CAS News


Miller wins two Mark of Excellence awards

TAMPA, Fla. -- Most students who enter into a competition hope to win an award or even place, but for Christina Miller the possibility of winning two first-place awards never crossed her mind.

The 21-year-old mass communications senior was surprised she placed in the Society of Professional Journalists Mark of Excellence competition. Her stories, “Bowling in the 21st Century” and “Twice Read: A Story About Letters,” won first place for Online Sports Reporting and Online Feature Writing, respectively.

Miller learned she won via email.

“When I found out that I placed, I was assuming I would be third because I guess I underestimated my talent,” Miller said.

Originally, both stories started out as assignments for Advanced Reporting with Professor Wayne Garcia.

Miller’s first assignment was a feature story, and she decided to write about handwriting letters.

“I was trying to think outside the box,” Miller said. “It started off as a story about handwriting letters. It’s interesting. It’s like a dying art. I feel like it’s unique enough to where most people won’t necessarily relate to it, but it’s cool enough to where it will pique their interest.”

After Miller told Garcia she had written letters to her older sister when she was in the military and jail, Garcia asked her if she considered writing the story in a first-person narrative. Miller was surprised because she was taught to write about other people.

Before she said yes, Miller contacted her sister to see if she was comfortable with sharing their letters. Her sister said she wasn’t comfortable, but understood it’s a part of their lives and agreed.

At first, Miller was hesitant to write the story because the letters brought back memories of her childhood, and she didn’t want to paint her family in a negative way.

Miller described the writing process as emotional.

“I don’t write private things for the public,” she said. “That was hard to write because it was so personal. It was an emotional piece to write for me because it was taking me back because I had copies of the letters. I had to go back and reread all of them and put myself back when I was in high school. It was an interesting process.”

After writing her first story, Miller began thinking of ideas for her sports story. Immediately, she thought of writing a story on bowling, a sport she enjoys playing.

To find sources, she contacted the USF Bowling team via Facebook. Jeff Bylski, a member of the bowling team, replied back to her message with a story about his grandfather Clyde Howard’s bowling career and induction into the hall of fame. He agreed to be interviewed and the two settled with the interview that took place at a bowling alley during a game. She learned Bylski picked up bowling because of his grandpa. Miller also interviewed Bylski’s mother and his teammates.

Through research and interviewing members of the bowling team, Miller discovered 1 percent of the world bowled at least once.

“I wasn't too shocked at the bowling statistic until I broke it down and put it into perspective on a worldwide level,” she said. “I never expected the number to be high in the first place, considering bowling is not an activity in which most cultures partake.”

It took Miller a month and a half to write both stories. Before her letters story was published, Miller tried to get it published in the Oracle’s Montage section so it could be nominated for a Hearst Journalism Award. Due to timing conflicts at the Oracle, Miller published the story in the Digital Bullpen, the School of Mass Communications’ online publication.

Miller, a member of SPJ, heard about the Mark of Excellence award last year at a regional conference in Gainesville, Fla. Miller said because one of her stories was nominated for a Hearst award last semester, she felt confident to submit both her stories for a Mark of Excellence award.

Miller submitted both stories in January and waited to hear if she had placed or not. It wasn’t until March 4 when she was notified via email she was one of the finalists. A few weeks later she learned she won two awards.

“I’m getting ready for class, and I saw one of my friends liked a status from someone who’s involved with the Oracle,” she said. “I looked at what it was and it said Region 3 Mark of Excellence award winners and I jumped on it and I looked, scrolling all the way down for my section and that’s how I found out I won.”

Miller also said she had to double check the page because she didn’t believe at first she had won.

Days after winning two awards, faculty from the School of Mass Communications congratulated Miller. She now moves on to the national MOE competition where she’ll compete against other category winners from the 12 SPJ regions.

- USF -

Filed under:Arts and Sciences Mass Communications Student Success   
Author: Marc Seide