2017 Winners

First Place

We are proud to announce the first-place winner of the 2017 SPJ Florida College Scholarship, Andrea Cornejo!

A senior at the University of Florida, Cornejo, 21, is studying photojournalism and has worked as a staff photographer and videographer at the Gainesville Sun since October 2016. She also serves as a freelance editor at The New York Times Editing Center. She was also a finalist for College Journalist of the Year at the 2017 Sunshine State Awards.

The judges were impressed with Cornejo’s portfolio, which included a photo essay following the journey of a pregnant homeless woman, traveling to Cuba to report on water quality, and a multimedia project on the controversial Sabal Trail in Florida.

What drew you to journalism?

When I was 8 years old, my mother worked a second job delivering newspapers at 2 a.m. I couldn’t speak English at the time, let alone read, so I would often rummage through the newspapers scattered in our apartment and simply look at the pictures. These quiet moments were my first introductions to newspapers and truly played a role in developing my curiosity for visual storytelling down the road. Whether it is locally or nationally, I’ve seen how visual stories can help make a difference. Seeing the power behind photojournalism has inspired me to challenge myself to become a better journalist than the day before. 

Tell us about a project you’ve worked on that you’re especially proud of.

In Cuba, I told a story of a family’s struggle to provide fresh water for their children due to failing water supply infrastructures as well as recent droughts. I overcame the challenges behind traveling to a country with limited press freedoms and earned the trust of locals, despite their initial fears of speaking out against their country’s injustices. I was able to get an intimate look into my subjects’ lives and produce an unfiltered piece of work that truly documented their day-to-day struggles. Above all, I’m proud of my Cuba piece because I was able to shine the light on a rather underrepresented story that truly needed to be told. 

What is your dream job?

Ideally, I would like to do international long-term work that examines social issues and changes the narrative. Thus, my dream job consists of working alongside a forward-thinking staff that is committed to reflect the diverse communities they serve and produce work that goes beyond the mundane by helping make a difference. After doing so for several years, I would like to do conflict photography overseas. 

What difference do you hope to make as a journalist?

 I would like to produce work that facilitates discussion among different races, religions and ethnicities and help create a bridge for understanding. I believe that as an immigrant with a passion for my craft, it is my duty to tell stories that help spring forth change.


Second Place

This year, we were lucky enough to add a second-place category for our college journalists. We are pleased to announce the 2017 second-place winner, Sara Girard!

Another University of Florida student, Girard, 21, is in her final year of earning her Master of Arts in mass communication, after completing her Bachelor of Science in telecommunication. She is currently a multimedia journalist at Gainesville’s ABC affiliate, WCJB TV 20 News, after working as the main anchor at PBS’s WUFT-TV First at Five program.

While reading through Girard’s application, the judges were impressed with her clips as well as her tenacity and love of journalism — one of her investigative stories actually made major changes at the Citrus County Animal Shelter.

What drew you to journalism? 

There are a few things that drew me to journalism. I grew up constantly wanting to talk to people, making conversation with everyone. I also loved art, theater, and dance, so creativity was a huge part of who I was. And perhaps most importantly, I’m a firm believer in community service. So when it came time to think carefully about what I wanted to do with my life, I knew I couldn’t sit behind a desk all day. Journalism encompassed everything I loved to do in one. The idea of being able to tell other people’s stories, keep our government accountable, and serve the community doing one of the most important jobs in the country really stood out to me.

Tell us about a project you’ve worked on that you’re especially proud of.

In 2016, I took on an intensive investigative project looking into animal euthanasia rates across Florida. It seemed like every shelter in the state was overcrowded. One in particular, the Citrus County Animal Shelter, had been doing a decent job adopting out animals in previous years but that year their dog euthanasia rate had suddenly skyrocketed. So I wanted to see why. After tons of digging and even more record requests, I found that a change in leadership matched the same time the rates increased. The community and the shelter volunteers were noticing too, and we found that the dogs being euthanized were labeled as “aggressive” without being examined by an animal behaviorist, which the shelter didn’t have on staff. So after weeks of piecing all this together, speaking with county leaders, volunteers, and dog experts, my final project showed that the Citrus County Animal shelter was euthanizing dogs workers deemed aggressive as a way to ease overcrowding. Shortly after my story aired, the shelter hired a new director and planned to change their ways. I’m especially proud of this story because of the impact it had on both the community and the animals.

What is your dream job?

My dream job is manageable, one that allows me to keep doing what I love and spend quality time with my family. Ideally, I’d like to work on the national level, anchoring and reporting in-depth feature and investigative stories from around the country. I love the thought of being able to travel. So I can’t say where I’ll be 5, 10, 20 years from now, but my dream job is one where I can do all that!

What difference do you hope to make as a broadcaster?

I want to show people the kind of impact truthful, in-depth journalism can have, especially during a time when there is growing distrust. Like any field nowadays journalism is evolving, so I also want to mentor future journalists and show them the importance of being precise and gaining trust in the community. I also want to volunteer for local charitable causes both because I enjoy it and I think as a journalist, it’s important to be an active member of the community.