Photo by Thomas E. Franklin

When Professor Kelly Whiteside came to Montclair State University two years ago, she was wowed by two things: the brand new School of Communication and Media, and the university’s diverse student body. Inspired by these two factors, Whiteside and a group of professors came up with the idea of launching a journalism boot camp program for high school kids from less advantaged backgrounds.

The three-day program, which launched on Tuesday and drew 20 students from Paterson and Orange, aims to encourage high-performing students from diverse backgrounds to pursue careers in journalism, and to foster deeper relationships and expanded civic engagement with the university’s neighboring towns.

Housed on campus and with all expenses paid for, the students were fully immersed in all aspects of the media profession – from ethics, field reporting and blogging software to a visit to ABC’s studios in New York – and were taught by professors from the communications school. The students also had the unprecedented opportunity to interview (in English and Spanish) players from the Cuban National Baseball team, who in a historic visit to the U.S., are playing three games against the New Jersey Jackals at Yogi Berra Stadium this week.

Whiteside, who is an assistant professor of sports media and journalism, said the idea behind the program was not just to immerse the students in journalism. “A big thing was just exposing them to college life,” she said. “A lot of them had not been on a college campus. They stayed in the dorms, ate at the dining hall and just experienced campus life.” They were also mentored by student ambassadors who are involved in campus media and served as liaisons.

Helene Barsamian, Director of Development for the School of Communication and Media, said the program is fully funded by “several generous donors, including two School of Communication and Media Board of Visitors members, ‎friends of MSU who believe in the significance of this opportunity for talented young men and women who otherwise would not even consider college possible, and the NJ Community Development Corporation of Paterson, who from the start saw the value in exposing their students to a college experience and to MSU.”

Barsamian and Whiteside both say they hope to continue the program next summer and expand it to include students from Newark, Montclair and Bloomfield – if they can raise the money.

“We need all the funding support to implement and grow this life-changing program,” said Barsamian.