Michael S. Sweeney Graduate Student Travel Stipend and the Return of the AJHA Auction

24 Feb 2022 12:21 PM | Erika Pribanic-Smith (Administrator)

by Mike Conway, AJHA First Vice President 

It will be no surprise to those who knew Dr. Michael S. Sweeney of Ohio University that one of his final acts before passing away on January 15 involved helping graduate students pursue their interest in journalism and media history as well as finding a home in AJHA. 

We’ll start with the renewed initiative to help graduate students reduce the cost of attending our conference and then explain how Dr. Sweeney helped make it happen. 

$400 Graduate Student Travel Stipend. The Michael S. Sweeney Graduate Student Travel Stipend will provide $400 to graduate students who have a paper accepted and attend our 2022 AJHA Conference in Memphis in September. Student who are on conference panels or have their research-in-progress work accepted for presentation also will be eligible. In exchange for the $400 stipend, students will agree to attend the full conference and work a set number of hours to help with conference logistics. We will be setting up a registration process for eligible students who would like to receive the stipend.

Return of the AJHA Auction. Many of us first “experienced” Mike Sweeney through his yearly role as the auctioneer for the AJHA conference media history auction. After the silent bidding was complete, Mike got on the microphone and encouraged, shamed, cajoled, and used any method necessary to get us to bid higher on all of the items, always reminding us the money was given directly to grad students. By the end of the night, many of us had stacks of books, historic newspapers, trinkets, glasses, and other random items connected to journalism history that we didn’t know we needed. One of my favorite memories was when Mike was able to create a bidding war for a half-eaten ham sandwich that someone had left on an auction table.  

We are reviving the AJHA Conference auction for two reasons. First, the auction did raise money for graduate student travel. But maybe just as important, the auction created a space during the conference where graduate students and other new members could get to know members of AJHA away from the panel and paper presentations.   

The format for the renewed auction is still under discussion. We may not have the space necessary for the traditional Friday night auction event at our Memphis hotel. If not, we will conduct a silent auction that could run through much of the conference, keeping the items near the presentation rooms to allow people more time to bid. We may even reserve some top items for a short live auction during the Saturday Closing Gala, depending on our meeting space. 

No matter what the format, it’s time to start searching your journalism history collection for items that we can auction off for graduate student travel funds.  

Mentorship. The other piece of this initiative to help our graduate students involves a renewed commitment and new ways to help our graduate students succeed in their historical research and in navigating the world of academia. Many of us were drawn to AJHA as graduate students because of the way we were treated at AJHA compared to other academic conferences. I still remember senior members of AJHA that would stop me in the hallway to ask me about a research presentation or even just say hello. They seemed genuinely interested in my research and my hopes for an academic career. My first book and many of my research articles were directly a result of help from AJHA members at the conference. Our AJHA members still have that giving and inclusive spirit, so we want to find more ways to connect professors with graduate students. 

One of our ideas that we hope to set in motion this spring is one or a few Zoom sessions featuring AJHA members speaking on topics of interest for graduate students. We hope the timing could encourage them to submit their research for the AJHA Memphis conference. We could make these Zoom sessions year-round depending on interest. 

We also want to increase our efforts to make graduate students feel welcome at our conference and in our organization. We’re working on ways to connect graduate students who will be coming to Memphis so they can meet other students and faculty who will be at the conference. 

The enduring legacy of Dr. Michael S. Sweeney. This initiative began when AJHA President Aimee Edmondson appointed a temporary committee last fall to look into ways to recruit and retain graduate students for AJHA. She asked Claire Rounkles (Missouri; AJHA Graduate Student Committee Chair), Michael Fuhlhage (Wayne State), Gerry Lanosga (Indiana) and me to come up with some ideas. 

When we first considered the idea of bringing back the auction, I was in touch with some of the people who had been involved in the past, including Mike Sweeney. He provided important background and insight into the AJHA auction for us.  

We all know Mike’s commitment to students--not only those he directly mentored at Utah State and Ohio University, but also all of the students he has encouraged through his work at AJHA and as editor of Journalism History. He is also a role model for all of us in AJHA for his prolific and important scholarship over the years. In the past decade, he has taught us a master class in how to live with terminal cancer. His acceptance speech for the 2015 Kobre Award in Oklahoma City was a moment I will never forget.     

As we were working on these graduate student initiatives, we learned Mike was close to death. Aimee Edmondson and I talked about the strong connections between Mike, AJHA, and graduate students. We came up with the idea of naming the stipend after him. Mike’s wife Carolyn was able to talk to Mike about the idea during his final week and they were both enthusiastic about the opportunity. They even made it a point to encourage donations to the AJHA Graduate Student Travel Fund in his obituary.   

On February 17, the AJHA Board voted to rename the fund The Michael S. Sweeney Graduate Student Travel Stipend as well as to provide one-time seed funding to guarantee the $400 stipend for the Memphis conference. The amount of future stipends will depend on how much we can raise through donations to the Sweeney Stipend fund as well as AJHA auction proceeds.  

Because of the decision by Mike and Carolyn Sweeney to include AJHA in his obituary, we already  have received more than $4000 to help fund the travel stipend for Memphis. 

Of course, these initiatives only will work if we can find members willing to help us with the auction and mentorship plans as well as help raise money for the Sweeney Stipend. The ad hoc committee has agreed to work on the auction for 2022, and then we can hopefully come up with a plan to keep it going beyond Memphis. If you would like to help us with any of these initiatives, please get in touch with any member of our committee: Michael Fuhlhage, Gerry Lanosga, Claire Rounkles, or Mike Conway.

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