Tag Archives: Drake University

What I gained from my Drake experience

Free time has long intimidated me. I evaded it for nearly my whole college career, packing every minute with homework, work, volunteering, writing, running, traveling — everything.

Lingering on anything marked the departure from what I knew into the frightening realm of uncertainty. Naturally, I feared the lull between graduation and the ‘real world.’ Though I’ve found myself intermittently paralyzed by post-grad uncertainty throughout the past month, I’ve had ample time to ponder everything from my next attempt at organizing my closet to which flavor of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream I’d buy if awarded a lifetime supply (chocolate chip cookie dough, duh).

What I gained from my Drake experienceThough my unmoored reflection often feels a bit erratic, there’s one thing I keep coming back to: my experience at Drake University.

When I bounded down the stairs on Friday shouting, “Yay! Yay! Yay!” at the arrival of my bachelor’s degrees in the mail, I realized the fancy pieces of paper with their swirly script and shiny stamps couldn’t even begin to explain or ‘complete’ my Drake experience.

Drake gave me the freedom to try a little bit of everything — app development, tablet production, broadcasting, electronic news gathering, tutoring, reporting and, of course, writing. Along the way, I realized it’s OK to admit what I don’t know, and it’s OK to change my mind.

Tomorrow, I begin my big-kid career as communications coordinator at the Science Center of Iowa in Des Moines. I didn’t study public relations and for a long time, saw myself as a news reporter or nothing.

As my professors, classmates and mentors encouraged me to be uncomfortable, to try user experience design, to be the audio director for a live student broadcast (really) and more, I realized I’m not limited to any path, print journalism or otherwise.

That realization comes full-circle tomorrow, as I’ll be back in the company of amazing coworkers and 13 fully articulated dinosaur skeletons, per SCI’s latest traveling exhibition.

Drake gave me a wealth of practical, resume-worthy skills, but most importantly, it gave me a pesky desire to abandon my comfort zone.

Small moments outshine major milestone

I applied for graduation yesterday. You know, that major event that caps one’s college career, the newfound prestige evident in ill-fitting commencement garb.

Yet it’s in the minute details of this semester that I’ve found the most joy and fulfillment.

While writing the Arabic alphabet yesterday for an assignment, I felt confident. I knew every letter, finally. Then, I received an at-the-time-unwelcome helping of humility in the form of one realization: I didn’t know how to properly write my own name.

The ego is a peculiar thing. It simultaneously motivates and endangers us.

Every week, I write a brief 100- to 150-word preview of Drake’s and Northern Iowa’s football games. They occupy little retail in the sports section of the Des Moines Register. But they remind me that sports are about more than scores and stats. They’re about building community, and I’m grateful to be a part of that larger goal.

I walked down to the Meredith Hall basement a few days ago and experienced a number of minute but impactful moments. I remembered my initial fear — and eventual comfort — in the realm of video editing and electronic news gathering. I remembered the semester-long dismantling of my journalistic ego, captured in the following mindset: “I’m the queen of print, so why should I learn this digital rubbish?”

And I remembered that about this time a year ago, I learned my No. 1 journalistic mentor and inspiration, Rick Tapscott, was ill. I recall the time (all right — times) I panicked in his office about a source, a lede, my future (or sometimes, all the above). One of Rick’s journalistic catch phrases was, “Get the name of the dog.” Translated, it means the small details and moments matter.

For a long time, I considered him solely a journalistic mentor. When I hit “submit” on my graduation application yesterday, when I completed what’s billed as a major moment and didn’t feel a thing, I realized Rick was more than a journalistic mentor.

What he taught me transcends the 100-150 words I write about football each week. It transcends Drake University and the Des Moines Register newsroom. Before my wannabe-philosopher self launches into some winding explanation of life’s minutiae, I’ll say it the best way I know: “Get the name of the dog.”

To all new Drake SJMC students: Be willing to change your goals

It’s a natural time of year for goals — defining new goals, checking up on past goals and even abandoning them entirely.

As I bid farewell to my favorite summer ever (yeah, you’re right, that statement deserves a duck-face/sunglasses Instagram selfie), I’m not setting any goals, for once.

When I entered as a freshman (I refuse to partake in that “first-year” rubbish) in 2011, I was determined to be a big-name newspaper editor. You know, that stereotypical editor-in-chief with an eternal glare and a red pen forever in her white-knuckled grip.

That rigid goal kept me from trying new disciplines for a long time. I, Taylor Soule, future print editor-in-chief, didn’t need to learn any of that newfangled digital whatnot.

Eventually, I realized I’m not some print hotshot (or any kind of hotshot, for that matter). I abandoned that rigid, limiting goal for something more flexible, more malleable. I want to try as many elements of the journalism world as possible.

While I lament the naiveté of freshman Taylor, I’d like to leave the new Bulldogs in the Drake SJMC with a few pieces of formal advice.

Define goals, but don’t forget their innate malleability. You’re free to alter them and even ditch them altogether.

Try everything. Not a techie? Take a TV field photography class. Despite your initial reluctance, sign up for that Android app-design class. Help build a killer tablet publication.

By the way, I did all of the above during my Drake experience.

Finally, if your Drake experience doesn’t make you question your major, your passions and your life trajectory on a daily basis, you’re not doing it right.

With my final semester a day away, I can only think of one way to properly end this post — a nugget of advice from late SJMC professor Rick Tapscott: “Journalism is an honorable and fun profession if you go into it for the right reasons.”

Capstone experience reveals the power of failure, teamwork

The final frontier (my attempt at hip lingo) of my Drake career begins on Monday. We’ve reached that dreaded part of the break where students consume inhuman amounts of ice cream/popsicles (my attempt at justifying that half-tub of Blue Bunny) and create vague, syrupy-sweet goals like, “Have my best year ever!” and, “Live it up!”

But given my life-writing fervor, I’m taking part only in the ice cream half of that equation.

Tonight, I’m meditating on my senior journalism capstone, in particular. Yeah, yeah, I know I completed it in May, but I admit I’ve felt (productively) traumatized by the experience until now and am finally realizing the extent of its impact.

Besides, had I written this post before today, it probably would have read more like, “Inman (my professor), why are you making me rewrite that damn lede? A–hole!” Fear not, we created a ticker for every time he received that name. Each addition to the ticker, I now realize, wasn’t proof of malice but proof of all he taught me.

The rumored horror of writing all night and texting your mother, “I am going to die from copy editing!” (all right, maybe that one is just me) is all true.

But you’ll love it, I swear. Capstone teaches you more about what it takes to work on a team than about anything media- or writing-related. It’s not about the final product, that portfolio piece or that telling photo.

It’s about the jarring, angering but ultimately eye-opening reality of what you’ll face in the big-kid world.

While capstone taught me many important life lessons (don’t drink that record eighth cup of highly caffeinated black tea), it taught me the importance of failure, above all.

I failed big-time in capstone — often. I don’t mean letting the conniving (FYI, my thesaurus app listed “Machiavellian” for an alternative) Oxford comma into the tablet edition of Think Mag.

We cut an article I wrote. I waited way too long to lead the fact-checking charge. I wrote an article that we eventually cut by an entire page (if you ever need to know anything about the alarming trend of heroin in the suburbs of the Twin Cities, tweet at me or something).

But it all worked out — really, it did. We created a killer tablet edition, I now know the price of heroin in every major Midwestern city and in the end, I learned to communicate and function on a team. And I learned to fail epically.

New role at The Register fulfills longtime dream

I found comfort in my morning routine: a bowl of apple-cinnamon oatmeal in the center of my placemat, a cup of ice water to the right, The Des Moines Register sports section to the left. Growing up, my place at the breakfast table provided certainty amid the ever-turbulent teenage years. Reading the Register’s sports page offered a break from the impending reality of homework and the inherently awkward nature of young-adult life.

When I realized my interest in journalism (I’d say “calling,” but I like to think I have multiple callings, including amateur ice cream expert-hood and origami-folding), working at The Register immediately became my then-faraway dream. The sports section had helped me conquer morning lethargy, and it featured my favorite city — perfect.

The further I delved into the news-Internet curriculum at Drake University, I developed a more profound appreciation for the publication and its content. I like the balance of feature and hard-news pieces, and I can’t go without the Reader’s Watchdog stories.

Tomorrow marks a new era in my longtime tie with The Register; I’ll begin working as a news assistant in the sports department.

Though I’ve completed all the required paperwork, toured the newsroom and signed my official offer letter, it doesn’t feel real yet. Because part of me still expects the sports section to occupy its perch next to the oatmeal, ready to awaken my groggy, dreaming brain.

Dictionary research reveals problematic nature of labels

At the beginning of May, I named summer 2014 a season of risk-taking. I would try new things and reinvent myself!

Two months into an ever-erratic Iowa summer, I’ve realized the season has transformed into something else. Thanks to my senior journalism capstone, Think Mag, I developed a procrastination-worthy (but generally welcome) compulsion to analyze the origin of words.

Amid a word’s winding journey through cultures, languages and time, it often reveals a valuable nugget of insight — something even the modern reader can derive from an ancient definition.

While wandering the Internet recently, I searched “risk,” the word that had (supposedly) guided me. According to my beloved Oxford English Dictionary (I’m dreading the day my online subscription ends, due to my Drake graduation), “risk” means “the possibility of loss, injury or other adverse circumstance.”

The negativity in the word’s historical journey surprised me. I mean, I understand the potentially grave outcome of something like cliff diving — all I wanted was to find my inner rebel.

But that’s the power of word etymology: It forces me to rethink my frame of mind and the way I process language and its significance. Etymology reveals the alarming extent to which I simplify words.

Without exploring a word’s origin and ever-evolving definition, it loses complexity and beauty — cue the quick, neat label for my summer. No longer did I have to ponder the meaning of “risk” and “risk-taking” in my life. That word eliminated the productive potential of innate ambiguity.

Though I’ve since abandoned the “risk-taking” theme, it manifested in an unexpected way. I’m no longer searching for a theme or any means of defining my summer, and for a conclusion enthusiast and champion organizer, that’s pretty risky.

Embracing my inner teacher

Growing up, I heard it again and again: “Are you going to be a teacher like your mom?”

“Ha! No way!” I’d exclaim.

I would be a writer, perched behind the gigantic mahogany desk of my imagination, a pile of books framing me on either side as dust particles danced in the glow of an antique lamp. A realistic goal, clearly.

In my time at Drake University, to my surprise, I’ve adopted the teacher role — and for a long time, I didn’t want to admit it. There are five generations of female teachers on my mother’s side of the family, but I clung to the notion of, “I’m an individual, damn it! An editor. A rebel.”

In 2013, I trained to be a writing tutor at the Adult Literacy Center at Drake.

“I’m a mentor, not a teacher,” I’d clarify, channeling my inner ‘rebel.’ As my student — a native Spanish speaker — and I worked through foreign sounds and dedicated over 20 minutes to the pronunciation of a single word, at times, I discovered my inner teacher and the role I had been loath to acknowledge and engage before.

Teaching, I realized, manifests in unexpected ways, no matter my self-proclaimed ‘editor’ title. That unpredictability felt particularly real when my Teaching Writing class was assigned a real-world project.

No more hypothetical “Student 1” and “Student 2.” We would provide feedback on essays about The Great Gatsby for high school seniors in Guadalajara, Mexico, via the Internet. Talk about intimidating.

In my initial feedback to Rocio, my student, I provided vague suggestions and tiptoed around big-picture possibilities for development. To my anxiety, it was no longer my responsibility to add commas and correct pronoun/antecedent agreement; I had to become a teacher and abandon my beloved editor role.

The dramatic shift from an editorial role to a teacher role forced me to examine writing in a big-picture way.

Rather than stay in my comfort zone of editing for grammar and mechanics, I had to step back and ask myself what I hoped to achieve in the long-term. Though that shift in the way I examine writing — and think, in general — was uncomfortable, I have a better understanding of the discourse in which I work and a newfound ability to approach writing in big-picture way. Plus, I saw growth in the clarity, development and communication of Rocio’s analysis of The Great Gatsby.

I entered the project hopeful I’d see her grow as a writer. I didn’t realize how much I would grow as a respondent and teacher in a few short weeks.

As I continue to tutor my Adult Literacy Center student for a second year, I’ve adopted another unexpected teacher role. I’m teaching the new Times-Delphic editor-in-chief how to survive — and thrive — in one of the toughest jobs on campus. How to learn from the inevitable error on the page. How to balance fun and productivity in the workplace. And a whole lot more I can’t even begin to predict.

Along the way, I hope I’ll teach her how to be a better editor, writer and maybe, teacher.

Redefining my summer to-do list

At the beginning of every summer as a child, I’d create a to-do list for break. You know, the type of list that would undoubtedly reveal the bad girl 14-year-old Taylor clearly embodied beneath that baggy Aeropostale hoodie and jean skirt (shudder).

My bad-girl summer list typically included staying up all night (I’ve yet to pull an all-nighter, even in college) and rearrange Walmart (a small-town Iowa thing I thankfully never achieved).

Clearly, we’re not all meant for the bad-girl life. Rather than create an equally anti-Taylor list this summer, I’ve adopted a more practical, realistic option: a summer 2014 journalism to-do list.

Add “but.” This summer, I’ll admit what I don’t know — but I’ll add five key words after it: “But I’m willing to learn.” That attitude already led me to a love of editing video in Premiere Pro, and I can’t wait to find out where it’ll lead me next.

Write daily. Apparently, writing daily wasn’t badass enough for 14-year-old me. Really, though, I should have added this goal years ago, in place of something life-changing like the inevitable, “Crank call [insert name of latest middle school ‘hottieeeeee]’”). Extra letters necessary, duh. But seriously, I’m determined to update my blog at least once a week with media-related musings.

Remember it’ll all work out. As I confront the fact that my junior year is, in fact, over, and I’m a semester away from graduation, I turn once again to the wise words of late Drake journalism professor Rick Tapscott: “It’ll all work out. It always does.” As the daunting task of applying for “big-kid” jobs looms, that phrase provides a constant anchor (even amid the unmoored moments of panic).

2014 has already proved a year of transformation, change and risk-taking (and I don’t mean crank-calling my latest “soul mate”).

In this past semester, I’ve redefined the rebel spirit of my 14-year-old self. I’ve embedded the uncomfortable — new technology, new challenges, new experiences — in my daily life.

Along the way, I realized I don’t need the thrill of a crank call at 3 a.m. or the tired delirium of a caffeine-fueled all-nighter. I need only the simple satisfaction of knowing at the end of every day that I challenged myself a little bit.

Trip to Turkey promises a lesson in the power of uncertainty

I thrive on the thrill of certainty.

Though I’ve memorized the difference between “everyday” and “every day,” I check my beloved AP Stylebook each time I write it. I admit I relish the brief thrill in that moment of confirmation. And though I’ve memorized the family formula for caramel cake, I rifle through the recipe box each time I bake it in hunt of the now-tattered card.

Next week, however, I’ll embark on a big journey defined by uncertainty.

I’m traveling to Turkey Jan. 9-24 to learn about an unfamiliar culture on a new continent, and I’m uncertain what to expect. And weirdly enough, I’m fine with that (All right, I will be fine with it after I devour another piece of caramel cake).

When I wander the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, tour the Virgin Mary House in Izmir and try new food, I vow to let the uncertainty linger. While I get a thrill from confirming the amount of water in a top-notch cake recipe, I’m determined to realize the value in uncertainty.

I’m uncertain what that value will be for me, but I think I’ll begin the journey today, from my kitchen in Iowa: I’ll bake my beloved caramel cake recipe from memory.

Expanding my perception of productivity

“Mean Girls” blared as my friends laughed in harmony, reciting Regina George’s lines and inhaling Sour Patch Kids. Meanwhile, my fingers hovered above my keyboard, pounding feverishly to silence their advice: “Taylor, it’s Friday night. Take a break from work, and watch the movie.”

I’ve long restricted my perception of productivity to two arenas of my life: my education and my work. In the spring of 2012, I realized my limited perception of productivity was sapping my life of valuable relationships and — my ultimate foe — relaxation.

While I admit I yet refuse relaxing at times, I’m slowly expanding my perception of productivity to include down time, family time and friend time.

Napping, playing pick-up sticks with my sister and watching “Mean Girls” (again) hardly advance my journalism goals, but they enrich and balance my life.

Productivity, I’ve discovered, is a broad term for any experience that contributes to personal growth.

Family time, for example, reveals that my achievements are the result of others’ lifelong belief in my abilities. That belief merits my gratitude. Under the hypnotizing spell of to-do lists and due dates, however, I neglect to thank my family.

Friend time reminds me to laugh, joke and enjoy my Drake University years. Work and play are equally fundamental to goal-achievement.

Even napping is a catalyst for self-development, as it reminds me again and again of my invincibility. Taking care of my body is a key step in taking care of my latest to-do list.

I’m moving toward balance in my life, one Regina George quote at a time.