Student prepares for national championship and international internship

Hearst Journalism Awards Program national championship begins this week, with Czech Republic opportunity to follow this summer

Melissa Manno will compete in the individual national championships of the William Randolph Hearst Foundation’s Journalism Awards Program this week before heading to the Czech Republic for a summer internship. Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

(Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of stories about Bellisario College students completing summer internships.)

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Most college students with summer internships prepare for those opportunities by, at a minimum, packing their bags and securing housing but Melissa Manno rarely settles for the minimum.

Manno, a  Penn State senior majoring in journalism, plans to complete an in-person internship in the Czech Republic this summer. She’s set to work for an organization that assists refugees with legal and social support as part of the CzechMates Program offered at Masaryk University and led by a former Penn State faculty member.

After she had two previous international internship opportunities erased by the coronavirus pandemic in the past year, Manno’s anticipation for the session in the Czech Republic that begins June 23 grows each day.

“I was looking at different internship programs and others didn’t seem like they were focused on finding the right placement,” she said. “I wanted an experience — a challenge that would help develop my skills — and after working with professor (Michael) Elavsky since last fall, I think this summer internship could be perfect.”

Still, she has some important work before then — representing Penn State in the individual national championships of the William Randolph Hearst Foundation’s Journalism Awards Program. Penn State finished 10th in the overall writing championships this year, continuing a decade-plus of such finishes.

A virtual writing challenge this week concludes the yearlong competition. Manno qualified — she’s the 21st Penn State representative in the championship finals since 2007 — with a feature story she wrote about Shaheen Pasha, an assistant teaching professor in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications who coordinates the Prison Journalism Program.

“As much as the writing was me, I have to give her credit for being a wonderful source and subject for that kind of story,” Manno said. “It’s really validating, that you’re talented and you made the right decision in terms of your major, to have that kind of success.”

Along with Pasha, Manno said Russ Eshleman, an associate teaching professor and head of the department of journalism, was especially helpful as an editor and mentor with her story for the competition — one of many opportunities she has embraced as a Penn State student.

She initially chose the University with an environmental science major in mind but moved to journalism to better match her interests and skills. She maintains a minor in geography, which is housed in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, and she’s a member of the college’s student council.

She also completed an on-campus internship with the Smeal College of Business and worked for the Daily Collegian.

This week she’ll be challenged in the Hearst Program finals — which will be completed virtually as she competes with other finalists from across the country, all of whom have three days to write a feature story that will be judged against each other to determine a champion. She has reached out to last year’s Penn State championship finalist, David Eckert, for some advice and her overall approach during her time at the University could serve her well this week.

Manno is always open to finding another opportunity and trying something new.

“The easiest thing here is finding opportunities — there are just so many. You really have to be ignoring all they share with you to miss them,” Manno said. “Everywhere you turn, there’s something to try. We’re lucky that we go to a school that provides those kinds of things.”

Last Updated June 10, 2021