Lauren Harrison ’07, is one of youngest reporters at Newsday
A career as a newspaper reporter was far from Lauren Harrison's mind when the Ohio native arrived on the Roanoke College campus in 2003. She was passionate about poetry and creative writing, but her career path was unclear.
Several Roanoke influences helped Harrison channel her journalistic instincts.
She dabbled in journalism while spending a semester in Washington D.C., through the Lutheran College Washington Semester Program. She interned at a literary magazine, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, and for Web del Sol, a web publishing company. She also wrote arts and entertainment stories under the guidance of Michael Knipp '03, a freelance writer who referred assignments to her.
Back at Roanoke, Harrison took on a documentary project. Video camera in hand, she followed her family's ancestry trail to many places, including West Virginia, Pulaski and Appomattox. She found gravesites, scoured birth and death records and even uncovered a church founded by one of her ancestors.
Hesitantly but with encouragement from her advisor, English professor Dr. Virginia Stewart, Harrison applied for graduate school at Columbia University's School of Journalism. She won a full tuition scholarship.
After graduating from Columbia in 2008, she worked as a reporter at the Chicago Tribune through a two-year residency program. She joined the staff at Newsday - one of the 20 largest circulation newspapers in the United States - in 2010 as a features reporter covering arts, culture and entertainment in Long Island, N.Y.
Harrison wrote about a variety of subjects, from aerial fitness classes in which participants suspend themselves midair, to paper-folding enthusiasts who teach origami art. In 2011, she was awarded a National Diversity Fellowship from the Society for Features Journalism.
Harrison - who now covers Smithtown, a town in Suffolk County, N.Y., for the newspaper - is one of the youngest reporters at Newsday. Most journalists land there after years of experience in the field, said Shawna VanNess, deputy features editor. But Harrison's skills and competitive spirit impressed the editor.
Harrison "always looked for the human element in her stories," VanNess said. "She looked for that eureka moment that sort of marked a benchmark in that person's life."
Dr. Virginia Stewart, an English professor who was Harrison's advisor at Roanoke, isn't surprised.
Harrison "was one of those rare students with genuine deep curiosity. She wanted to understand things," Stewart said.
Harrison credits her journalistic prowess to the curriculum at Roanoke - from the diversity of writers and work required of all English majors, to the attention and constructive criticism of students' writing.
"The curriculum ensures that students are equipped to be good writers, master debaters, and above all, critical thinkers," she said. "These are traits that the best journalists possess."