Alan Yu (BSJ13, MSJ13) is one of three recipients of the prestigious Kroc Fellowship at National Public Radio.
Yu will spend a year at NPR’s Washington, D.C., headquarters. Starting in August, he will be trained by NPR editors in all aspects of radio journalism, including on-air reporting, web writing, story editing and multimedia production.
The fellowship, which is funded by a donation from the late Joan Kroc, wife of former McDonald’s CEO Ray Kroc, is established to identify and develop the radio talents of remarkable upcoming journalists.
Kroc fellows are awarded a stipend of $40,000 including benefits and a paid vacation. They are also assisted in job placement and granted professional guidance by NPR.
“To have a Medill student as one of the three that’s given this accelerated career experience at NPR is a tremendous honor, not only to the individual student but to the institution as a whole,” said Elizabeth Pardoe, associate director of Northwestern’s Office of Fellowships.
Yu said that as a freshman entering Medill, he could not have imagined having this opportunity. When he initially chose to pursue journalism, it was because of his love for writing.
“I never knew that I would be interested in audio,” he said. “Although I basically grew up listening to the radio…it was always something that I consumed.”
In the summer before his senior year, Yu interned at NPR Weekend Edition where he developed his talents in radio journalism. Once he returned to Evanston in the fall he was admitted to the Accelerated Master’s Program (AMP). Through AMP Yu was able to take classes relating to science reporting, a career path he is interested in pursuing.
Approximately 300 candidates apply for the fellowship each year. Of those, only 10 are asked back for an interview and tour of NPR’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. Kroc Fellowships are available to candidates who have completed or will complete an undergraduate or graduate degree within one year of the Dec. 31 application deadline.
The toughest part about the application process, Yu said, was waiting to hear back.
“I spent an entire quarter thinking about whether or not I had gotten this,” he said. “I knew that this would be a really prestigious opportunity that a lot of really talented people would be applying for.”
In order to prepare for his meeting with NPR, Yu participated in a mock panel interview with Associate Professor Emeritus-in-Service Roger Boye, Associate Director of the Office of Fellowships Brad Zakarin, Fellowships Adviser Amy Kehoe and Associate Director of Medill Career Services Kim Cornwell.
During his fellowship interview at NPR headquarters, Yu was asked to pitch a story idea. He decided to talk about the opening of the first coffee shop in Englewood, a neighborhood with the second-highest number of violent crimes in Chicago.
“The idea was that Englewood could benefit just from having a communal gathering space where people could sit down and talk to their neighbors,” Yu said.
During his pitch, Yu told his interviewers he would ask the business owner, “Is this going to work? And also, why coffee?”
When Yu interned at NPR Weekend Edition, he created an audio story for NPR Intern Edition about fishing in the polluted Anacostia River. Many people of low incomes consume the toxic fish, as they cannot afford other sources of protein.
“Alan comes across as a natural storyteller with a wealth of personality and character,” said Zakarin. “You can pretty much smell the garbage and taste the fish.”
The last Medill alum to hold a Kroc Fellowship was Carolyn Beeler (BSJ09) in 2009-2010. This April, Beeler was also awarded a Bosch fellowship, which will enable her to hold two internships in Germany as well as interact with European leaders in political, cultural and economic sectors at professional seminars.
"The Kroc helped me find my niche in the media world," Beeler said. "Learning the craft from some of the best journalists in the business and regularly reporting for national broadcast just months after graduation was a huge boon to my career."
Professor Charles Whitaker, who wrote Yu a letter of recommendation for his application, thinks that Yu’s background as an international student and passion for social justice issues set him apart from other candidates.
“[He] has this tremendous curiosity about all sorts of people and cultures, and is fearless when it comes to plunging into unfamiliar territory,” Whitaker said.
As an international student, Yu only has one year after graduation to stay in the United States before he must return to Hong Kong. Once home, he hopes to continue writing and pursuing radio journalism.
“It’s kind of an engaging process where the listener can somehow feel like they’re in that particular environment, if it’s a good enough story,” Yu said about radio journalism.
“You kind of have to paint your own little mental picture of the scene or of the story. The goal for the fellowship is to learn how to do that.”