Melanie Deziel isn’t just the first person in her family to become a journalist – she’s the first person to go to college.
Growing up in a single-parent household in Waterbury, Deziel worked several jobs during her years at Sacred Heart High School. The jobs helped her save for college, but also helped make ends meet.
“There’s a disconnect between where my family comes from and the life I have on campus,” she says. “That opportunity to learn is so important, and I’m lucky my family is so supportive.”
Now the outgoing editor-in-chief of UConn’s renowned student newspaper, The Daily Campus, the senior says her path to journalism was a nontraditional one.
Deziel started her college career as an English major. But during her first semester she took a class on the history of journalism – and from then on, she was hooked.
“I found out quickly that journalism was what I wanted to do,” she says.
Deziel was always interested in the arts, so in 2009 she began taking photographs. She wrote a feature article on campus graffiti, complete with photos, for her Newswriting I class, and on a whim submitted it to The Daily Campus. When they ran it as a full-page spread, she was elated. Seeing that article in print, she says, was the moment that solidified her career.
“It was the biggest rush!” she laughs. She says she was so proud of that first publication that she stuffed copies of the paper under her desk for safekeeping.
During the winter term of 2010-2011, Deziel participated in UConn Study Abroad in a London arts immersion program. Upon her return to UConn she wrote a thesis focusing on graffiti and urban art.
She then joined The Daily Campus as a reporter, covering mostly arts events on campus, including gallery shows and coffeehouses. During her tenure, she also wrote two columns: “The Grind,” about one of her first loves, coffee; and more recently the “Husky Finance” column, in which she gave tips about managing money as a college student.
“I knew a lot about coffee, but not much about money,” she says. “I had to become a pseudo-expert on yet another topic.”
Deziel eventually became the associate editor of the paper’s Focus section, and in 2011 was named editor-in-chief. Aside from her regular long hours of commissioning stories, laying out the paper, and making sure all deadlines were met, Deziel also had to deal with the paper’s dwindling finances.
Although the paper had for decades enjoyed a budget surplus, in recent years its expenses and the economy have shrunk that cushion. Now, the paper faces going into debt to support itself. Deziel and her staff suggested an increase in student fees to support the paper, but the student body voted down the ensuing referendum.
She admits that the situation is frustrating, especially because campus polls show that most students like the paper and want to see it continue. The paper was created in 1896 and has been in continuous daily publication for the past 50 years.
“We’re like a family, like brothers and sisters,” she says of The Daily Campus staff. “I hope the paper gets to stick around. It’s important to a lot of people.”
Deziel also held an internship at The Day in New London and is a blogger for the Huffington Post. She served on the University Senate, belonged to four honors societies, and was the recipient of a Chemtura Corporate National Merit scholarship and a Charles Litsky Memorial scholarship in journalism, to name a few.
Deziel says that for her, being a first-generation student was made easier by the many professors and mentors available to her. She says that just by asking questions and seeing what’s available at their school, first-generation college students will find that there are a lot of people who are happy to help.
“You just have to not be afraid to ask questions and see what’s available,” she says. “There are so many people who can get you through everything.”
Deziel plans to attend graduate school for journalism at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications.