"A select group"

Rather than enjoying a summer breather from coursework this month, 10 ambitious teenagers from as far away as Texas opted instead to take a two-week crash course in Global Journalism through the Kermit and Kathleen Schwanke Honors Institute for High School Students. 

“(The students) are definitely a select group,” said University of Montana School of Journalism professor Henriette Lowisch, who taught the course. “They are smart.”

Students had the opportunity to demonstrate their smarts while interviewing guests to the Global Journalism class last week. Before the visitors arrived, Lowisch, who’s a veteran international reporter and serves as the J-school graduate program director, primed the teenagers on their final class projects. For the assignment, a group of five students were to report on the Columbian drug war. Lowisch directed a second team to research women’s rights in Afghanistan.

Among the tricks to effective reporting, Lowisch said, is to first address preconceived notions that may color subject matter. The goal, she said, is to dig past such biases to uncover raw facts.  

“Things are not as simple as they appear,” she said.
Students discuss the Columbian drug war

To provide on-the-ground perspectives into the thorny and distant issues being covered by the students, Lowisch invited to the class Afghan women’s rights activist and educator Halima Ramazani and also Oscar Diaz Forero from the Columbian Institute for Rural Development, a government agency. The visit provided students the opportunity to practice their burgeoning reporting skills. And they weren’t shy about it. Hannah Gilliam of Livingston, for example, asked Diaz to share his thoughts on the United States’ role in the Columbian drug war. Danielle Nelson of Texas, meanwhile, inquired about whether Columbian efforts to eradicate illegal narcotics are shaping the South American government’s attempts to improve life for rural farmers.

“How has the drug war affected this goal?” Nelson asked.

Diaz responded by saying he believes the Columbian government is making gains. Among the official strategies being employed, he said, is to bring new agricultural efficiencies to rural farmers. The idea is to boost the profit margin associated with legal crops to thereby discourage unlawful operations.

“The government is making a really big investment to replace the illegal crops,” Diaz said.

On June 25, the teens delivered their final presentations in front of parents and professors. Lowisch said the reports were well done and on par with work done by “any freshman you could find at UM.”

The Kermit and Kathleen Schwanke Honors Institute for High School Students launched in 1988. With help from the Davidson Honors College, it brings between 40 and 50 talented teens to UM annually. This summer, Global Journalism was offered alongside creative writing and a chemistry class dubbed “Potions 101.”

Posted June 30, 2015