in Reporting on Disability.
This award honors the advocacy of Gary S. Corcoran (1951-2015), a wheelchair user who helped make airlines, transit and public venues in Phoenix accessible.
The winners were formally recognized Nov. 14 at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication in Phoenix.
Garcia, a graduate of the magazine, news and digital journalism program, won first place for his article “The Wilderness Pill,” an expansive piece that explores how outdoor experiences and therapy are used as treatment for veterans with PTSD, anxiety and depression. For him, listening to veteran’s stories was the most remarkable part of the process.
“It was especially rewarding to hear [veteran Dennice Tafolla’s] story and how she’s dealt with PTSD and how the program she did really helped her inner life,” says Garcia, now a suburban reporter and producer for the Houston Chronicle.
His article was published in Upstate Unearthed, a capstone project within Multimedia Projects, a course in the Newhouse School‘s magazine, news and digital journalism program. The course was co-taught by associate professor Adam Peruta ’00, G’04 and former Newhouse professor Melissa Chessher.
“What’s great about the class is the pairing of Professor Peruta’s skill set— which is very different than my skill set—and giving students creative freedom to tell stories in a multitude of ways, which all journalists have to do, and truly trying to find the best ways to tell those stories,” Chessher says.
The students built Upstate Unearthed from the ground up, creating the website, reporting, researching, editing and even traveling if needed.
“It’s always gratifying when the students are winning awards for these projects because these are really hard projects and stories to pull off in one semester,” Peruta says.
Newhouse took not only first, but also second place for this prize. Hippensteel, a senior staff writer for The Daily Orange, won for his article “The PA justice system often fails autistic people. Can these activists and judges bring reform?” published by PublicSource, a nonprofit news organization in Pittsburgh.
He was inspired to write the article after being assigned to cover a series of panels addressing improvements to the Pennsylvania justice system for people with disabilities. Hippensteel wanted to dive deeper, and look “into what the landscape of criminal justice reform efforts are in Allegheny County, and also how the system, as it currently existed, harms people with autism.”
Hippensteel applied for the award over the summer, “not expecting much,” he says. He was shocked when he received the news that he won second place.
“I was definitely surprised,” he says. “Definitely deeply honored. And deeply grateful to the judges at Arizona State University for recognizing me.”