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Jeffrey Zucker Scholarships: Building a Journalistic Foundation

Funds created for students to participate in Cherubs and global experiences

Jeff Zucker.
CNN President Jeff Zucker
Sai Rayala.
Mia Mamone.
Mia Mamone

For young people entering journalism today, there are more opportunities than ever before to gather and disseminate the news, tell stories and educate the world. While the reporting environment has changed, Jeffrey Zucker, chairman of WarnerMedia News and Sports and president of CNN Worldwide, believes the journalism principles he practiced as a Medill Cherub more than 40 years ago remain the same. To him, today’s great journalists still need to know the basics of how to ask questions, gather and check facts, dig in, get their hands dirty and tell great stories.

Zucker’s belief in the importance of a strong journalism foundation is in part what inspired him to support Medill students. In 2018, Zucker established two different Medill funds that give students access to the types of learning and experiences he said helped shape his love of journalism.

The first fund, the Jeffrey Zucker Medill Cherub Scholarship, provides financial assistance to high school students participating in Medill Cherubs, or the Medill-Northwestern Journalism Institute. Through a five-week summer program, rising high school seniors get the opportunity to live on Northwestern’s Evanston campus and dive deep into topics like reporting, writing, editing, photojournalism, video, and audio and digital storytelling.

Inaugural scholarship recipient Sai Rayala said she’s been passionate about journalism since she was a little girl and is interested in studying journalism in college. She’s grateful for the opportunity to stretch her journalism muscles further in the Cherubs program without worrying about the cost.

“I’m really excited to be heading to Medill, and knowing I have the scholarship makes me want to work even harder,” Rayala said. “I’m really grateful for [Mr. Zucker’s] generosity, and I think it’s great that he’s giving back and not forgetting the past experiences that made an impact on him.”

The second fund Zucker created, the Jeffrey Zucker Medill Student Experience Fund, helps cover costs for undergraduate Medill students to participate in hands-on experiential learning opportunities like journalism residencies, travel abroad, internships, and individual research and reporting projects. Zucker says it’s important to make sure journalists today are familiar with covering global issues, a truth he says his seven years at CNN have only reinforced.

One of the first student beneficiaries of the Zucker Medill Student Experience Fund is current junior Mia Mamone (BSJ21). The scholarship helped Mamone enroll in Medill’s global reporting course and attend the week-long reporting component in London, covering the arts and culture, over her spring break. This trip was Mamone’s very first time out of the United States, an experience she says enriched her journalism education and immediately changed the way she approaches storytelling.

“I always knew I liked writing, and when I decided to try out journalism in college, I looked at Medill as one of the top journalism schools in the country,” Mamone said. “I’m really grateful for the experience to report abroad at Medill through the scholarship, something I could never have done before. It helped me learn that I am capable of doing a lot more than I thought.”

Zucker said he’s always found giving back to be an incredibly rewarding experience. He loved everything about his time in the Medill Cherubs program when he was in high school and hoped he could do something special to champion the next generation of strong journalists.

“I wanted to give back to Medill as an acknowledgement of my time there and also the incredibly important role Medill continues to play in fostering good journalism today,” Zucker said. “Specifically, I wanted to be sure there were opportunities available for those who wouldn’t otherwise be able to take part in such a program.” 

As for advice, Zucker said students should remember they don’t always have to start at the top. They have to learn how to ask the questions and check the facts. In journalism, he said, there’s not just one path to follow.

“People ask me all the time if they need to go to journalism school or graduate school to be a journalist,” Zucker said. “I tell them they don’t have to do anything, but if they’re going to do it, I say there’s no better place to study than at Medill.”