They're Going to Pay Me to Go to School

Posted by Ryan Jerz on Saturday April 22, 2006.

As I mentioned earlier this week, I got accepted to grad school. And since I got four chunks of bone ripped from my face this week, I’ve been a bit out of it. Vicotin keeps the pain away, though. I’m just bummed I can’t drink these beers (3.2%? What is this, Utah?) my dad brought me from the Indian Wells Brewing Co.. Does that mean I have a problem? But grad school is what’s been on my mind of late, when I’m coherent.

Getting the letter on Saturday night was a thrill. They told me when I applied that I’d hear around the 15th, and as that day approached, I began to get more nervous. I wanted to hear early. It was wildly important to me that I get in. I felt like my future happiness depended on that. Not entirely (that would be sad), but it was something I had pinned a lot of hopes on, and something I felt like I needed to keep it going professionally. And so here it is.

The whole thing started at Sears one night. Christy and I were checking out washers and dryers (kick-ass stackable front-loaders) that we plan on purchasing as part of the home upgrading I spoke about the other day. We ran into an old friend of ours and Christy remarked that she wanted to get her masters so she could explore teaching at the college level. He told us that the J-school was beginning a new masters program that started in the summer and lasted around ten months. She said she’d look into it. When we got home, she looked it up. Her exact words were, “This porgram looks great. It’s perfect for you.”

I really did not know how the process worked. I am quite a bit older than the average grad school applicant. Or maybe just the traditional grad school applicant. So none of my friends or contemporaries are doing it right now. I had nobody to ask about the process. I knew I had to write a letter, I knew I needed recommendations, I knew I needed samples, but I had no idea what would be better to include or not include. I really was a bit scared and a bit clueless. So I called my friend Paul and asked him to help me out. He gave me some info on how to handle things. Hell, I knew him and he’s been to grad school, so I figured I’d better use him to the fullest.

I screwed around for a few weeks and didn’t get my stuff done. I started writing my letter, I lined up a few recommendations, and sat still for awhile. Then time was crunched. I finished the letter, edited, pulled together some stuff that I thought demonstrated my abilities in the area of the program, and let my recommenders know I was ready. Then I looked up the requirements one last time and saw that they had extended the deadline two weeks. I didn’t care and didn’t tell anyone. I just turned my stuff in and got confirmation on my recommendations. It was time to wait.

The program is officially called Interactive Environmental Journalism. The J-school is calling it Web 2.0 Journalism. Based on the class descriptions, web development will be a part of it, so it ought to be a bit cutting edge for a graduate program. I’m excited about it. I had a couple of Journalism professors, an Environmental History professor, and my boss writing me recommendations. Luckily, they all liked me (I think). The toughest part of the application was choosing what to use as examples. I decided on the following.

One was my use of Flickr. Flickr holds the potential to be a great interactive journalism tool. It’s easy, photos are incredibly moving and informative, and it’s community-based. A perfect match for the program, and something I expect to see in classes.

Next I offered up a couple of podcasts. I have done a couple with the thought of being a Reno reporter. With the proper time and a little more reporting experience, I think I could do it well. Having had a few of these under my belt helped in my decision on what to include.

Another inclusion was my write-up for Wizbang Sports on Nick Fazekas. It’s certainly not reporting, but it’s an example of how I write and how I like to write. Judge it how you will, but I happen to think it’s one of my best pieces ever written here or elsewhere on the web, save some pretty good smack I’ve laid down. It was probably the most thought out and formulated things I’ve ever done. As a pretty impulsive writer on this site, that piece was rare for me. It was in my head for several hours before I sat down to write it. And I’m lucky I didn’t forget it like I have so many other fine ideas I’ve had over the years. So that was my third piece.

Finally, I offered up what I think had to be the most important part of the application. It’s called High 5. If you live here and watch my station regularly, you’ve probably seen one or two. They are nothing spectacular, but the reason I wanted to use them so badly was that I produced, wrote, interviewed, shot, edited, and put them online. From start ot finish, they were completely mine. There isn’t much else that I’ve done on that scale that I could call my own. They took me a while to complete, but once I got rolling, they came easier. And it is something that I believe fits completely in with the program. It’s an example of journalism, showed I could write a journalistic style, showed I could use a camera and editing system (which is pretty much all I do), and showed the technical skills to get things on the web. It’s interactive journalism in a nutshell. And I am proud of it.

So with all that turned in, I waited. After the date was pushed back, I knew it would be a longer wait, but I was more than happy to be done. My biggest fear, and it was a big one, was that my undergrad GPA was ass and I wouldn’t even be looked at beyond the initial application. I knew my personal and professional experience gave me a bit of an advantage, but as a youngsster I was a moron. Not until my final 30 credits was I a real student. And those final credits were quite a bit later than the early stuff, so I hoped the recognized that.

Now, if you read the description of the program (if not, read it now), you’d have seen that the program is just ten months long. It will be intense. I’ll have no time for much besides school. So I’d need to find something to get me some money. Christy and I talked and decided to look into loans. It shouldn’t be too bad for just ten months of school. We’ll be able to swing it, provided I find a damn job at the end of this thing.

Well, that fateful Saturday, when I opened my email and saw the email with the subject line “Congratulations,” I was ecstatic. Then, when I read it, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Granted, I had been drinking since the Wine Walk and was a bit tired, but there it was on the page. Not only was I accepted, but they offered me a part-time graduate assistantship. They offered me money to attend the program. Damn. My fears about just getting in were over, now I have to worry about what job they’re going to ask me to do for them so I can get paid. Wow. It was the one thing I told everyone who asked all weekend. “Hey Ryan, did you hear about grad school yet?” “Yup, they’re going to pay me to go.” How do you like that shit? Hell, like I said, I really don’t know how it all works. Maybe they got grants for the 15 or so people in the program and they’re paying everyone. That’s fine by me. The thing I just can’t get over is that they plan on paying ME money to be a part of this program.

I still am giving the impression that I am not sure what I plan to do about accepting or not. But I know better than to think I could possibly turn it down. I have to meet with the program head on Tuesday to go over a few things. Mostly I want to know a bit about what I’ll be doing, how to get loans, and what they expect the graduates to do with themselves after finishing. That’s obviously the scariest part. What the hell do I do with this. I’m not brave enough to start something on my own, so I need to meet some important people that like to hand money over to others. Wish me luck.

If you’ve made it this far, thanks. I hope you’ve had the time to check my other stuff out, and can follow me through this ordeal for the next year and two months. It’ll be a wild, intense ride, but I’ll be loving every step of it. And by the time I’m done, I might even be famous.

Ryan JerzRyan Jerz is an all-around good guy who wants people to eventually refer to him as "that dude who climbs mountains."

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