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Journalism Professor Spends Semester as Full-Time Reporter

By TAYLOR JACKSON BUCHANAN

For Dr. Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez, the past 20 years have swept her along a breathtaking and award-winning career path. From working at The Boston Globe to WFAA-TV to the Dallas Morning News to the University of Texas as journalism professor, Rivas-Rodriguez has established a legacy in the newsroom and the classroom. When she left her career as a journalist, she did not imagine that two decades later, while working as a professor at the UT School of Journalism, she would receive an opportunity to return to the field as a reporter.

Through an innovative partnership between the School of Journalism and KUT Radio, Rivas-Rodriguez is a full-time reporter with the NPR station.

“Really and truly I learn something new every day,” Rivas-Rodriguez said. “It’s very exciting. It’s been very refreshing to do this.”

Rivas-Rodriguez is the first professor KUT has hired as a journalist-in-residence. The opportunity required the support and vision of the radio station and the university to arrange for a faculty member to spend a semester in the newsroom.

“It is essential that journalism professors stay current with the state of the practice. And to me there’s no better way to do that than by actually working as a journalist in a top-quality newsroom, whether it’s over a summer break or for a semester,” said R.B. Brenner, director of the School of Journalism. “Professor Rivas-Rodriguez is sharpening and re-freshening her reporting and storytelling skills while also becoming adept at new technologies. Her teaching and research will benefit from this experience. The listeners of KUT benefit, too, because she's doing outstanding work on the radio.”

Rivas-Rodriguez said she is learning to translate her years of experience in print and television to her approach to storytelling over the radio. All of her story pitches have been met with enthusiastic support from KUT; in fact, she was on the air on her fourth day on the job. And her fears about mastering new technologies have been replaced by skills she never thought she’d accomplish.

She’s telling stories of diverse communities in Austin, a passion of hers since her days as a student journalist at Texas through her professional and academic careers. Rivas-Rodriguez sheds light on the issues facing underrepresented and marginalized populations.

When she first joined the faculty at UT, Rivas-Rodriguez started the Voces Oral History project, to ensure that Latino contributions to World War II were included in national conversations. This work earned her numerous awards, including a Lifetime Achievement in Advocacy Award from the National Association for Latino Independent Producers (NALIP) in 2008, for leading an initiative to ensure the experience of Latino WWII veterans was included in the Ken Burns documentary series “The War.”

“Being at UT put me on a path, it exposed me to a lot of opportunities,” Rivas-Rodriguez said. “The standards have always been very high and you have to push to achieve those standards.”

She was promoted to full professor in 2016, the first person of color at that rank in the School of Journalism. This fall, she received recognition for a lifetime of achievement by the San Antonio Association of Hispanic Journalists (SAAHJ). The award, Henry Guerra Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in Journalism, recognized Rivas-Rodriguez’s work bridging cross-cultural understanding and advocacy on behalf of the Hispanic population.

“Journalism makes a difference – it makes the world a better place,” Rivas-Rodriguez said. “The SAAHJ are a group of hardcore journalists, so the award means a lot coming from them.”

What happens when an award-winning professor and journalist re-enters the field after two decades? Rivas-Rodriguez calls it synergy:  

“This has been such a really great partnership between the School of Journalism and KUT,” Rivas-Rodriguez said. “There is so much synergy. I really hope we can institutionalize this so that our professors can take advantage of this. We bring all this journalism experience that is translatable. KUT benefits from that.”

Buchanan is the School of Journalism webmaster and a graduate student in the master's pro-track program. Makeda Easter contributed reporting to this story.