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Born broadcaster

Audie Cornish

FAVORED MILIEU: Audie Cornish ’01 at WFCR. “My goal is to write. Wherever I am, that’s what I want to do.” (Ben Barnhart photo)

Grades have never been a big deal to Audie Cornish. Though she’s carried a solid 3.25 GPA during her four years at UMass, the senior in journalism has always insisted on being judged as much by what she accomplishes outside the classroom as by the scores she chalks up inside.

 


As a student at Randolph High School, she was “not great” academically, says Cornish. But as class president, marching band conductor, debate club co-founder, volunteer for Amnesty International, and an athlete in three sports, she “felt I had much more to show for my high school education than grades.”

     She feels much the same about her years at UMass, where she’s tutored at Mark’s Meadow School, served on Dean Lee Edwards’ advisory board for the College of Humanities and Fine Arts, and interned at just about every news organization on campus while putting in two years as an RA in Grayson dorm.

     How can anyone balance such a wide range of interests with a college course load? For starters, choose a major that lets you explore your passions and rewards you for the work you do in the outside world. For Cornish, that major is journalism.

     “I think it’s great to be what you produce,” she says. “If people respond to your writing, that’s all you need.”

     Audie Cornish sounds like a born broadcaster – complete with neutral accent. Her bold and confident tones make no aural reference either to Jamaica, where she was born, or to the Boston suburbs where her family moved when she was a year old. In casual conversation, her voice may rise and fall with the enthusiasm of a college senior plotting a wide-open future. But it never strays far from the steady on-air timbre that listeners to the Saturday morning news on public-radio station WFCR may have heard of late.

     After a one-semester internship with WFCR last year, writing and editing spots and occasionally delivering the weekend news, Cornish has stayed on at the station, not for pay or academic credit but for experience. Despite the sacrifice of a luxury many students consider sacred – sleeping in on Saturday – Cornish says without hesitation that working at WFCR is fun. “Plus it keeps me in front of the mic,” she adds.

     In front of the microphone is a long-favored milieu for Cornish. As a sophomore she joined student station WMUA, rising quickly from reporter to news director and producing a daily news show while training herself on digital editing equipment. After her junior-year semester at WFCR she spent a summer at National Public Radio in Washington, where she was named executive producer of NPR’s web-based news magazine Intern Edition. This January she worked full-time writing newscasts for WBUR in Boston. “Yeah,” says Cornish. “I’m all full of call letters.”

     Cornish financed her Washington internship with a scholarship established by history alumnus Robert Perlman ’88. Based on financial need and go-get-’em energy, this scholarship was especially attractive to her for not being “shackled to the mighty GPA.”

     The whole issue of grades and scores rankles Cornish. She is critical of recent changes in the university’s admission practices, noting that she herself was accepted at UMass despite less-than-stellar high school grades “back when there was some semblance of an affirmative action program on campus.” She arrived on the heels of a student takeover of the Goodell Building in 1997, but believes that activism and involvement have decreased since then along with the number of students of color.


Cornish recalls watching NPR editors, almost all of whom were white, ignore such important stories as the AIDS crisis in Africa. She saw the foreign desk as Eurocentric in its view of world news, and it fueled her determination to have a voice in the dissemination of information.

     “People of color are very poorly represented in the media,” says Cornish. “So it’s important for me to someday be at the point where I’m saying what the news is.”

     Nick McBride of the journalism faculty was among the first professors to open doors for Cornish, when she begged for a seat in his newswriting class three years ago, and he’s been a mentor ever since. He says that besides her boundless energy, what propels this student is an ability to see the big picture and a view of journalism as a mechanism for change.

     “She sees journalism in the old sense – as a tool for social agitation, for telling the truth, for making democracy real instead of a fantasy,” says McBride. “And she can connect the current politics in Zaire with colonialism and cobalt manufacturing for the military-industrial complex. That kind of critical thinking will carry her always.”

     As UMass goes to press, Audie Cornish is cramming as much training as possible into the final months of her collegiate career: interning with The Campus Chronicle to get more experience in print media, continuing to volunteer at WFCR on Saturdays, finishing up work on both her journalism degree and a “super minor” (“super headache,” she calls it) in international relations. As of April she was still unsure which way she’d head after graduation in May.

     She’d like to stay in journalism. Her parents are encouraging her to apply to law school. McBride says she’ll excel wherever she goes. “I tell her, ‘Just do what you feel,’” he says. “You just point her in the right direction and she will do the rest.”

     “I’m looking at all the industry possibilities – print, radio, even web design,” says Cornish. “My goal is to write. Wherever I am after school, that’s what I want to do.”

     Public radio is a major contender, though. Her bio on the Intern Edition Web site explains why. “NPR offers depth,” Cornish wrote. “Those of us with delusions of grandeur can’t resist it.”

– Ben Barnhart

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