When California native Noah Somphone arrived at the Medill cherub program, he expected a “cut-throat” environment. He said he realized he was wrong, however, when he wrote one of his first assignments in a Fisk Hall lab with other cherubs.
“Everyone was yelling out questions, and people were yelling information back,” he said. “I thought everyone was going to be silent and keep to themselves. I was surprised how much people care about each other. Everyone wanted me to do well, and I wanted the same for them.”
Somphone was not alone in his experience. The application process to become a cherub is competitive, but students who made it found themselves surrounded by young journalists who wanted to collaborate to succeed together.
Instead of receiving grades, journalism cherubs get written feedback and meet weekly with instructors to discuss assignments.
Taylor Schmitt of La Grange, Illinois, attributed the lack of competition within the program to this emphasis on personal growth over grades and rankings.
“‘How did you do?’ versus ‘How can you improve?’,” Schmitt said. “Those are two different ideologies. The latter makes this program strong, unique and friendly.”
Some Medill cherubs worked together to find sources for articles by asking for help in a program-wide Facebook group or by using classmates’ connections.
Jessie Chaiet of Weston, Florida, said she had a difficult time contacting sources for a feature story on rising rent prices in Evanston. Chaiet’s classmate, Lauren Fromkin from Weston, Florida, sat with Chaiet and helped her call local businesses and store owners.
“It was nice of her to be helping me because I know she also had work to do on her story,” Chaiet said. “It meant so much to me.”
Journalism cherubs also peer-edited articles throughout the program. They found their classmates’ opinions and support especially helpful with longer assignments that required cherubs to reach out to sources for over-the-phone or online interviews.
“When you’re writing, you miss the easiest stuff, and it’s good to get another perspective on your paper,” said Eric Neugeboren of Bethesda, Maryland. “Other cherubs are the only people who know what you’re going through when you’re writing big stories.”
Head instructor Mary Lou Song said instructors noticed the 2018 journalism cherubs’ willingness to collaborate and said it helped students feel comfortable pushing themselves academically and socially.
“It’s one thing to have a class of cherubs,” Song said. “It’s another thing to have a community of cherubs. That kind of collaboration and caring changes everything.”
Song said students in this environment are more engaged in lectures and interested in getting to know their peers than students in competitive environments.
“It’s amazing when you can get 84 people together and what happens when they genuinely care about helping each other succeed,” she said. “2018 has been about cherubs making sure that everyone feels successful and cared for and loved and supported.”