Points of Pride: Our alumni

Somewhere near you, a graduate of our renowned Public Affairs Reporting program at UIS is informing a community about important issues like school finance, health care, environmental concerns and ethics reform.

Today, hundreds of graduates of the PAR program work at the nation’s newspapers, television and radio stations, press agencies, and related communication careers.

Our graduates include a host of award-winning journalists, including three Pulitzer Prize winners:

Kathy Best (’80), the first director of the Howard Center for Investigative Journalism at the University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism.

Deborah Singer Peterson (’78), now retired after a 33-year career as reporter, columnist and editorial board member of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Trif Alatzas (’89), editor-in-chief and publisher of Baltimore Sun Media.

All three are members of the Bill Miller PAR Hall of Fame.

What our alumni say:

Kathy Best (’80): “The Public Affairs Reporting program condenses five years of newsroom experience into 12 months, giving its graduates an incredible advantage in finding a job and – most important – excelling in that job once they get it.”

Deborah Singer Peterson (’78): “Professionalism – that’s what is expected of PAR students, and that’s what they learn to deliver.”

Bill Lambrecht (’73), former Washington correspondent for Hearst Newspapers: “PAR thrusts the serious and semi-experienced student into a reporting environment that sizzles with action. And it solves the Catch-22 of journalism: No job with clips, and no clips without a job.”

Natasha Korecki (’97), national correspondent, POLITICO: “For any aspiring reporter who wants on-the-ground training, I cannot point to a better program than PAR. It did more to prepare me for the real world in one year than four years of undergrad. The classes are designed to be specifically relevant to public affairs and what you’re later covering. The real experience working in the Capitol is invaluable.”

Peter Nickeas (’09), reporter, Chicago Tribune: “I found my legs in the PAR program. It’s where I learned to stand up for myself, to not let public officials push me around. I learned how to shout at press conferences and chased the governor through the basement. I mean, I had to. That was the job. And there’s no better on-the-job training than that. I wouldn’t be where I am, I wouldn’t be who I am, if not for this program and the friends I made there.”

Daisy Contreras (’17), editor and reporter, The World, Boston: “The PAR program gave me the tools I needed to cover more than just politics to make me a well-rounded reporter. The program did not only help me discover the world of radio, but it allowed me to make invaluable connections and mentors along the way. Looking back now, I like to think of the Public Affairs Reporting program as my one-stop shop for everything journalism (from classroom instruction to hands-on reporting at the Illinois Statehouse), especially for students like me, who did not major in journalism as an undergrad.”

Dana Perino (’95), anchor and co-host, FOX News Channel: “The Public Affairs Reporting program gave me additional instruction and practical experience that served me well when I pursued work in Washington, D.C., on Capitol Hill. Years later, I became the White House Press Secretary under President George W. Bush, and now, after a roundabout way of getting here, I am utilizing everything I learned from those opportunities to anchor news coverage and provide political analysis during this fascinating time in American history.”

Seth Richardson (’15), lead politics reporter, Cleveland.com: “Frankly, I would be nowhere close to where I am in my career right now without PAR. There simply isn’t a better program to prepare for the daily grind of politics and government reporting. The combination of hands-on experience covering one of the most exciting and interesting beats in the country and education from some of Illinois’ most knowledgeable insiders is unmatched.”

Andrea Zelinski (’08), politics reporter, Houston Chronicle: “PAR taught me all the skills my undergrad and first reporting job didn’t. It was the journalism boot camp I needed to push myself and my career forward, strengthening my muscles as a reporter and catapulting my confidence to question people in power.”

Dana Vollmer (’19), reporter, Peoria Public Radio: “The Public Affairs Reporting program taught me more in 12 months than all four years of undergrad combined. If you believe the best way to learn is by doing, look no further. PAR gets students out of the classroom and into the newsroom — treating them more as working professionals than novices. The program far transcends the basics of journalism, producing reporters ready to take on political coverage, local news or anything in between.”

Christine Tressel-Webb (’87), investigative producer, WLS-TV Chicago: “Someone once told me, ‘If you can learn to cover the Illinois legislature, you can cover just about anything.’ Once you’ve had a microphone in the face of the governor or the House speaker, you can’t help but feel confident interviewing just about anyone.”

Ray Long (’81), investigative reporter, Chicago Tribune: “If you want to be a hotshot covering politics and government, come learn what it takes to work on the Greatest Beat on Planet Earth. The Public Affairs Reporting program plugs you into the same electrifying Illinois Statehouse environment that propelled Barack Obama to Washington and sent a string of governors to prison. The experience will catapult you ahead of your peers.”

Ariel Van Cleve (’08), senior editor, audio news, WBEZ, Chicago: “The PAR program is one of the toughest, most exciting, exhausting and rewarding ways to cut your teeth in the news business. You are tossed right into the mix and get to learn from some of the best reporters. When I meet a fellow graduate, I know they will be a passionate, high-caliber journalist. Public Affairs Reporting made me the professional I am today, and I’m grateful for my degree.”

Shaun Chaiyabhat (’04), anchor/reporter, WCVB-TV Boston: “Not only did the hands-on experience help land me my first on-air job, knowledge gained from the PAR program continues to guide me in my work today. Regardless if your beat is politics or general assignment, graduates leave with a strong framework to become solid journalists.”

Megan Lynch (’93), investigative reporter, KMOX-AM, St. Louis: “PAR’s initial attraction for me was the chance to be a working reporter in a Capitol news bureau. The individual attention, focused instruction and chance to learn from my mistakes has served me far better than any other opportunity I can imagine.”