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Journalism for social change

A gift of $8.3 million from Peter and Patricia Frechette will fund a named fellowship in public service journalism in the J. William and Mary Diederich College of Communication.

The fellowship honors Patricia’s parents, alumni Perry and Alicia O’Brien, who graduated in 1936 and 1935 with degrees in journalism and liberal arts, respectively. Beginning in fall 2013, the O’Brien Fellowship will bring three top working journalists to campus each academic year to research and produce an in-depth reporting project with the potential to solve social problems. The fellows will work with students, following the “teaching-hospital model” in which experienced professionals train the next generation.

“This is a remarkable opportunity for our students and for the fellows, who will work together to report and create multimedia public service journalism that can change policies and save lives,” says Dr. Lori Bergen, dean of the Diederich College of Communication.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Wisconsin’s largest daily newspaper, will also partner with the O’Brien Fellows and provide access to its journalists, staff, data and investigative resources.

The O’Brien Fellowship demonstrates the Diederich College of Communication’s focus on rethinking curriculum to keep pace with the constant evolution of platforms for journalistic story-telling. Also important is training journalists who use their skills to investigate problems and surface solutions, an ambition that President Scott R. Pilarz, S.J., considers perfectly suited to Marquette’s mission.

“As a Catholic and Jesuit university, Marquette has a special responsibility to contribute to solutions that solve the problems most troubling to our world today,” Father Pilarz said, when announcing the Frechettes’ gift.   

The O’Brien Fellowship is the latest example of how the Diederich College of Communication is preparing students for a new world in journalism. Last fall, the university formed a partnership with New York Times columnists David Bornstein and Tina Rosenberg, who write about creative solutions to social problems in the “FixesU” column. That project is supported by a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Grand Challenges Exploration Grant.

The focus on solutions journalism also includes Diederich Ideas, student-produced programming that features thought leaders and nationally recognized media professionals who explore converging and emerging media and ideas that work; and the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, a partnership with the United Neighborhood Centers of Milwaukee to report on urban issues in Milwaukee’s central city neighborhoods. —JMM

Meet the Parents

Alicia Sexton O’Brien, Arts ’35, served on the Marquette University Coed Board, the executive committee of the central women’s organization known as the Coed Club. Though women had been allowed to attend the university as early as 1909, the cultural transition took time and effort. The Coed Club was formed in 1919 to “encourage coeducation at Marquette.”

Perry O’Brien, Jour ’36, was a field reporter and staff photographer for the Janesville Daily Gazette credited with having a “finger on the pulse” of all things in Janesville, Wis., and its environs. From the aftermath of WWII through the 1950s, he covered stories that defined the everyday life of his neighbors and fellow citizens. — LA


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