Grad profile: On-the-ground experience sets WSU apart
A small filler ad seeking a copy editor for Wichita State’s student newspaper, the Sunflower, was all it took to change the direction of Nicole Stockdale’s career.
Stockdale, who spent three semesters as a journalism major at the University of Kansas, had recently transferred back to her hometown to instead pursue a degree in elementary education at WSU.
Looking to earn some extra cash, she applied for the Sunflower job.
“That one little ad was all it took for me to be lured back into journalism,” she said.
It has clearly paid off.
Stockdale is now assistant editorial page editor for the Dallas Morning News, where she also is one of three managers of the paper’s editorial department; editor of the Sunday “Points” commentary/analysis section; and a member of the editorial board.
In early March, she won one of the Dallas Morning News Journalists of the Year prizes – Line Editor of the Year. (Her husband, Corbett Smith, won the paper’s Sports Writer of the Year award.)
Preparing for a career
Stockdale, who graduated in 2000 with a double major in communication and political science, said there were four experiences that turned out to be “career-makers” for her.
Through the political science department’s Washington Internship Program, she spent a semester in Washington, D.C., but it was up to her to land her own internship.
She found a job that combined her two majors: a communication and political intern for a political action committee.
Another valuable experience came in 1998, when Stockdale was required by her political science professor, Mel Kahn, to volunteer for a campaign. The volunteer job led to a paid job as the Wichita coordinator for the insurance commissioner’s re-election campaign.
That insurance commissioner: Current U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius.
Over at the Sunflower, that small copy editing job turned into a chance for Stockdale to get her feet wet in writing, editing, planning, ethics and management (both of time and people) -- all areas she deals with every day in her current position.
“And it helped kindle a love of news and storytelling that makes me still appreciate -- and enjoy -- the work I do every day,” she said.
Stockdale’s first journalism job came in the form of a two-week copy editing internship over one winter break at The Wichita Eagle. Her professor, the late Les Anderson, helped her get the internship. But it was her experience at the Sunflower, where she had quickly become editor, that gave her just enough clout to make it to The Eagle.
“Had I not worked at the Sunflower, I probably wouldn't have been qualified even for that two-week gig,” she said. “But those 10 days on the copy desk were eye-opening -- and helped me meet and prove myself to the right people.”
That was all it took, and before even graduating, Stockdale had been offered a full-time copy editing job at The Eagle.
She stayed there until 2003, when she became a copy editor and headline writer on the night news copy desk at the Dallas Morning News. She has risen the ranks at the paper since.
“These experiences, when rolled into one big ball of a resume, made me ideally suited for work in an editorial department -- the journalism, the politics, the deadlines, the excitement,” Stockdale said. “It's like I was preparing for this job the whole time -- a job that, in 2000, I didn't even know existed.”
There’s never a dull moment these days for Stockdale, between raising two small girls and wearing “a lot of hats” at the Dallas Morning News.
As editorial board member, she’s in a unique position to help shape the institutional position of the newspaper. She also has many chances for community engagement, helping plan and attend events such as community forums and author Q&As that the paper sponsors for the public.
And along with all those duties, she sometimes goes back to her writing days by blogging, tweeting and writing the occasional column or editorial.
Stockdale – who in 2010 won the WSU Elliott School of Communication’s “One to Watch” award – credits much of her career to the opportunities afforded to her at Wichita State.
“Universities are known as places that can teach the theoretical. And I certainly had to bury my nose in books while I was at WSU; that was an important part of the educational experience I don't want to discount,” she said. “But what set WSU apart was how much on-the-ground experience was available to the students who were interested in taking it. WSU makes the most of its urban setting and really gets students out into the workforce.”