By Maddie Liseblad, Arizona State University
I knew by age six I wanted to be a journalist. By that time, I was publishing my own newspaper, complete with pretty awful drawings to accompany my stories. And my stories, yeah, not so sure there were really what you would call articles. But, I had a fantastic mentor – my neighbor Jan. Every day Jan would walk by my house with his dog, and as often as I could, I would join them. During these walks I interrogated poor Jan about being a journalist and about life in general. Jan told my mom I was going to be a journalist for sure because I certainly knew how to ask questions. Little did he know back then that, fast forward some twenty years or so, Jan was going to be training me to take over his newspaper editor role.
I’ve had many mentors throughout my life, fantastic people who have encouraged and supported me, but also not been afraid to provide constructive criticism. I wouldn’t be who I am today without their guidance. There’s my Swedish teacher in high school, Gertrud, who encouraged me to explore my creative writing voice. There’s Lee, my first television news manager who showed me what kind of a boss to strive to be. There’s Ingmar, who showed me that public relations really isn’t the dark side. And then there’s Dean, my undergrad journalism professor. Dean is the reason I am where I am today, pursuing my Ph.D. at Arizona State’s Cronkite School.
I think it’s important for all of us to have mentors to help guide us, to steer us in a good direction. For me, switching gear and entering academia late in life has been kind of daunting. I have found I have a passion for historical research. I probably enjoy it so much because in a way, I still get to be a journalist and tell a story. I enjoy the hunt for that obscure piece of evidence, that primary source that has been forgotten. There’s great satisfaction in bringing history to life again. And I have found many kindred spirits in AJHA members and a support system I think is pretty unique.
As a graduate student, my experience with AJHA is that it is an incredibly welcoming organization. I was told before I attended my first AJHA convention that I was going to enjoy the experience, much more so than any other convention I had been to. And that certainly turned out to be true. The setting is more intimate and we all share a deep passion for history. There’s a connection from the get-go that is very inclusive and special.
While it was certainly intimidating to walk up to senior scholars whose work I greatly admire and whose footsteps I’d like to follow, the setting and atmosphere at the convention made it fairly easy. And you know what? Those senior scholars all turned out to be fantastic. They were very willing and eager to share their experiences and knowledge. I was treated as a valued colleague, rather than “merely” a graduate student.
I can’t say enough good things about the people I have encountered through AJHA. They have helped me in several different ways, everything from pulling reading material for my comprehensive exams to telling me which archive to find what in. I have never once been turned down, even when I have had complex questions or requests.
Within AJHA, I have found not only one, but a whole network of journalism history mentors. And furthermore, I have found colleagues and friends. I don’t regret for one moment that I joined and got involved with AJHA as a graduate student. What I do regret is that I didn’t do it sooner.
Maddie Liseblad is the chair of the Graduate Student Committee. If you are a graduate student and have questions about AJHA, please contact her at MaddieL@asu.edu.