Call it luck, or call it a nose for news: a journalist’s ability to sense a good story. Whatever you call it, Katie Blunt has it, and it’s taking her to college in North Carolina.
The Severna Park High School senior was in class, watching a documentary on the Lost Boys, when a visiting teacher noted that a group of these Sudani refugees lived on his street.
That’s when Blunt’s journalism instincts kicked in. She asked the teacher for a contact to his unique neighbors.
Armed with a notebook and tape recorder, Blunt paid the local Lost Boys a visit. She left with a story of Lost Boy Jacob Puka’s escape from death and his arrival in a new world.
“It was a grand stroke of luck,” said Blunt. “I had hours to sift through.”
The grand stroke of luck helped Blunt win a $5,000 journalism prize from Scholarship for Scholars.
Each year, Scholarships for Scholars turns lost money — abandoned in heirless Anne Arundel estates — into opportunity for high-achieving seniors graduating from Anne Arundel County schools. Twenty-six seniors this year were awarded scholarships ranging from $2,000 to $7,000; 17 of the scholarships, including Blunt’s, are worth $5,000.
To apply, students must have earned a grade-point average of at least 3.5 and a combined SAT score of at least 1650. Scholarships are awarded in 14 academic fields, some with more than 100 applicants.
Blunt’s scores were high, but her achievements set her apart from the 14 other journalism applicants, according to Bay Weekly editor Sandra Olivetti Martin, one of the journalism readers: “Katie was already an award-winning journalist,” Martin said.
Blunt’s story on Puka won first place for best feature in Towson State University’s Maryland High School Journalism Awards.
Blunt’s success derives from her habitual success in English and her interest in creative writing when she was younger.
“I’m analytical. I like book reports,” Blunt said.
But the former editor-in-chief of The Talon, Severna Park’s student newspaper, came lately to journalism. Blunt started at the Talon during her junior year as the opinion editor with no experience reporting or editing.
“My interest grew exponentially throughout my junior year,” she said.
Heading into her senior year, Blunt’s mind was on college applications. She estimated that being editor-in-chief, with 35 students to oversee, would set her apart from other high school seniors competing for college spots — and for scholarships.
One of the difficulties of being editor, Blunt said, was motivating her staff. Some students were overzealous in their work, writing far too many words; others were uninterested, turning in articles she was unable to print.
As well as Scholarships for Scholars, Elon University in North Carolina took notice, offering Blunt a communications fellowship scholarship.
As a communications fellow, Blunt will take accelerated courses and have to maintain a high GPA throughout her college career.
Elon’s cafeteria food best be up to Blunt’s standards, or she might turn her investigative eye on campus dining.
Scholarship for Scholars requires two stories to be considered for the prize. Blunt did some investigative reporting for the second half of her submission, unveiling the nutritional value and chemical makeup of the food served in her school cafeteria.
Blunt interviewed the Anne Arundel County Public School supervisor of food and nutrition services about the food served in school cafeterias around the county.
The answers she got were vague, so she did some digging.
“A lot didn’t line up with the facts,” Blunt said.
At a second interview, Blunt presented a “visibly nervous” supervisor with her findings.
With her reporting done, Blunt had the goods to reveal the not-so-secret truth behind cafeteria food.
“It’s crap,” she said.
That story won Blunt first prize in the 2010 Maryland High School Journalism Awards.