Lauren Mitchell could become a case study for how to successfully navigate the demands of college life.
She also could serve as a reminder, especially to her fellow HBCU colleagues, that it is important to take advantage of every learning opportunity your university offers while also learning to believe in yourself, although every once and a while you might need a little nudge from a friend.
Mitchell, a North Carolina A&T State University journalism major, has been awarded a summer 2021 internship at The Washington Post, which is consistently ranked as one of the nation’s top newspapers.
A senior from Madison, N.C., she is the only student from a historically Black college or university included in the class of 30 interns, who will serve in roles ranging from reporters and photographers to social media editors and audio producers. Mitchell will work as an audience producer in the unit known as Emerging News Products.
Dr. Robbie R. Morganfield
“It still doesn’t feel like it’s real,” Mitchell, 21, said. She and other interns are slated to receive stipends that far exceed minimum wage as they work on site in DC this summer and could possibly be retained as full-time employees.
“I’m really excited for the fantasy of all of it, the possibility of living there,” she added.
Mitchell’s selection as a Post intern is impressive by any measure, but her personal circumstances make it even more so. The first in her mother’s family to attend college, she works 20 hours a week as a Resident Assistant; puts in equally as much time as managing editor of The A&T Register, the campus newspaper, without getting paid; and she has maintained a 3.5 cumulative grade point average as she nears completion of her degree in May. Add to that the fact that she almost talked herself out of applying for the internship.
“I didn’t know if I wanted to apply for this,” Mitchell said. “I just didn’t think I even had a shot. My friend (Ayanna Miller) had to encourage me to apply.”
Mitchell recalls sending the information to Miller, who graduated from A&T in December 2020 with a degree in journalism and is now employed as a news curation editor at New York-based BuzzFeed.
Mitchell said: “Yeah, girl wouldn’t it be funny if I apply for this?”
Miller replied: “Do it!”
Mitchell said: “No, for what? It would be a waste of time.”
Miller replied: “If you don’t do it, I’m going to beat you up.”
Mitchell said: “OK!’”
She applied but still doubted her chances of being selected up until the day the Post recruiter called. After exchanging pleasantries, the recruiter congratulated her. Mitchell said she muted the phone and let out a scream that was heard by her fellow Resident Assistants, who were in the hallways checking students out at the end of the fall semester.
“They were like outside my door cheering, ‘Yeah!’” Mitchell recalled. The recruiter “was like, ‘hey, are you still there?’ And, I responded back, ‘I’m here.’ She said, ‘we want to extend you the offer.’ I was like freaking out.”
After she finished talking with the recruiter, Mitchell called Miller.
“I was like ‘Girl!!!!…. And she said, ‘I told you!’ And, I said, ‘yes, you did.’ I was crying on the phone. She said, ‘I don’t know why you underestimate yourself.’ I said, ‘I don’t know either. But when I follow up, things happen.’”
Mitchell has, indeed, seen good things happen before when she follows up.
Last year, she was chosen as a Dow Jones News Fund Intern, another highly competitive program that provides students professional-level experience. That allowed her to receive intensive digital training through Arizona State University before completing a virtual internship with the Austin American-Stateman newspaper in Austin, Texas. She also has completed freelance writing assignments for a Greensboro arts and entertainment publication, and she wrote stories that were fed to the campus newspaper from a news feed supported by the Biden-Harris presidential campaign. One assignment allowed her to interview rapper and actor Common.
“That was such a dope experience,” Mitchell said. “It was so cool talking to him and then seeing my work show up and people responding to it.”
That has always been part of the thrill for Mitchell. She credits her success to the influence of some key people in her life, including her mother Vicky Foye, who works in supply chain management for Herbalife Nutrition, and her grandmother
Nancy Foye, who retired after many years of working at a local Walmart and now stays busy working as a seamstress.
“I did not have anyone in my family who was a journalist, but my grandma has always been the one who has pushed me to keep doing it,” Mitchell said. “She always talks about seeing me on CNN. I am not sure if that is my path, but her excitement has always encouraged me…. My grandma is like my homegirl. I grew up with her all my life. She helped take care of me with my mom.”
Mitchell also credits instruction, coaching and guidance she has received from professors in the A&T Journalism and Mass Communication Department. Chief among them is veteran journalist David Squires, who is a full-time lecturer teaching news reporting and writing courses.
“Squires is all about tough love,” Mitchell said, recalling he pushed her to apply for the Dow Jones internship. “One time we were in class, and he said I was one of his favorite students. I kind of leaned back, thinking ‘man, you are always dragging me, and I’m your favorite student?’ I can remember submitting things, and hearing him say, ‘what the heck is this?’
Lauren Mitchell is a journalism student at North Carolina A&T State University
“But I came to understand it’s really his brand of tough love regarding AP style, interviewing, and writing. The way he teaches his classes made me interested in wanting to be a better journalist. I would find myself questioning what I was doing and thinking ‘what the heck would he say right now? Would he think this is all right?’”
Squires said Mitchell always listens, follows advice, and works very hard.
“I could always see her growth from one class to the next,” Squires said.
Mitchell said she also benefited greatly from the tutelage of veteran journalist and lecturer Emily Harris, who is the adviser to the Register. Because Mitchell is a Resident Assistant, she could not receive pay for her work at the student newspaper. Harris sold her on the benefits of doing the work anyway.
“She helped me to realize that I have to make a sacrifice sometime,” Mitchell said. “Not getting paid made me have more drive. I realized I can’t be out here just doing whatever. It will reflect badly on me. Miss Harris helps me fine tune my ideas and figure out how to get some things done. And she’s just a good person to talk to, even if it’s outside of class or work. She’s really funny and just to be able to talk to her sometimes has been really helpful.”
Harris returns the praise.
“Lauren has been an asset to The A&T Register since her freshman year, when she joined as a contributor,” Harris said. “She’s incredibly plugged into campus and the Greensboro community and has a strong sense of news judgment…. I can’t pay the RAs (who work for the paper) because they are paid by housing. So, it’s a true labor of love and testament to her desire to pursue journalism.”
Mitchell realizes the internship will put her in position to cash in on that pursuit.
“I would love to be extended a full-time contract with the Post,” she said. “If not, I will be looking for work and trying to network and see where I can get in where I fit in. Hopefully, it will be somewhere that I will be digitally producing content. I love doing that, and I want it to be in my career.”
Dr. Robbie R. Morganfield is the Janet Bryant Howroyd/News & Record Endowed Professor in the Journalism and Mass Communication Dept. at North Carolina A&T State University. He teaches courses focused on research, reporting and race.