USC Annenberg / Brett Van Ort

Graduate School is a Family Affair for Two MS Journalism Students

Moving across the country for graduate school is an undertaking that could daunt even the most fearless of students. Fortunately Annenberg MS Journalism program students Jessica and Maritza Moulite were right by each other’s side moving from Miami to Los Angeles and starting a nine-month graduate program.

“Nothing beats having your sister here,” Maritza, the older of the two sisters by a year-and-a- half, said.

Between relocating to Los Angeles, undergoing an intensive three-week immersion program, and officially starting the new semester just last week, having a sibling to share the ups — and the downs — has been a unique experience for the sisters.

Both sisters hail from East Coast schools — Maritza from the University of Florida, and Jessica from Hamilton College in Upstate New York — and both applied, and got into, the same graduate programs. But USC Annenberg was an obvious choice for the two, with each of the sister’s scholarship awards being the initial motivator for their move out West. Maritza is a Dean’s Scholar, while Jessica is an Annenberg Graduate Fellow.

Though scholarships were an important factor in the sister’s decision, Annenberg stood out for other reasons during their very first visit to campus.

“[We] were able to speak to different students in the graduate programs and even some alumni as well, and they were all so passionate about the school,” Maritza said. “I really feel like Annenberg is doing a great job of being a journalism school for the 21st century.”

With the new building and new nine-month MS Journalism program, Annenberg’s push to constantly innovate and adapt was readily apparent, and appealing, to the sisters when selecting their graduate program.

The diversity represented within the student body of Annenberg and USC was also very appealing for the Moulite sisters.

“It’s not like Annenberg is trying to keep up with the times or perpetuate the same ‘old boys’ club of journalism,” Jessica said. “They understand that you have to use social media even if you hate it, you need to know how these things work … and [be] a well-rounded digital journalist for multiple platforms instead of just saying, ‘Oh, I want to write, and that’s all I’m ever going to do.’”

Though the Moulite sisters are now heavily invested in the journalism field, for Jessica, the calling to pursue news was apparent to her earlier than Maritza.

As kids growing up in Miami, Jessica, Maritza and their two other sisters weren’t allowed to watch television on the weekdays — except for the news, which spurred Jessica’s interest in broadcast journalism from a young age.

“We only could watch an hour of local news, and then ‘World News Tonight with Peter Jennings,’” Jessica said. “That always captivated me, so in high school I did newspaper, journalism programs, whatever I could just to be enmeshed in that world.”

Jessica’s journalistic experience includes an internship at CBS “Evening News with Scott Pelley” in New York, and, most recently, with the Fusion television network, a subsidiary of Disney and Univision, which is aimed at English-speaking Millennials of diverse ethnic backgrounds.

This experience was particularly impactful in shaping Jessica’s interest in using social media and other techniques to engage younger viewers with news and current events.

“I’m really interested in how news can be shaped to impact our generation more,” Jessica said. “People will still have to get information about the world, [but] I think the way in which we’ll go about it will have to change with our demographic.”

For Jessica, the wide range of opportunities available to her in Annenberg’s MS Journalism program represent a unique way to approach her own future in television news, while also making journalism relevant again to younger generations.

“Ideally I’d like to be on camera, and just doing something specifically targeted toward our age demographic,” Jessica said. “I think there needs to be a way to captivate a specific demographic that isn’t being reached.”

While Maritza’s resume is just as impressive as her sister’s — including an internship with “NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams” and a stint as a USA TODAY College Collegiate Correspondent — she eventually found her way to journalism after first pursuing other career options, like the medical field.

“I somewhere in college realized I didn’t want to do that anymore and wanted to pursue journalism, but that was always Jessica’s thing, so I was kind of wary about getting into it,” Maritza said. “But after I graduated I decided to just go forward and see what happened.”

Maritza’s journalistic focus has since shifted to business and politics, and looking toward the future, she aims to cover something like the 2016 Presidential election with the skills she’s able to hone in the MS Journalism program.

Though the nine-month MS Journalism program is demanding and fast-paced, it’s already been highly informative for the sisters, who also enjoy the small class sizes and ability to get to know and work with their peers.

“I truly feel that, by the end of this semester and the next, I will be at least proficient in so many different areas,” Maritza said. “We had a group project at the end of the summer as part of the digital immersion, and it was cool just getting to know other students.This is a great simulation of how the future is going to look for us.”

For the time being, the sisters are settling into their new life in Los Angeles and buckling down to complete their Master’s degrees. And in true Annenberg fashion, both sisters have already become involved in the school outside of their studies; Jessica with Annenberg Radio News, and Maritza as a teaching assistant to Annenberg Dean Ernest J. Wilson III and former Dean Geoffrey Cowan for ASCJ 100: The Changing World of Communication, Journalism and Public Relations.

“It’s really fun because we’ve only had one class so far and you can see how excited [the students] are,” Maritza said. “You can see how ready the students are to be here for the next four years, and learn and figure out what they’re going to do, and I really like the opportunity to be able to help them make those decisions.”